Taxpayers in Aquinnah, Chilmark and West Tisbury will see the cost of educating schoolchildren rise sharply next year as the proposed budget for the Up-Island Regional School District goes from $5.9 million to more than $6.8 million, a 15 per cent increase.
The reasons are much the same as at the regional high school, where the budget will jump by almost 10 per cent next year. State aid is dropping, and the cost of insurance is climbing.
But in the two schools - Chilmark and West Tisbury - building repairs are also driving up costs. The Chilmark School is barely three years old, but already needs nearly $50,000 to fund maintenance projects that include a new paint job.
At the West Tisbury School, the regional school committee decided to seek $150,000 to cover the cost of repairing one of the school's seven roof sections. The long-term plan is to replace one section every two years until the job is complete, said Diane Wall, chairman of the school committee.
Despite the realities facing the school committee, the West Tisbury finance committee is putting pressure on school leaders to cut $100,000 from the assessment to their town.
"We're concerned about the impact of the budget on the town," said Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter, who serves on both the finance committee and the school committee.
Ms. Wall said she believes that can be done, but her committee won't produce a revised budget until the middle of next month. Looking ahead to annual town meetings, Ms. Wall said, "I don't anticipate a difficult sell."
The budget outlook may be bleak, but it's quite simple. "The state is transferring the budget from being state funded to being locally funded," said Ms. Wall.
The assessments spread over the three towns will hit Chilmark the hardest, with taxpayers being asked to shoulder more than $1.2 million of the budget, an increase of 24 per cent over this year.
That's due mostly to the fact that the enrollment of Chilmark students in both schools is climbing. Chilmarkers have backed their small school over the years, and they continue to pay the price, supporting what could be one of the highest per-pupil expenditures in the state.
The site operating budget alone at the school of 59 students will be $949,708 next year, not counting the school's contribution to shared costs for the superintendent's office and building debt. Based on that figure alone, it costs more than $16,000 to educate each student at the Chilmark School.
"Small schools tend to be more expensive," said principal Carlos Colley. "There are just certain things you need regardless of the size."
But he added that the pay-off comes from giving parents the option of sending their children to a small school where students are taught in multi-age classrooms. Plus, Mr. Colley pointed out, the school has boosted enrollment of children from Aquinnah, sparing them the lengthy commute to the West Tisbury School - at least for the years from kindergarten through fifth grade.
But the big question mark in Chilmark remains whether to retain the extra teacher hired this year when enrollment in the kindergarten and first grade classroom reached 27 and prompted a decision to divide the students into two separate classrooms.
Mr. Colley said he's not sure how many new students to expect next year and is concerned that he could see a repeat performance of what happened last September, when he saw significant last-minute enrollment in the lower grades.
"How do you predict how many kids you're going to have in September when you're putting together a budget in October?" he said. "We've been trying to poll the different preschools and asking parents, ‘Are you thinking of sending them here?' "
Mr. Colley said that with the budget pressures, he may simply opt to cut funding for the extra teacher and take his chances.
State aid is the big issue. According to Ms. Wall, the Chapter 70 funds going to the district next year will be down by about $200,000. Plus, much of the $862,958 expected from the state will go to reimburse the cost of up-Island students attending the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School.
The budget certified by the regional school committee shows more than $692,000 going to the charter school.