The all-Island school committee this week grappled with the question of how the superintendent’s budget is split among Island elementary schools.

The up-Island regional district has requested reconsideration of how school choice students are accounted for, when it comes to calculating shares of the superintendent’s budget.

Elementary schools pay for 80 per cent of the superintendent’s budget, while the high school pays 20 per cent. Currently, elementary assessments are based on enrollment. But historically more students have opted to attend the up Island schools through the school choice program than vice versa, which leaves the up-Island district paying a higher portion of the so-called shared services budget. Feeling an unfair cost burden, the up-Island school committee wants school choice students to be counted toward their residential town’s assessment, instead of the school they are attending.

“To me this is an unfair fiscal burden being put on up-Island,” said committee member Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter 3rd this week. The West Tisbury selectmen and finance committee also are backing the proposed change.

Mr. Manter reminded the committee about the struggle the up-Island district had last year in trying to approve a budget, and the ongoing difficulties they are having this year.

“We’ve met more about the up-Island budget this year than any other time in history of the up-Island district,” Mr. Manter said. “I know it might be a hit for some towns, but you have to understand the pressures we’re under by having to pay for your students’ school choice participation in the up-Island level, it’s just not fair.”

West Tisbury town accountant Bruce Stone attended the meeting and explained that the state Department of Education recognized the resident town as fiscally responsible for children’s education costs. Chapter 70 calculations use the resident town census to calculate reimbursements for education costs as well.

“A fair system of allocation cost would adhere to the state-defined definition of the town that is financially responsible for educating the children, based on where they live,” Mr. Stone said.

In past discussions of the assessment formula, the rationale had been that over time the school choice students evened out. But since 2008, the up-Island district has only broken even once between sending and receiving students. Up-Island committee member Michael Marcus agreed that the current system was unfair.

“Personally, as a member of the school committee for up-Island, I’d be moving very quickly to change our position if this isn’t effected immediately,” he said.

To which committee member Susan Mercier asked, “Is that a threat?”

If a change does go into effect for fiscal year 2017, Tisbury and Edgartown assessments would go up, while Oak Bluffs would stay the same and up Island district assessments would go down. Tisbury would pay approximately $114,000 more, while Edgartown’s assessment would go up about $51,000. Up-Island would pay about $165,000 less.

Committee chairman Colleen McAndrews expressed concern that changing the assessments suddenly without conversation on a town-by-town basis would be unfair.

“At this point, as a school committee member, I would not be comfortable doing anything without looking at the scope,” she said. “This is a big decision.”

The committee agreed to give each elementary school committee time to explore the issue and consult with finance committees. A workshop to discuss the assessment formula will be held Jan. 13 at 7 p.m. in the library conference room at the high school.