Wise Use at the High School

Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School principal Margaret (Peg) Regan is a stand-up person who was forced to make hard choices this year about the high school budget.

And she did. And she defended those choices before an emotional crowd of parents, teachers and students last week, who crowded the high school library to protest planned cuts in the music and drama department. There was hardly a dry eye in the house as students spoke movingly about the importance of music and drama in their lives, both in and out of school.

The emotional reaction was understandable, and in the end the testimony from the students played an important role in the compromise budget that was hammered out on Monday night this week.

It was heartening to see the school committee zero in on the real issues with appropriate gravity. Because the pivotal issues in the high school budget have little to do with music and drama, which are not threatened by draconian cuts.

Enrollment at the high school is falling, and Mrs. Regan and the high school district committee must make responsible decisions about staffing while still maintaining a high quality educational program. It’s a tough balancing act.

The job was made even harder this year by dramatic increases in Vineyard schools superintendent James Weiss’s own budget, which is up a whoppping twenty per cent. A high-salary position of schoolwide facilties manager was added for the first time, plus there was a plan to float a bond to pay for new busses and a new sewage treatment system. These three things combined to put extra pressure on the high school budget, which must absorb twenty per cent of the superintendent’s budget.

On Monday night the school committee wisely chose to put one part of the bond on hold: the wastewater plan, which is not mandatory and largely driven by the still unbuilt YMCA project across the road from the high school. The estimated cost of the wastewater project has already gone up from $1.4 to $2 million.

More study and explanation is needed before this project goes forward, at considerable taxpayer expense.