Amid a period of great flux for Vineyard public schools, a race is underway to determine the makeup of the Up-Island Regional School Committee.

Six candidates are competing for five spots on the committee, half of whom are first-timers.

Roxanne Ackerman. — Jaxon White

And the majority of them are running as write-in candidates, which means their names will not appear on the official ballot.

Michael Marcus and Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter 3rd are the official candidates for the election, both incumbents from West Tisbury.

Four others have also declared their intentions to run as write-in candidates: Roxanne Ackerman and Theresa Manning of Aquinnah, Robert Lionette of Chilmark and Katherine DeVane of West Tisbury.

At least one person must be elected from each town in the district; beyond that, the election is decided by a simple majority vote.

The election comes midway through budget season for the up-Island committee, which has seen dramatic increases in school spending in recent years.

Kate DeVane. — Mark Lovewell

A draft budget discussed this week puts regional spending at $10.7 million, an increase of 8.49 per cent over last year.

In interviews with the Gazette this week, candidates offered wide-ranging comments on the budget.

Ms. Ackerman, who has served more than 30 years on the committee and is seeking another four-year term, voiced concerns about recent education spending.

“We can do so much better with some serious shrinking and that is what we need to do,” she said. “I am looking for leadership that can look at what we are doing and do better, because it is ridiculous to be up over $1.5 million in two years in the up-Island region.”

Mr. Manter, a 16-year veteran of the committee and a selectman in West Tisbury, said his goal was to put together the most reasonable budget that delivers the highest quality education.

Robert Lionette. — Mark Lovewell

“I am always looking out for the taxpayer, but we also want to deliver quality education, and I try to balance the two,” he said.

Michael Marcus, who is completing his first term on the committee, said the budget as written represented a mix of needs and electives. He said he has been a strong proponent of enrichment opportunities for all students, those who are excelling as well as those who need more support.

“It is still a blend and a work in progress,” he said.

Mr. Marcus has three children at the West Tisbury School, and says he’s proud of his work there to eliminate the multi-age classroom model.

While it works well in Chilmark, he said it wasn’t working in West Tisbury.

Theresa Manning. — Ivy Ashe

He said he’ll continue to work to expand enrichment in English language arts and mathematics, and to keep class sizes small.

“I think the taxpayers in the town have supported us greatly in that area,”

he said.

This year will also bring the naming of a new superintendent, as current schools leader Dr. James H. Weiss retires from that post after nine years.

Candidate Katherine DeVane of West Tisbury called it a critical time for the school system at large as well as the special education programs.

Skipper Manter. — Mark Lovewell

“We have a new high school SPED director, we have some new programs that are happening, and we are also about to have a new superintendent,” Ms. DeVane said.

She has two children in the school system, one enrolled in the special education program. She is also co-chairman for the special needs parent group and is president of the Island Autism Group.

But she said she wouldn’t be narrowly focused on special needs issues if elected. “I don’t want people to think my only aim is to be SPED watch for the school committee,” she said.

She said she had studied the special needs part of the budget in the summer, and had some thoughts about how to reduce it. “I think that there are ways to streamline the budget in order to address some of those things in a slightly more cost-effective way,” she said.

Robert Lionette, who is uncontested in Chilmark, said right now the committee’s focus is on finding a new leader and facilitating a smooth transition. Then, once the budget cycle is complete and a new superintendent is named, he’d like to start addressing the possibility of universal pre-kindergarten.

“I see that as a vital move, if we can get that within four years,” Mr. Lionette said.

Michael Marcus. — Mark Lovewell

Ms. Ackerman said going forward, she also would like to explore opportunities for preschoolers and high school graduates. “As things get better, you look at the next thing that you want to work on,” she said. “That means making sure the preschool population gets the kind of service they need, and that people that need higher education get that opportunity.”

Theresa Manning, a first-time candidate from Aquinnah, has an eight year old in the West Tisbury School. She said Aquinnah’s school-age population is growing and she wants to make sure the town has a strong voice on the school board.

“I have been very happy with the schools and the resources our schools have,” she said.

Mr. Marcus echoed that commitment to the Vineyard schools.

“I really rest on not having an agenda other than what is best for our kids to have them achieve excellence in what is best for them,” he said.