Up-Island school district budget delayed again

Strong disagreements kick budget discussion down the road.

Martha's Vineyard Public Schools superintendent Matthew D'Andrea suggested taking the Up-Island regional school district budget to the Up-Island finance committees.

On Friday, the Up-Island school committee decided to delay the certification of the regional school district’s budget for the fiscal year of 2023. 

Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools business administrator Mark Friedman presented the changes to the budget from the previous meeting on Tuesday. Friedman said there were two options. The first (6A) was the usage of E and D (excess and deficiencies) funds offsetting the contingency line, which is what has been done for the past couple of years. The offset would be $98,779, raising assessed expenses to increase by 6.79%. The other version (6B) had the addition of one-time tech expenses for West Tisbury School, which increased the E and D revenue by $10,000, reducing the assessment somewhat to 6.71% increase in the budget. 

Committee members asked Friedman about the budget and expressed their concerns. In particular, the usage of E and D funds was a source of disagreement among the committee members. 

“If we’re taking a couple hundred-thousand dollars from E and D and say we’re offsetting the OPEB [other post-employment benefits] line, where are we going to get that $200,000 and get that money back where it’s supposed to be?” committee member Skipper Manter said.  “Doing these one-time adjustments for E and D is going to be catastrophic next year for us.” 

Manter also thought not going line by line on  what the percentage differences will be is “very misleading.” 

Committee member Robert Lionnette was concerned about the increases in the technology costs of the schools, which were also offset by E and D funds. Committee member Kate DeVane said staffing and student needs were also contributors. 

“People are just more expensive than they were last year. We upped substitutes’ wages so that we can get and attract substitutes. We have negotiations going on that we’re going to have to factor in in some way, and…that’s what’s raising West Tisbury, along with these tech things. I mean, it doesn’t take very much.” DeVane said. She said an increase in students and staffing was also a contributing factor to Chilmark School. 

“If there’s a narrative to this budget, it’s increased students and increased staffing,” Friedman said. He also said that the proposed usage of E and D funds is in line with the guidance provided by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. 

DeVane said it would be unfair to ask for a tax spike from Up-Island residents during this economic climate, but she would also not support cutting resources from the school children. She suggested adjusting the OPEB line with flexibility depending on the economy’s impact on people. 

Manter said the E and D funds should instead go back to the towns “to protect our base and we don’t suffer any consequences in the future up and down the E and Ds.” 

DeVane expressed disagreement, saying E and D funds were voted by the Up-Island towns’ residents to be used for educational purposes and should not go back to the towns “to be used for roads.” 

Committee chair Alex Salop interjected by saying the members were getting into a “philosophical conversation” about E and D fund usage rather than actually trying to formulate a budget that would be feasibly passed. 

After more discussion and argument about the proper usage of E and D funds and how to approach the budget, motions were moved and voted on. To approve and certify the budget, four votes are needed. 

Lionette moved to accept budget version 6A as written, which has a total and assessed expenses rounded to $13.9 million. The motion was approved 3-2, DeVane and Manter being the only dissenting votes because they thought the budget increase was too high. 

DeVane moved to certify budget version five ($13.9 million expenses, $13.7 million assessment) and take it to the Up-Island finance committees for potential renegotiations. The motion was approved 3-2, the dissenting votes coming from Manter and Lionette. Lionette said he disagreed with the methodology of version five. 

With the deadlock, Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools superintendent Matthew D’Andrea suggested not passing a budget during the meeting. Instead, he suggested both the committee and Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools go to the Up-Island finance committees in early January and try to pass the budget immediately after that. West Tisbury finance committee chair Greg Orcutt said this was a possible route. 

With D’Andrea’s suggestion in mind, DeVane made a motion to certify the budget with an understanding to make amendments later on to meet the Dec. 31 certification deadline.

Manter said he hopes the Up-Island select boards will be able to sit down with the finance committees during this proposed meeting. When asked by Salop “which side of the table” he would sit in, Manter replied “well, I’m not on the [finance committee].” Manter also mentioned he would not be available until January 11, so the decision might need to come after that. 

The committee did not vote on DeVane’s second motion and instead voted to adjourn the meeting. The discussion and certification of the district’s budget will come at a later date.