The regional high school district committee tentatively set a $22 million operating budget last week, an increase of 4.5 per cent over last year.

Town assessments (totaling about $19.3 million) will increase 4.7 per cent.

Dec. 18 marked the second meeting dedicated to the budget, and committee members debated the details for more than three hours. Whether to put extra funds toward the school’s liability for post-employment benefits, how to fund continued designs for a new track, how to share transportation costs among Island schools, and how much to budget for the cafeteria system overhaul were all topics for lengthy discussion.

Though many committee members have expressed commitment to increasing the school’s contribution to other post employment benefits (OPEB), the group deadlocked twice 4-4 over exactly how much to contribute. In the end, no extra money was approved to pay down the OPEB liability beyond what’s required for current employees and retirees. The liability currently totals about $32 million, according to high school accountant Mark Friedman.

“It’s very easy to ignore it . . . because it doesn’t directly affect anything today,” said Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter, 3rd of West Tisbury, who advocated putting $350,000 in extra funds toward OPEB. “However it will in the near future and if we don’t address it now, it will have a direct impact on the education,” he said.

Even without the extra funds, post employment benefits are still a significant expense. The new budget includes more than $862,000 in post employment benefits saved for current employees, and more than $615,000 for existing retirees.

Funding for the high school track was also the subject of debate, with the committee ultimately choosing to use existing excess and deficiency funds to cover $350,000 in engineering and design work on the first phase of the project rather than asking the towns for the money in warrant articles. So-called E and D funds are money the school has accumulated in previous years through receiving more revenue or spending less than was projected.

A motion to use excess and deficiency funds for the track design passed 6-2, with Mr. Manter and Robert Lionette of Chilmark dissenting.

The athletic fields overhaul is estimated to cost $11.3 million and the first phase, which includes the track and football field, is estimated at $6.7 million.

If voters agree at annual town meetings in the spring, design work for high school building renovations will be paid for by Island towns. Initial costs for design work are pegged at some $1.4 million, though the committee asked accountants to look for ways to bring that cost down.

Island elementary schools also will be asked to cover a larger portion of transportation funds. The vote to assess an additional $57,000 in transportation funds to elementary schools was 6-2, with Mr. Manter and Janet Packer of Tisbury voting no.

The committee also voted to appropriate less money for the cafeteria overhaul by assuming staff would be hired at the lower end of the pay scale. That choice saved $20,000 in the budget.

The committee is waiting to vote on the budget until the superintendent’s budget is final. The superintendent’s budget covers a number of services shared among all Island schools, including special education, some music instruction and other programs. A vote on that budget was delayed due to lack of attendance at a recent all-Island school committee meeting.

The all-Island committee and the regional high school committee are both expected to meet on Jan 2 to certify their budgets.