Faced with a large deficit in school funding in West Tisbury, the up-Island regional school committee is tightening its belt.

During a somber meeting Monday marked by heated debate and tense silences, the members agreed to cut $166,000 from the district budget.

The cuts would be made on a regional basis and would reduce the town’s school bills by about $105,000.

The motion to make the cuts, which narrowly passed Monday in a 2-1-1 vote, fell short of identifying specific areas of the schools which would be targeted for reduction.

That task is on the agenda for a meeting this Thursday at 2:45 p.m. at the West Tisbury School.

The vote taken Monday followed a two-hour meeting defined by stalemate in which school committee members expressed divergent priorities when it comes to the schools. Though substantial, the cuts they identified on Monday fall short of the school budget’s shortfall, which is projected to be $231,560.

Last month, voters at the West Tisbury town meeting approved $7 million as their portion of the $10.4 million up-Island school district.

But that approval was contingent on a $300,000 override to the town levy limit, and at the ballot box, voters said no to spending the extra cash for schools. Now the regional school committee must identify savings and present West Tisbury voters with a budget they will approve.

The town has tentatively scheduled a special town meeting for June 2 to take up the school budget. Without a vote approving it, at whatever cost, the schools line item will remain blank, school leaders and town officials said.

And if the school budget presented in June does not fit within the limits of the state tax levy limit, forcing an override, the question will also have to come before voters in a ballot question.

On Monday, an atmosphere of confusion and uncertainty pervaded the school committee meeting.

Committee member Robert Lionette was first to offer a possible solution to the budget quandary. Instead of targeting educational services, he suggested that the district eliminate next year’s contribution to the OPEB (Other Post Employment Benefit) trust fund.

The schools had planned to increase their usual contribution from $100,000 to $150,000 next year, but even that falls far short of meeting the district’s liability, which committee member Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter 3rd estimated at $12 to $14 million.

As long as the contribution is inadequate, Mr. Lionette suggested holding off until the district comes up with a more robust funding plan.“On the short-term it may seem somewhat irresponsible, but I think we are well the path to develop a truly responsible, forward thinking plan,” he said.

But others said this would be irresponsible and short-sighted.

“We have second biggest liability on the Island, and we have practically done nothing for it except throw some pocket change at it,” Mr. Manter said.

Mr. Lionette also advocated using excess funds to plug holes in the budget.

But others warned that this strategy would simply prolong the inevitable.

When school leaders presented the committee with a list of proposed cuts, which would keep funding level for health education and Island Grown Schools and eliminate an education support professional position, as well as reduce the OPEB contribution, all four members were displeased.

“I don’t want to use the OPEB,” Mr. Manter said. “There are other places to take the money.”

One place he identified was non-union employee salaries, which include the building principals, the assistant principal and the information technology staff. Mr. Manter wants to eliminate their raises, a move that would save about $8,000. “It is a small amount of money but it shows the people of West Tisbury that we are looking everywhere to do whatever we can,” he said.

He also suggested eliminating one of the two school principal positions altogether.

“These are the things we need to change,” he said. “We cannot continue this model. The cost of maintaining these two buildings as you know is through the roof.”

Most salaries and benefits for school employees, which make up the majority of the school budgets, are fixed under a union contract and cannot be lowered to save money, leaving limited opportunities for savings within the budget.

In addition to quarrelling about where to cut costs, committee voters disagreed about the significance of the ballot vote.

Mr. Manter said simply that the town wants $300,000 cut out of the school budget.

“That is what the people want,” he said. “They don’t want your taxes going up anymore because of school expenditures.”

But committee chairman Michael Marcus said residents who didn’t vote weren’t heard.

“My bias is that we have a significant segment of the community that is very interested in voting and a segment of the community that has other stuff going on and just couldn’t get there,” he said.

He advocated for increased efforts next time on the part of school leaders.

“I think that part of that burden lies on us to get those people to go out and vote,” he said.