MVRHS airs proposed FY24 budget

School committee holds a public hearing on the budget for the next fiscal year. 

The MVRHS school budget includes some money for maintenance of the school building, but not full-blown projects. — MV Times

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) Committee presented the proposed budget for fiscal year 2024 at a public hearing Tuesday evening. 

MVRHS Principal Sara Dingledy said the committee had made a “commitment in spirit” to Island towns, in addition to agreeing to a memorandum of understanding that any budget increase would be kept within 2.5 percent. “We took that seriously,” she said, despite simultaneous contract negotiations with the Martha’s Vineyard Educators Association. 

Dingledy said the contractual salaries recently agreed upon with the teacher’s union averaged an increase of 3 to 5 percent. Fitting that into the budget, she said, “was challenging.”

Additionally, Dingledy said, the budget accounts for some expenses associated with maintaining the current school building. “Even though we know we have a new building project on the horizon,” she said, “we still want to make sure we’re doing our due diligence, and making sure that we maintain the building.” Dingledy clarified that other than essential maintenance expenses, no new capital projects will be taken on. 

For fiscal year 2024, the high school is looking at a 2.32 percent increase in its overall operating budget, Dingledy said, for a total budget of $25.14 million. 

The overall assessed increase, which considers revenue stream, is set at a 5.12 percent increase. Dingledy said that there is often a “net savings” at the end of each budget cycle that will help offset the upcoming year’s budget. This year those offsets are smaller than in previous years, which is why the assessed increase is larger than the spending budget, Dingledy explained. 

Attendees were presented with a snapshot of the school’s achievements and future goals.

In outlining top priorities for FY24 in terms of expenditures, Dingledy highlighted continued support of teachers, meeting instructional needs, addressing losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, enhancing support for English language learners, maintaining afterschool event supervision, and looking at “alternative pathways to graduate,” among others.

Dingledy said the high school “has already surpassed pre-COVID levels of achievement and momentum,” and provided data measuring overall school performance. MVRHS students scored above a number of other schools in the state, including Nantucket, in the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), Dingledy said: “We definitely do well compared with the state, and we’re also doing quite well compared to ourselves.”

Additionally, the high school has seen a significant increase in student enrollment, Dingledy said, noting that currently, the enrollment is 762, compared with the 634 it had when she began in her position in 2018. The increase in student enrollment is countered by an increase of only five staff positions in that same time period. “We’ve maintained a lean staff, an effective staff,” she said, noting that graduation rates have gone up as well. 

Dingledy said the goal is to maintain the momentum of the comparatively high student proficiency levels and state testing results. 

The school has also increased its enrollment of students whose first language is not English, a change from 12 percent of the student body in 2017 to now 26.9 percent.

Continued Investments in work-study programs, dual-enrollment classes, and alternative ways to graduate are also important goals, Dingledy said. 

With little comment or testimony from the committee or members of the public, Dingledy moved on to mention some of the specific line items within the budget that will be increased and decreased for FY24. 

The $1.7 million FY24 increase is composed mostly of personnel costs, with contractual salaries and noncontract salaries making up $823,000 and $100,000, respectively, of the budget increase. 

Line items totaling nearly $1 million have been cut from the budget, Dingledy explained. 

“We cut out a lot of things,” she said, in an effort to meet the 2.5 percent mark. This includes reducing contingency and reserve line items, and cutting “professional development, textbooks, curriculum writing money” for the upcoming budget. 

Upon inquiring about the percentage differences between the overall spending budget and the assessment, Robert Lionette, school committee chair, told The Times that the 5.12 percent increase in the assessment refers to the school’s revenue, not the operating costs.

He said in the past, the school has used excess and deficiency funds — similar to a municipality’s free cash — to offset the budget, which essentially turns those funds into a revenue source.

Last year, Lionette said that nearly $1 million of those funds were used as such. “The problem with doing that is eventually it catches up,” he said, since it’s not real revenue: “You either have that free cash or you do not.” 

This year, the school committee opted for a “one-off capital campaign” that would be taken up as a warrant article at town meetings. “That would allow the voters to have a say as to whether they wish us to continue with the capital projects in light of the significant renovation project that’s down the line,” he said. 

As of now, he clarified, “the assessment rises because the funds have yet to be applied as a revenue source.” 

Lionette said the budget is slated to be “re-examined” at a committee meeting on Monday to ensure the committee is “being responsible as stewards of the building.”

He said other revenue sources may have been overlooked in the current version of the budget, and that will be explored further next week. 

“The operating budget will not go above 2.5,” Lionette clarified, “that we’re sure of.”

On the current version, Lionette said, “I don’t think we acted in haste, but I don’t think we explored all options, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”