Under financial pressure on all sides, the Oak Bluffs School will cut three faculty positions, slash general supplies and professional development funds and dip into school choice savings to help pay for a town budget shortfall, it was decided this week.
And while the school is doing its share to help the town, the town will not return the favor, and is set to pocket nearly $3,000 in compensation for the use of the school last week as a briefing area by the White House and media center for the press corps during the presidential visit.
Last month the Oak Bluffs selectmen decided that $200,000 must be cut from the school budget to help the town address a budget shortfall of some $500,000 for the current fiscal year. Poor forecasting and falling receipts are blamed for the shortfall.
School principal Laury Binney told the Gazette this week that it is not at all clear that the money will be reimbursed if town revenues go back up, a possibility in light of a bump in tourism from Mr. Obama’s visit, he suggested.
“[Chairman of the school committee] Priscilla Sylvia asked selectmen and there was no answer,” Mr. Binney said. “This is all for a budget that passed in April. It’s a huge curveball on the part of the town.”
The school budget cuts were decided Tuesday following an executive session by the Oak Bluffs School committee; the cuts retroactively affect a budget which featured significant reductions when approved by town voters this spring, including the elimination of two teacher’s assistant positions.
In the fresh staff cuts, two teacher’s assistants and a nonteaching staff member will lose their jobs.
According to Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss, the cuts, determined in the closed door session, are: $112,000 in personnel, approximately $60,000 in supplies, and $30,000 from a fund related to school choice, an Island program which compensates schools for students attending from other towns.
The committee also voted to cut 80 per cent from the professional development fund. According to Mrs. Sylvia this effectively means that no money will be spent on professional development this year.
“Nothing will get approved,” she said.
Cuts to supplies include items such as photocopying equipment, lighting and telephone bills.
“We’ll probably regret it but it was necessary,” said Mrs. Sylvia.
Oak Bluffs, the most popular school on the Island for school choice, with 53 students currently attending from other towns, traditionally uses school choice funds for building maintenance. School leaders fear use of the fund for operating expenses will become ongoing as a result of the decision this week.
“It’s very difficult to get it back again. The finance committee never likes to see an increase to the budget,” said Mrs. Sylvia.
Meanwhile, the school is also set to lose financially for playing host to the White House last week. The school gymnasium functioned as the media communication center for the White House and press corps during President Obama’s visit, but as it stands now the school will see no money from the event.
The school charged $300 per day, split evenly among catering, utilities and rent expenses. In total the White House paid $2,700 for the week.
All the money goes into the town general fund, even though the school pays for its own building maintenance and utility costs, Mr. Binney said.
He said he has petitioned town administrator Michael Dutton for the school to keep the money allotted to utilities to help defray expenses incurred by the power-hungry media center.
“They got a sweet deal,” he said of the White House, “and it went directly to the town, and particularly with the utilities that really didn’t make sense. Michael Dutton said he was going to work on that.”
Any amount of money is significant at this stage, the prinicpal said.
“We’re in a lot of need at the moment,” he said.
He added that he had no problem with the White House representatives who were pleasant to work with.
“People were very respectful,” he said, noting that the White House wrote a thank you card to the caterers.
“They said in all their travel, the corps never had food like that before. Their parting words were, this isn’t Crawford, Texas,” Mr. Binney said.
In more bad financial news for the beleaguered school, provisional Massachusetts Curriculum Assessment System (MCAS) results, embargoed to the public until later in the fall, suggest the school will have to allot part of its budget to secondary learning.
Though Mr. Binney cannot discuss the specific results, it is clear that the school was below the standard required in the subgroup of English as a second language for low-income students. Under the federal program No Child Left Behind law, this means extra money must allotted for professional development and supplemental tutoring in that area.
It all adds up to yet another burden in the next year’s budget.
“It’s negative consequences the whole way,” Mr. Weiss agreed.
A disagreement between Mrs. Sylvia and Mr. Binney over one expense issue illustrates the tension.
In June a group of Oak Bluffs teachers attended a workshop on using smart boards (computerized blackboards) in Boston, incurring several hundred dollars in expenses for food, transportation and accommodation.
Mr. Binney approved the expenses and said at the Tuesday meeting that the trip was approved before a recommendation came down from the school advisory council to freeze professional development expenditures.
Though Mr. Binney did not have the exact total for the expenses, he said it was in the neighborhood of $300.
Mrs. Sylvia said any expense was inappropriate.
“We’ve known we were going to have to cut this budget since April,” she said. “It’s the personnel I’m going to have to cut to find that money. I will not sign it [the expense voucher]; I already expressed that.”
Though the fee for the workshop has already been approved, the associated expenses require a warrant signed by a majority of three committee members, which includes Mr. Binney and Mrs. Sylvia.
The deciding signature has not yet been obtained.