After weeks of wrestling over its unusually large excess and deficiency fund, the up-Island regional school district committee approved a nearly $14 million budget for the coming fiscal year late Thursday.

The agreement followed a rare joint meeting with the finance committees and select boards of all three towns on Jan. 13, where school district committee chair Alex Salop pleaded for help resolving a stubborn split among members over more than $800,000 in excess and deficiency, often called E and D.

“Everybody is somewhat intransigent, and that’s why we need guidance,” Mr. Salop told town officials at the online meeting.

At the Jan. 20 meeting, the school district committee agreed 4-1 to apply $500,000 of the surplus to pay down the district’s obligation to post-employment benefits fund (OPEB), to retain $100,000 as a contingency budget line, and to apply the rest — roughly $346,000 — to offset the 2023 budget.

The vote reflects a compromise between committee members who had held strong positions over whether to send the entire surplus — minus the $100,000 contingency — to OPEB, to the budget or directly to the towns.

Only Mr. Salop was “on the fence,” he said, Jan. 13.

Kate DeVane of West Tisbury had argued for using all of the money to reduce the school budget, in order to limit the impact on taxpayers of a 6.34 per cent budget increase (about $838,000) over last year.

“E and D was allocated for education, and to give it back to the towns would be problematic and would leave us with a very large budget,” Ms. DeVane said Jan. 13.

“It’s unfair to the people of the up-Island regional school district, [and] West Tisbury will be hit the hardest because of the assessment and the number of kids in the West Tisbury School,” she also said.

Roxanne Ackerman of Aquinnah also supported applying the surplus to the budget.

Chilmark committee member Robert Lionette favored using the funds for OPEB.

“To use E and D to offset this budget this year is doing nothing but kicking the can [to] next year,” Mr. Lionette said Jan. 13, noting that this year’s increase is largely due to greater enrollment at the Chilmark and West Tisbury schools.

“We will owe this money the following year. I don’t see that this one-time savings — which is just reducing the assessment, not the operating budget — helps,” he said. “We need to step up and own a 6.3 per cent increase in the budget, as driven by the population.”

Committee member Skipper Manter of West Tisbury held a similar position.

“Using E and D for offsetting [budget] expenses is I don’t think fiscally responsible,” Mr. Manter said on Jan. 13. “It’s poor fiscal planning.”

Unlike Mr. Lionette, Mr. Manter favored giving the money back to the towns directly, to be reallocated as select boards see fit.

But as chairman of the West Tisbury select board, on Jan. 19 Mr. Manter voted with fellow board member Cynthia Mitchell to support the town finance committee’s recommendation to apply the funds as revenue to the school district budget.

“Unity between the two boards is important,” he said.

Mr. Manter reversed again on Thursday, voting against the budget with the E and D compromise — but only after the other four committee members had cast their votes in favor.

Excess and deficiency funds are comparable to free cash in town budgets.

Covid-era restrictions on school activities, such as traveling for sports games, have led to higher surplus cash at Island schools than in pre-pandemic years — some $846,000 for the up-Island district, finance director Mark Friedman said.