An unpopular Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School budget reemerged last week after a staff member at the school superintendent’s office spotted that not enough votes had been cast to obtain the legally required two-thirds majority at a meeting in December.
The high school committee voted 7-1 to certify a revised $16.2 million budget last Thursday, but not before eliminating a controversial proposed facilities manager position.
The decision, which eliminates the high school’s $16,000 share of a proposed $90,000 salary, is expected to kill the new position which Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss had advocated.
Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter, a school committee member from West Tisbury, voted against the budget. Committee member John Bacheller was absent. Voting in favor were Susan Parker, Priscilla Sylvia, Susan Mercier, Judith O’Donoghue, Leslie Baynes, Roxanne Ackerman and Maura Valley.
After learning of the procedural misstep, last Thursday the committee was forced to revisit last month’s disputes, which included the proposed schoolwide facilities manager position and a series of instructional cuts across the music, drama and counseling departments.
Mr. Weiss argued that removing the facilities manager position would be a “philosophical rather than financial” gesture, adding: “It is important to pull together and move forward together in a positive way.”
Despite fresh calls from parents, alumni and students at the well-attended meeting, funds from the facilities manager position were not redistributed into drama, music or counseling. Several in attendance voiced their concern that instruction cuts made this year are the beginning of an ongoing assault on arts.
“It’s the first layer of the onion we’re up to peel for many years,” said Howard Marlin, a parent attending the meeting. But committee chairman Susan Parker said the cuts did not augur disaster for the performing arts, that they were slight and were made only among the school’s little-used courses. “I don’t see this as one step down the road to oblivion at all,” she said. Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter, a committee member from West Tisbury, moved to put the extra funds into drama and counseling, but the motion failed.
And high school principal Margaret (Peg) Regan said putting money back into departments at the final hour was not an option. “Shoving money back into the a program at this point would have been cavalier,” she said via telephone following the meeting, adding that the cuts in their final form add up to the equivalent of one half of a full-time salary. Even so, it was not an easy decision to make.
“It’s the first time on the Island that we’ve had a reduction in the work force and it’s not like other places that are commutable. Here it means loss of income and loss of jobs. But, as the principal, I must be fiscally responsible to towns. It’s not responsible of me as a supervisor or a manger to pay salaries to people who don’t have people in their classes,” Mrs. Regan said.
Mr. Weiss predicted that the facilities manager position will not be created this year as a result of last Thursday’s meeting. “The two reasons it was removed were that the budget was tight and some felt that the position wasn’t thoroughly researched and prepared,” he said following the meeting. “We put together the best information we had. But people were asking when they will see return for their specific region. We can’t do it. Our goal was that in two years we would have returns across the board and that’s the way it was marketed. But some towns won’t have the same immediacy as others.”
Mr. Weiss remains adamant about the need for the position. “I don’t know how I will change the approach, I’m concentrating on making the budget adjustments across the other towns,” he said, “But [not having it] means the cost savings can’t start happening and also that a better job can’t yet be done at the schools.”
Priscilla Sylvia, a school committee member from Oak Bluffs, agreed the position is essential. “This is something we desperately need. We need it, it has got to come back,” she said.
Mrs. Regan warned that with further declines predicted in enrollment, more will have to be done on future budgets ahead of time.
“As far as I’m concerned the budget is now a year-round thing,” she said at the meeting.