The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School has yet to approve its FY23 budget assessment of $20.9 million after a vote by the school committee was tripped up by the long-term question of other post-employment benefit (OPEB) contributions.
Several years ago, the high school made an agreement to establish a goal of increasing the annual contribution to OPEB by $250,000 each year for five years, or until the actuarially determined employer contribution amount (the amount the actuary recommends the school contribute annually) is reached.
With a total increase of 4.65 percent in assessments proposed in the latest version of the budget (Version 5), several committee members were concerned about upping the OPEB contributions due to funding constraints.
Committee member Skipper Manter was the first to bring up the question of OPEB liability at the meeting. In this version of the budget, the OPEB contribution line is level funded, although it’s still up for debate whether to increase it.
Martha’s Vineyard schools business administrator Mark Friedman said this is a conversation that must be approached carefully year to year, depending on budget requirements.
“The increases may become altogether too difficult to absorb, or maybe it’s a good year to increase,” Friedman said. “That is something for the committee to decide.”
As of now, approximately $1.6 million is going toward OPEB in the FY23 budget.
Manter vehemently opposed moving the budget forward without increasing the OPEB line. “The hole is getting bigger and bigger — we started at $30 million [in OPEB liability] and now it’s at $50 million. We are going to be in a fiscal collapse sometime. We should address this like we said we were going to,” Manter said.
Committee member Kelly McCracken suggested bringing in the high school’s actuary to discuss OPEB in more depth, and help the group come up with a comprehensive OPEB policy. “This is not a mandate, we do not have a schedule, but I think right now we need a better understanding of OPEB so when we are talking about this it doesn’t get contentious,” McCracken said.
The vote to approve the budget failed, 5-4, with a two-thirds majority required to pass.
The committee will again discuss the budget at its next meeting on Jan. 3.
Monday’s school committee meeting began with chair Amy Houghton asking for a moment of silence in remembrance and celebration of longtime French teacher at the high school Pierre Bonneau, who recently died.