The Up-Island Regional School District committee last week agreed to hire a principal for Chilmark School to replace school head Susan Stevens, who retires at the end of the school year.

The decision came after some committee members raised the idea of having a single principal for both the Chilmark and West Tisbury schools, with assistant principals in each building.

At a special meeting Thursday, the committee voted 4-0-1 to approve keeping the position, with committee member Roxanne Ackerman abstaining. The committee also voted to increase the position to full time; Ms. Stevens contract was for 85 per cent of full time. 

The district expects to post the job in early December after forming a hiring committee and gathering community input.

At Thursday’s meeting, Chilmark parents and teachers spoke against committee member Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter’s proposal to save money by having a single principal for the two schools.

“We have the lowest tax rate in the state. I want to say ‘Shut up and take my money.’ Raise my taxes for my kids and my teachers,” parent Caitlin Kane said.

“Our school really needs a full-time and fully-present principal,” Ms. Kane added.

The Chilmark head of school position had officially been contracted at 200 days during Ms. Stevens' tenure, but parent Jessica Seaman said Ms. Stevens regularly works on weekends and in the summer.

“In the three years that I’ve been a parent at the Chilmark School, I have witnessed Susan working 100 per cent,” said Ms. Seaman, a member of the school advisory committee. 

School staffers face additional burdens when their leader is not available, Chilmark teacher Mariah MacGregor added.

“It would be a step in the wrong direction for a growing school and community to not take this opportunity to create a full-time position for the principal,” Ms. MacGregor told the committee.

Noting that Aquinnah and West Tisbury do not have the same low tax rate as Chilmark, Mr. Manter said he wasn’t ready to accept the increase to a full-year position.

“I’d be uncomfortable voting that tonight without going through at least a couple of the budget workshops,” he said.

Superintendent of Island schools Richard Smith cautioned that full-year principals at the Island’s larger town schools earn at least $151,000 annually, compared to Ms. Stevens’s $121,000 for the 70-student Chilmark School.

In the end, committee members voted to approve a full-year, 260-day principal’s position. The committee discussed, but did not vote on setting a $151,000 salary for the job.

The annual budget-setting process for all Island schools begins next month.

Editors note: The story has been corrected to reflect that the head of school position will become a full-year, 260-day position.