School administrators are looking for places to make cuts in a placeholder budget that would tide the regional high school over if the 2024 budget is not passed by the start of the new fiscal year.

West Tisbury, Chilmark and Aquinnah all voted down their portions of the regional high school budget this spring in protest of the school’s ongoing litigation over an artificial turf playing field. Until one of the three towns passes the 2024 budget, the district has to consider operating on the same budget as fiscal year 2023.

But because the 2023 budget was $518,000 less than the proposed 2024 budget, school officials are left with a sizable gap to make up if the 2024 budget is not passed before the next fiscal year starts in July.

At a school committee meeting Monday, schools superintendent Richie Smith said he intends to present a budget that keeps union employees in place, but the school could have furloughs, reductions in non-union salaries and programmatic cuts if the budget impasse continues.

“We are looking at trying to preserve the bargaining units we have,” Mr. Smith said.

The superintendent declined to say where exactly he was looking to reel back the budget in order to spare the school’s already anxious staff, but officials previously said voting down the budget could affect shared programs for students with special needs.

Regional school committee member Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter suggested slashing the school’s contingency fund to make up a majority of the $518,000 gap between the proposed 2024 budget and the level-funded 2023 budget.

The contingency fund is used as a safety net for the school, and Mr. Manter reasoned that zeroing out the $350,000 account in this temporary budget could help school officials close the gap without really hurting the school if the 2024 budget passes later this summer.

Chilmark and West Tisbury have scheduled special town meetings for next month to take up the budget and Aquinnah is eyeing a June 14 town meeting. Four of the six Island towns need to approve the budget for it to pass, meaning only one would need to vote in favor of the budget for it to pass Islandwide.

Mr. Manter was looking at the contingency budget because it was unlikely the $350,000 account would be needed before one of the three towns passed the budget potentially later this summer. Having such a large portion of the funding gap out of the way would also ease the need for furloughs and other cuts.

“If you have that $350,000, that closes the gap significantly,” Mr. Manter said.

District staff said they plan to bring the temporary budget draft to the committee soon, potentially next week.

The committee also met in executive session Monday to talk about the ongoing turf lawsuit. The school committee sued the Oak Bluffs planning board in 2022 after the board denied the school’s plans for an artificial turf field at the high school.

The lawsuit has been a flashpoint across the Island, but in the wake of the budget getting voted down, the committee vowed to settle the case.

School committee chair Robert Lionette said the school committee sent a settlement proposal to the planning board two weeks ago and attorneys for the two parties are engaging in discussions to move the case forward.

The school committee is set to meet again Thursday. Mr. Lionette said he expected to have a more “substantive statement” after an executive session at that meeting.