Up-Island school committee approves budget

Fourth time was the charm for this committee.

Fourth time's the charm for the Up-Island school committee on passing its fiscal year 2023 budget. — Stacey Rupolo

The Up-Island Regional School Committee approved and certified the school district’s $13.9 million budget for the fiscal year 2023 during a Thursday night meeting. The vote was 4-1, with school committee member Skipper Manter as the only dissenting vote. 

In past meetings, school committee members Manter and Robert Lionette were resistant to the usage of excess and deficiency (E and D) funds to cover parts of the budget, saying it was an irresponsible option and a short-term solution. 

School committee chair Alex Salop said finance committees of West Tisbury and Aquinnah “have weighed in” on this subject. He also received an email from West Tisbury town administrator Jennifer Rand saying West Tisbury recommends using the E and D funds “to pay down the budget.” Manter, who is also the West Tisbury select board chair, clarified Salop’s statement, and said, “The two boards [finance committee and select board] voted to take 100 percent of the excess and deficiency funds to reduce the assessments in the revenue part.” 

Aquinnah’s recommendation differed. School committee member Roxanne Ackerman said Aquinnah’s finance committee and the select board recommended the money be spent to offset the budget.

Chilmark recommended using no E and D funds, Marni Lipke, who keeps the school committee minutes, said.

Prior to the vote, Salop said the committee needed to make a motion that would get them four out of five votes. “The question is, who is going to be pragmatic and who is going to be dogmatic about it?” he asked.

When asked by Salop what options were preferable, Manter said he wants to find a route that prevents a 6.9 percent increase to the budget. Lionette expressed concern over the fact that the school budgets have historically tended to rise a few percentage points. 

“I don’t think it’s rocket science,” school committee member Kate DeVane said, stating her preference for Aquinnah’s recommendation. 

After a lot of disagreements on how to approach the budget and what percentage increase was acceptable, Salop interjected and said, “Typically, I wouldn’t be so direct on this, but I think we need to figure out the delta between Robert and Kate, in particular, to get this thing passed.”

Lionette made a motion to “reserve up to 5 percent of E and D and use the rest of the balance as a revenue offset,” which Ackerman seconded. However, DeVane said she could not vote for this motion because West Tisbury residents will be hit the hardest by the budget increase, compared with residents of Chilmark and Aquinnah. 

The motion was withdrawn, and discussion continued. 

Ultimately, Lionette proposed a compromise that would provide some E and D funds to offset the budget and keep $500,000 of the $800,000 in E and D funds. The vote brought the committee full circle, back to the operating budget that was proposed at the first meeting.