An in-depth study by an independent consultant says that it would cost West Tisbury more money to operate its elementary school independently than remain part of the Up-Island Regional School District.
The West Tisbury finance committee believes otherwise - which is why at the April 10 annual town meeting, voters will find an article in the middle of the warrant asking that the town withdraw from the school district.
Voters will convene at the elementary school at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 10 to take up the 45-article warrant, which includes the town's proposed $12.8 million operating budget for fiscal year 2008 - a 4.7 per cent increase from this fiscal year.
The town election will be held from noon to 8 p.m. Thursday, April 12 in the West Tisbury Public Safety Building.
The finance committee recommends a town budget about $265,000 lower than the one presented on the warrant - almost all of which would come out of the town's assessment for the Up-Island Regional School District budget. (The remainder - $335 - would come from the Island Councils on Aging budget.)
The finance committee says the West Tisbury School is overstaffed, since there is a teaching aide in every classroom. But the school committee argues that the finance committee presumes all of those staff members could be laid off at the end of this school year without considering the impact on programming and the school as a whole.
"We don't think any of the programs have to be cut - it's overstaffed," finance committee chairman Alexander R. DeVito said.
Still, he said the finance committee would not go so far as to tell the school committee to cut staffing. "We don't want to get into telling them what to do," he said.
The school committee recently reduced its budget by $109,600 but the finance committee replied that it wanted a level-funded assessment for the town - an additional $265,000 in cuts off the town's $5.5 million assessment. This would mean an additional $370,000 in cuts off the total $8.2 million Up-Island Regional School District budget.
"It would change the way education is done at West Tisbury [School]," superintendent James H. Weiss said of the request, noting that such a cut would definitely cut into programs and services offered at the school.
"If you look at what the finance committee is doing in West Tisbury, they are trying to change school policy and practice - even though they admit they are not allowed to do that," Mr. Weiss said.
Last September, the finance committee asked that the total budget for the school district be level-funded. The school committee managed to present a budget with a 2.45 per cent increase. But in recent weeks, the finance committee asked instead that West Tisbury 's assessment be level-funded instead. Due to independent changes in enrollment and revenue, West Tisbury 's total assessment is set to increase 8.2 per cent.
In regard to the article to withdraw from the up-Island district, this is not the first time the finance committee has asked West Tisbury voters that question.
Town meeting was faced with a similar article in 2004, but voted instead to hire the consultant that would later produce a study that concluded the town was not bearing an unfair share of school expenses - contrary to the finance committee's belief. At annual town elections in 2005 - before the report was finished - the finance committee put a similar non-binding question on the ballot. It passed by a margin of 29 votes.
If the article passed at the upcoming town meeting, West Tisbury would not immediately withdraw from the region unless the other two towns in the district agreed. To withdraw, West Tisbury voters would need another town meeting approval six months later.
The independent consultant, the superintendent's office and several members of the school committee do not believe that withdrawing from the region would save the town money.
"Based upon the information that's been presented, I think it's a very shortsighted decision," Mr. Weiss said. "There are lots of questions that one would have about how they came up with that and I'm not sure how they got their numbers."
In addition to believing it would be cheaper for West Tisbury to withdraw from the region, the finance committee dislikes the voting system that goes along with being in regional district. The school budget can be passed with approval from only two of the three town meetings, regardless of the populations in those towns.
"One-third of the population of the district can tell two-thirds of the district what to do, and that's not right," finance committee chairman Alexander DeVito said.
The only other warrant article that the finance committee did not recommend is an amendment to a personnel bylaw that would reflect a 3.8 per cent salary adjustment for town employees, effective July 1. The committee recommends a 3 per cent increase instead, which is consistent with the government-reported cost of living increase in this area, Mr. DeVito said.
Another school-related article will change how the up-Island towns pay for capital costs like building maintenance. Assessments for capital costs are currently based on enrollment, with a 10 per cent minimum contribution. The new method "80-x-x" would charge the town that owns the facility 80 per cent of the capital costs - regardless of enrollment - and the remaining 20 per cent would be paid by the other two towns according to enrollment.