MVRHS recertifies FY23 budget

Committee members criticize the statement issued over Donahue incident.

MV public schools business administrator Mark Friedman, seen here at a meeting in 2019, brought a request to the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School committee to re-certify the budget following the state's certification of E and D funds. -Lucas Thors

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School committee voted to recertify its approximately $25 million overall budget (and the approximately $20 million in assessments) after more than $2 million in excess and deficiency (E and D) funds was certified by the Massachusetts Division of Local Services. 

The MVRHS budget was already certified on Jan. 3 with a vote by the committee, but because the E and D funds are now officially certified by the state, that budget must be revisited and recertified. E and D funds accrue as excess revenue accumulates each year within the school budget. If the amount of those funds exceed 5 percent of the overall budget, anything that spills over must be recirculated back to the member towns. With these E and D funds, the high school is looking to offset the expenditure line in the FY23 budget. 

The high school will be returning more than $900,000 to the towns, based on that 5 percent overall budget cap. “That is the restriction of regional school districts. We can’t retain unlimited amounts of E and D funds,” said the Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools business administrator, Mark Friedman.

The excess revenues and savings that constituted the E and D were generated largely by additional unbudgeted transportation reimbursements that the school received during COVID, along with significant savings from not having to provide as much bus transportation and travel for sports and off-Island events. In the recent past, E and D has been used to offset costs for one-off facilities projects like redoing the girls’ locker room, making improvements to the culinary dining room and cafeteria, and purchasing a zero-turn mower for the grounds crew. 

The vote to certify the budget after rescinding the previously voted budget passed, with committee member Skipper Manter as the only dissenter. 

Toward the end of the meeting, during public comment period, Manter mentioned the meeting of the Oak Bluffs planning board that The Times reported on, during which Terry Donahue, a longtime supporter of the field project, made an offensive comment that was audible to everyone in the meeting. 

“A day or so later, a letter appeared in the paper and it was signed by the superintendent, the assistant superintendent, and the chairperson of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School,” Manter said. “I had no issue with the content of the letter, but my concern is that a letter going out like that makes it representative of the school committee, and the committee took no action and made no decision to send a letter or what the content would be.” The letter was also signed by MVRHS Principal Sara Dingledy. 

Vice chair of the committee Kelly McCracken (who is stepping down from the committee) said the newspapers should never be receiving anything from the school committee without approval. Although she would have worded the press release regarding the incident differently, she said, she agreed that a public statement was important and necessary, but that the letter needed to be agreed upon by the entire committee.

“We are all one here; there is no CEO of the school committee, we all should have a voice, and it should have come before us,” McCracken said. 

McCracken added that in her opinion, the majority of the planning board meeting was positive, with students, coaches, and members of the community making impassioned pleas to move forward with the project. “Thank you for showing up, thank you for speaking up. That’s what we are asking them to do every single day. Everyone else that didn’t go, look at these kids. They stood up — good for them,” McCracken said. 

Community member Beka El-Deiry said that for any child to come up to a school committee member or attend a public meeting and say they are opposed to the project would be daunting. “Please keep in mind that they are children, and their mental health is already fragile. You might not be hearing from kids with other opinions, and I think you know why,” El-Deiry said. 

She said she hopes that, if the planning board does not issue a special permit, the school will have a solid plan B. “I know our kids need [a new athletic campus], and we should be thinking about a backup,” she said.