New pandemic-related expenses and the use of contingency funds to cover them were the subject of lively debate at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School district committee meeting Monday.

Committee members learned that added nursing services and extra cleaning for school buses will be needed as the school begins preparing for student re-entry in November.

At the outset Monday, high school principal Sara Dingledy came before the district committee to request the addition of a second full-time nurse to the staff.

“I believe that we need to have an extra nurse at the high school to support bringing students back,” she said. “It is the biggest building on the Island, we have a big staff, we need to support the nurse during this time period.”

The need for additional nursing aid has intensified as plans for an Islandwide virus testing program have come into sharper focus at recent all-Island school committee meetings, Ms. Dingledy said. If the proposed testing program is adopted, the high school would need a second nurse to help with testing operations, in addition to more general nursing duties, she said.

“Given everything that’s happening and the potential for things in the nurse’s office, a full-time nurse should be added to the high school. My belief is that nurse could also support the testing that comes in,” Ms. Dingledy said.

The proposed testing plan calls for each of the Island’s five school districts to cover $150,000 of the estimated $650,000 cost, based on enrollment. Under that formula, the high school would contribute the largest sum of $46,361, with the funds likely coming from the Covid contingency line item in the budget.

On Monday Ms. Dingledy requested permission from the committee to explore funding sources in the high school budget for the nursing position, including the Covid contingency line.

But some committee members were uncomfortable using contingency monies earmarked for testing to fund a new nursing position.

“I feel like we’ve muddied the waters by talking about these two things together,” said committee member Kathryn Shertzer. “The way I see it is that our high school nurse needs support, whether we are testing or not.”

Committee member Amy Houghton echoed the sentiment, urging the committee to keep discussion of testing separate for the moment. “If everyone agrees that we need an additional nurse then I don’t think that posting it is contingent. We need to find the money,” she said.

Committee member Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter 3rd cautioned against advertising for a nursing position with no clear funding source. He expressed further general concerns about the ambiguity of the testing program’s expenses. “I just always think we should know where the money is first because we’ll be looking for other expenses related to Covid, I’m sure,” Mr. Manter said.

In the end, the committee voted 8-1 to advertise for a year-long nursing position, with no stipulation about funding sources. Mr. Manter cast the nay vote.

Further discussion surrounding testing program funding was postponed for later in the week, when the all-Island committee is expected to take up the matter again.

In related financial business, the committee backed a recommendation from school business administrator Mark Friedman to hire assistance for school bus cleaning through the end of the year.

Under the current state-issued health guidelines, schools are required to disinfect high-touch areas of buses after each run, Mr. Friedman said. Last spring, the school acquired electrostatic spraying machines to speed up the process, but with increased cleaning needs, the transportation department requires additional cleaning assistance, he said.

Following a formal bid process, Mr. Friedman came before the committee Monday to approve a contract with Fullers Cleaning, an Island company, for intensive bus cleaning

Based on bus usage, 90 per cent of buses will be cleaned every week day and 50 per cent cleaned on weekends. The school can terminate the agreement in the event of a pandemic-related school shut down, Mr. Friedman said.

He estimated a total cost of $129,200 for the 34-week period, noting that the figure could change based on bus usage. He recommended that the funds come from two pre-existing contingency lines in the school budget, which total $100,000 and $500,000 respectively.

The funding proposal saw pushback from some committee members, including Kris O’Brien and Mr. Manter, who said contingency monies had been designated for other purposes.

“I remember very specifically, Ms. O’Brien saying more than once, that the $500,000 [contingency money] was for the event there was an unanticipated residential placement student or emergency repairs to the building,” Mr. Manter said. “I believe we’re altering what we set up in the beginning.”

But with pandemic expenses still in flux, Mr. Friedman urged the committee to approved the funding.

“This is all about weighing risks, not just for the virus but also with the budget,” Mr. Friedman said. “It will be more clear for the committee as we go through this year to know where some of these big items are residing, even if we revisit them later on. Otherwise, there are six-figure floating budget items, which I would not recommend.”

After much debate, the committee moved to approve the funding, with offset from local bus routes. The motion passed 7-1, with Mr. Manter voting nay.

The committee voted unanimously to adopt a mask policy after a second reading. The policy requires face coverings for all students, with exceptions in cases of emergency.