The up-Island regional school district committee struggled to make significant cuts to its budget this week amid growing confusion and disagreement over the implications of West Tisbury’s refusal to pay all of its share.

With the largest school-age population, West Tisbury bears the lion’s share of costs for the up-Island regional school district, which also includes Chilmark and Aquinnah. The committee oversees funding for the West Tisbury and Chilmark elementary schools.

The budget quandary began at the West Tisbury town election last month, when voters said no to a $300,000 Proposition 2 1/2 override question on the town ballot for school spending. A special town meeting has been set for June 2 where voters will consider a revised school budget.

Meeting on Monday this week, the district school committee tried to identify areas to trim but could not reach consensus. A large part of the $10.4 million school budget cannot be cut due to contractual obligations. A second meeting held Thursday afternoon saw more progress, with the committee agreeing to cut $440,000 from its budget, thus reducing the West Tisbury assessment by just over $300,000. It has not yet been decided where the cuts will come from.

“Our feet have been put to the fire a bit and this gets us to a level of resolution and a glimpse at a path forward,” said committee chairman Michael Marcus.

But at the regular West Tisbury selectmen’s meeting Wednesday, a selectman who also serves on the school committee threw a new wrinkle into the issue.

During discussion of the special town meeting warrant, selectman Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter 3rd moved to add an article asking voters if they want the town to withdraw from the regional district, which was formed in 1993. He said he wanted to send a message to the schools that recent increases in spending are unsustainable.

“We can no longer pay the portion we are being assessed without some serious financial implications in town,” Mr. Manter said. “We need to have something done differently in order to continue to be part of this organization.”

If West Tisbury voters decide to withdraw from the district, the town could not immediately secede from the region unless the up-Island school committee and the other two towns in the district agreed to it. If the other towns disagree, West Tisbury would need a majority vote at a second town meeting six months later in order to withdraw.

Earlier in the week, the meeting of the up-Island school committee was marked by tense silences as somber members debated where to make spending cuts. Several options were discussed, including eliminating or reducing the annual contribution to the OPEB (Other Post Employment Benefits) trust fund, and asking the all-Island school committee, which approves a budget for regional administrative and special education costs, to reconsider that $5.8 million budget.

In addition, committee members reviewed a list of proposed cuts prepared by school leaders, which would create level funding with no new increases for health education and Island Grown Schools, and eliminate an education support professional position and the Chilmark English language learner teacher, who is no longer needed.

Mr. Manter wanted to target non-union employee salaries by eliminating the raises for the building principals, the assistant principal and the information technology staff. That measure would save about $8,000. 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.

In addition to quarrelling about where to cut costs, committee members disagreed about the significance of the ballot vote in West Tisbury last month.

Mr. Manter said the message is simple: 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.

At the selectmen’s meeting on Wednesday, selectman Richard Knabel said he was sympathetic to the goal of Mr. Manter’s warrant article asking voters to secede from the district, but less sure about the timing.

West Tisbury voters have considered withdrawing twice before, but those efforts were ultimately unsuccessful. In 2004, the town commissioned a study which found that, at that time, West Tisbury’s educational costs would only increase if it withdrew from the district.

Mr. Knabel said given the history and the short window before town meeting, he was not sure the case could be made very clearly to enough people as to why West Tisbury should withdraw.

“I would not like to see the situation where town votes on this question without there being adequate preparation as far as implications consequences, advantages, and all of that,” he said.

Ultimately, he agreed to put the withdrawal article on the warrant.

The third selectman, Cynthia Mitchell, was not present.

The school committee meets on May 18 to precisely identify the budget reductions.

“I think it gives us the time to sort through this in an appropriate manner,” Mr. Marcus said.