Despite hours of debate and five drafts of an operating budget, the up-Island regional school committee has yet to agree on a financial plan for 2015.
A meeting of the board Monday produced some consensus among four members present, although there has been no vote yet on a final budget, expected to be significantly higher than last year.
Under discussion is a draft that asks for an increase of 8.09 per cent, $752,000 more than last year.
Much of the increase can be tracked to a rise in the cost of special needs services included in the superintendent’s budget. The up-Island district’s share of the superintendent’s shared services budget, approved by the All-Island School Committee in November and up $1 million compared with last year, is up 28 per cent, the largest share of any district.
The district is also poised to hire an additional fifth grade teacher as well as four additional special education aides and an enrichment position. Contractual requirements alone, including payroll obligations and insurance payments, increased this year by more than $200,000.
The budget also includes $198,000 in residential placement expenses for students with special needs.
While three committee members were poised to approve the budget Monday, chairman Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter 3rd said there was still work to do to reduce it.
He said the budget had not received sufficient scrutiny and needed line-by-line review.
And with committee member Roxanne Ackerman absent, Mr. Manter would not call for a vote.
Four votes, or at least two-thirds of the committee, are needed to certify the budget. Certification is now overdue and was scheduled for late last year.
Other members of the committee stood behind the budget as now written, and did not join Mr. Manter when he voted to reopen the superintendent’s shared services budget and cut from it.
“I think we have prepared this budget very responsibly as far as we can,” said Dan Cabot.
By the end of the meeting, some consensus had been reached. All four members agreed to reduce the budget by the amount of incoming state reimbursements, or so-called circuit breaker funds, which the state allows to make up for extraordinary special education obligations.
But even with the $50,000 reduction, Mr. Manter said he still would not support the budget until some of his other concerns were addressed. In December, he identified a series of line-item savings that he said would amount to about $400,000.
Still less support for the budget was found in the audience, where West Tisbury finance committee member Sharon Estrella questioned the board’s concern for taxpayers.
“I love this place; it’s the best school on the Island,” Ms. Estrella said. “But we have to feel that the school committee and the superintendent are really truly thinking about the taxpayers and it doesn’t come across that way.”
Committee member Michael Marcus thanked the finance committee for their presence at many budget meetings, but said he thought the majority of the taxpayers would stand behind the budget in its current form.
“I don’t think its our responsibility to find a budget that fincom approves,” Mr. Marcus said. “I think it’s our job to find one that we approve . . . I think the town has spoken resoundingly in favor of what we do here.”
Time is running short as deadlines loom for the annual town meeting warrant.
If the committee cannot reach agreement, the state will decide on a budget figure, said Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss.
The committee meets again on Jan. 27 at 5 p.m. in Chilmark.