The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School committee at its Monday meeting voted to certify its nearly $21 million FY23 assessment budget, and move forward with the assessment formula that’s been used historically.
Version 5 of the budget was approved by the committee, which represents a 4.65 percent increase over the previous fiscal year’s budget.
According to committee chair Amy Houghton, there have been numerous budget subcommittee meetings, two full school committee meetings, and a public hearing — all regarding the budget.
Some central points of discussion relating to the budget were other post-employment benefit (OPEB) contributions, position adjustments and additions, and line transfers related to buses, excess and deficiency funds, and contractual obligations of the school district.
The largest increase in the budget relates to the required contribution to OPEB that the school must set aside each year to whittle down its approximately $50 million total OPEB liability. With new positions being created at the school, including retirement and other benefits, that projected OPEB contribution requirement sits at almost $1 million for FY23, according to school business administrator Mark Friedman. Friedman said the increase in the OPEB line over last year has to do almost entirely with the commitment to new hires, although there is a minimal annual contribution increase.
Committee members discussed using $363,760 in excess and deficiency money (a contingency line much like a municipality’s free cash) to reduce the overall expenditures of the school by paying for a consultant for electric vehicles and equipment, bus driver retention, and improvements to the school building and infrastructure.
Houghton said these represent one-off costs that the school does not anticipate would be recurring.
Committee member Skipper Manter warned that the OPEB hole will get bigger if the school doesn’t sufficiently address it, and suggested transferring the $363,760 directly into the OPEB fund, and covering those one-off expenditures through the general budget.
Friedman said doing so would bring the budget increase from 4.65 to 5.65 percent, and added that according to Massachusetts General Law, it is appropriate to use E and D funds to reduce the budget.
The committee voted to apply the E and D funds to the one-off expenditures in order to reduce the budget.
Manter said there are two position additions he believes could be postponed till next year — the outdoor groundskeeper and beautification position, and the additional physical education teacher.
He said the groundskeeper position was originally proposed as a condition of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission in its approval of the new field complex. “Then, all of a sudden, the description of the position changed, and we said that we need it for the whole property,” Manter said. “I think we need to have further discussion in the future about whether we want to continue with the turf project.”
Some committee members took exception with Manter’s characterization of the position. Member Mike Watts said the groundskeeper is a replacement of a position that was eliminated during COVID, as resources needed to be reallocated to increase custodial services indoors.
“I think it’s very shortsighted of us to look at this as an MVC requirement. We need to take care of our grounds, and we need a professional to do so,” Watts said.
Committee member Kim Kirk added that the position feeds into school pride, “and that is something our kids deserve and need.”
Additionally, Manter said, he thinks the physical education class sizes are such that the school can get by with the number of physical education teachers they currently employ.
Principal Sara Dingledy stressed that all the physical education classes are full, and the school needs an additional full-time instructor in order to meet the needs of students.
One sticking point for some committee members was the representation of bus leases in the transportation line.
In March, the school will acquire two new electric buses to add to its fleet in order to replace two currently leased diesel buses.
But Kirk noted that the transportation director for the high school, Marc Rivers, said he felt comfortable with using the existing bus fleet until infrastructure for the electric buses could be established. Friedman added that the diesel buses are still under lease, and have remaining lease periods of three to five years.
A vote to remove the approximately $46,000 related to the lease of two gas buses failed, 6-3.
D’Andrea said that money could also be used to pay for installation of an electric vehicle charger, should the committee deem it appropriate.
Tracking the track and field project
Following the most extensive review in the history of the MVC, committee member and representative for the MVRHS track and field project Kris O’Brien said the school district has exhausted all its financial resources to put toward the effort.
With outstanding contractual obligation costs for the field designer, Huntress Associates, along with the school’s owner’s project manager, CHA Consulting (formerly Daedalus Inc.), O’Brien requested the use of $66,200 out of the E and D contingency line. A small portion of that, she said, would go toward paying an application fee for potential additional special permits.
According to O’Brien, Oak Bluffs building inspector Tom Perry said during a meeting that the installation of the track would require a special permit review, and that he couldn’t definitively say whether a special permit would be required for the synthetic turf field in the future.
“We thought it would be in our best interest to include in the special permit review both aspects — the track and the synthetic infield,” O’Brien said.
Along with the special permit review, the Oak Bluffs board of health has proposed draft regulations spurred by concerns about the Island’s sole-source aquifer. Houghton said that the regulation currently under review by the Oak Bluffs board of health to ban synthetic materials containing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in the town would likely eliminate the track program at the high school for the time being.
Committee member Robert Lionette said he is concerned about putting more money toward arriving at a shovel-ready project when the school has already promised taxpayers that the project would be paid for by private funding.
Superintendent Matt D’Andrea clarified that the part that will be privately funded only relates to construction.
Houghton said the line transfer has nothing to do with the argument of turf or grass, and is instead meant to satisfy contractual obligations to the two contractors retained by the school district and move forward toward attaining construction documents.
“The discussion is about whether or not we want to have a track program for our high school. We need to have the documents and go through the special permitting process. If during that process there is some move to change the synthetic turf to grass, then so be it,” Houghton said.
The vote to allocate $66,200 from the contingency line toward contractual obligations and permitting fees passed, 6-3.
In addition to certifying the budget, committee members went ahead with the historically utilized statutory assessment formula, which determines what each town will pay toward the annual high school budget assessment.
The other option committee members could have chosen is the regional agreement formula, which is based entirely on a per-pupil accounting of how many students are sent to the high school by each town. The statutory formula is primarily driven by that same factor, although there are additional elements determined by the state.
In order to use the regional formula, the decision must be approved by the school committee, along with all six member towns unanimously. The statutory formula only requires a two-thirds majority vote among the towns.
In other business, Martha’s Vineyard Community Services is requesting that the old childhood education building on its campus be used as a temporary homeless shelter. The high school owns the land currently leased to Community Services for its existing and expanded campus. Committee members will come up with a list of stipulations for Community Services that will be discussed at the next school committee meeting on Jan. 10, at 5:30 pm.