School committee pledges $50,000 for energy study

The Up-Island committee will also hold a public hearing about its budget soon.

The Up-Island school committee committed $50,000 toward an energy analysis of West Tisbury School. — Stacey Rupolo

The Up-Island School Committee voted 4-1 to commit up to $50,000 from its contingency fund toward an energy analysis for West Tisbury School. Committee member Skipper Manter was the only dissenting vote, saying the request was not an appropriate use of the funds, and seemed to him a violation of the formula that needs to be used. 

Kate Warner, a member of the Up-Island regional school district environmentally friendly building task force, said a request for quotation (RFQ) was almost ready for analysis, but funding needs to be shown to back up the request. Warner said the plan was to receive funding from the school district and pay back the amount in the future through grants.

“We do not know when we’ll hear about the Green Communities application, if we were successful in getting that. That would be $25,000. The Cape Light Compact [grant], if we get it, will put in another $5,000, and we’re anticipating the work might cost $40,000 to $50,000, probably $50,000 the way things are going these days,” Warner said. She anticipates the announcements will come soon on grants, but is unsure when. 

Mark Friedman, Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools business administrator, said the entire procurement process can take six to eight months. Friedman said the RFQ would need to be posted for at least a month for firms to make a decision, and a few more months would be needed for the process of awarding a contract. 

Committee chair Alex Salop asked Friedman whether any of the contingency fund was “earmarked because of budget overruns or other items.” He also expressed concern that the district could need those funds in an emergency situation, alongside possible budgetary and legal issues of issuing the money. 

Friedman said there is currently $82,779 remaining in the fund that was available. Friedman said the monetary amount from the pledge the task force receives will be based on how much of the grants that were applied for are awarded. If the task force gains enough funds through grants, there is a possibility that they may not need to take the pledge money for the project. 

“As much as I think this project is important, I don’t believe it’s an appropriate use of the contingency fund,” Manter said. “To me, the contingency fund is for emergencies that you don’t have money to cover for, such as a problem with the building, heating, roof repair, or some kind of catastrophic issue … these are the things the contingency money was for … it’s not just a pot of money we have to spend as people come along and ask for.” 

“I think that making a building green so that we lower our carbon footprint is probably one of the most important things we can be doing right now. So I think there is nothing wrong with putting it as an emergency thing,” committee member Kate DeVane said. DeVane also pointed out the committee was asked to commit to the project months ago, “to which we said yes.” 

Meanwhile, the committee held its final workshop for the fiscal year 2023 draft budget. Manter brought up a couple of points of concern. One was the removal of OPEB (other post-employment benefits) from this version of the budget, which he said was “a little disappointing,” because it was something that the committee agreed to. Superintendent Matthew D’Andrea said this was done to accommodate the committee’s request to reduce the budget. The committee decided to use excess and deficiencies (E and D) offset to fund the $50,000 OPEB. 

The other part was the usage of the E and D funds, which are reserved for education purposes, to fund the hiring of additional staff members. West Tisbury School Principal Donna Lowell-Bettencourt said this decision came after assessing the needs, at least for one year, of the students and what can be reduced in the budget. Friedman said E and D offsets are used to help fund the entire budget and its specific initiatives. 

“That, I think, is a poor choice for future budgets, because once you’ve taken that out of E and D, if it’s a recurring operation expense … then you have to use that same amount of E and D money for next year, and it keeps continuing and compounding,” Manter said. “It also hides the actual increases in spending. I think we should maintain the E and D, if we’re going to use it, for contingency only, and should not be used in this particular case to offset a recurring revenue expense. It’s only going to haunt us in the future. We should be upfront about how much this budget is costing. Or, get the money directly from the towns.” 

“E and D is money voted by the towns for education. I believe the money should be used for education. I think we have a responsibility to use it for education,” D’Andrea said. “This budget has been stated by this committee as too high, and we should use the money voted by the towns for education, for education, to reduce this budget. That’s why we used the E and D.” 

D’Andrea said a public hearing about the budget will be held on Monday, Dec. 13.