Heeding a request from two Island towns with strained budgets, the regional high school district committee voted Monday to cut some $90,000 from its budget originally earmarked to cover future liability for employee post-retirement benefits.

Representatives from Tisbury and Oak Bluffs finance committees attended the meeting to ask for the cuts.

Tisbury finance committee chairman Jeff Kristal said his town has had to put its retirement benefits liability on hold too.

“We’re trying to do it just as aggressive as the school is, but we reduced ours as well today,” Mr. Kristal said. “We’re just asking to stretch it out a little bit longer.”

Oak Bluffs finance committee chairman Bill Vrooman said his town is anticipating increased spending on high school projects in the near future, including a campus overhaul.

“We know you’re going to present a warrant article [in the spring for feasibility study money] for the building,” Mr. Vrooman said. “We know you’re going to present a warrant article for the track. The town has already turned down our own town hall. There’s a lot of pressure right now in Oak Bluffs.”

Finance committee member Maura McGroarty said setting aside money for post retirement benefits should remain a priority, but the amount needs to be lowered. “I actually support this OPEB, but the budget needs to be cut. You have to find that balance. Oak Bluffs is going to have to do it as a town,” she said.

Other post employment benefits (OPEB) mostly refer to health insurance for retired school employees, and the school is working to pay down its future liability while covering existing retirees. The liability is estimated to be about $32 million.

The committee wrestled with the last-minute reduction.

Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter 3rd questioned the appropriateness of rehashing the OPEB obligation after the committee had already made a decision at a previous meeting. The committee is working to reach a milestone where the liability ceases to grow. They hoped to reach that point in three years, then five. Monday night, they pushed the goal farther out to seven years.

“We came to an agreement that we thought it was important to address this OPEB obligation upfront,” Mr. Manter said.

Superintendent of schools Dr. Matthew D’Andrea said the administration had budgeted conservatively, pointing out that most budget increases came from post-employment benefits, health insurance, and residential care for students with special needs, not educational programs. Educational program increases totaled 2.1 per cent.

“We are not spending like crazy. We are not,” Mr. D’Andrea said.

The new budget passed 7-2 with Mr. Manter and Robert Lionette voting against the change.

Assistant superintendent Richard Smith called it a good decision.

“I think as a group we need to listen to the towns and be sensitive to what they’re saying, and a gesture like this demonstrates that we hear them,” he said.

With other savings from health insurance projections, the 2020 budget was reduced by more than $260,000.

The total budget is now just over $22 million, with total town assessments of $19.2 million.