Budgets for Learning

Island towns are anxiously planning for the coming financial year, aware that costs are rising faster than takings. The budget guardians are sensibly scrutinizing spending, and our schools are the first to face it. Prepared, school administrators shaved, among other things, an eighth-grade algebra program and a mentoring program in the superintendent’s shared budget, and the regional high school, given declining enrollment, plans to eliminate a math and an English teacher. These are meaningful cuts, and those at the schools will feel the effects.

Yet more cutting is expected, and schools should use this as an opportunity to think innovatively about public-private collaborations, tapping the broad support they have in this dynamic community. School officials are locked into funding many programs mandated by state and federal authorities, as well as paying teachers under ongoing contract agreements already fairly settled. But Island schools always have gone beyond the basic requirements, and supporting such initiatives will require even more creative syntheses going forward.

Meanwhile, the annual and proper budgeting process with the towns can be handled cleanly or clumsily. Vineyard schools are a valuable resource, and while their administrators have a duty to be responsive to economic realities, the Island towns have a duty, too, to protect our valuable institutions.

The regional high school is one of academic rigor, with highly professional teachers (some recognized far beyond our shores, with state and national roles in education policy and curriculum). It is a safe place for our young people to learn and grow.

Island schools draw and keep families here year-round. They contribute to this creative, well-rounded community. Voters have consistently chosen to invest in their schools, and the schools’ results have vindicated those choices.

Working out budgets at the local level can get clouded by the atmosphere of national economic malaise. Should our watchdogs of the bottom line take a suspicious us-and-them approach, the result will be a boondoggle with no meaningful investment strategy in the common good. Here in Massachusetts, where the first public school was founded one hundred and fifty years before the United States was even formed, this would be particularly disappointing. One hundred and fifty years ago free public education became widespread in America and the benefits have been tremendous. Whatever the current economy, it would be wise to remain bullish on Island schools.