The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School committee voted to certify a $24.6 million operating budget for the coming fiscal year Monday night, a 4.65 per cent increase.

Line-item increases are spread widely across categories and departments, with employment-related costs rising the most.

“The largest increase in the budget relates to our OPEB obligation,” committee chairman Amy Houghton said, referring to other post-employment benefits the school must be prepared to provide after workers leave.

Representing 3.64 per cent of the total budget increase, the OPEB contribution is being raised only enough to cover the school’s obligations to newly-hired employees, Ms. Houghton said, in answer to a question from Chilmark committee member Robert Lionette during Monday’s meeting.

Other costs related to hiring new staff for English language learning, health and physical education, early childhood education and buildings and grounds — the latter a previously-existing position that was cut during the pandemic — add up to 1.5 per cent of the budget increase.

Another 1.24 per cent of the overall budget hike is due to contractual requirements.

Committee member Skipper Manter argued against two of the new staff positions, the health and P.E. teacher and the buildings and grounds worker.

“These two positions with benefits would save over $200,000,” he said.

The money would be better spent backfilling the OPEB obligation, Mr. Manter said.

“It’s a $50 million hole and we’re not addressing it . . .It’s going to create a fiscal crisis for us and the children in our school,” he said.

“No matter how you look at it, it’s a big nut for us to be trying to fund,” Ms. Houghton said, adding: “A number of towns . . .have requested that this [OPEB] not be a priority in increased funding . . . It’s a controversial topic, no doubt.”

The committee was unswayed by Mr. Manter’s argument against hiring the two staffers, but debated whether the school could use its excess and deficiency funds — similar to a town’s free cash, but limited to no more that 5 per cent of the operating budget — to increase the OPEB contribution, rather than offset the impact on individual towns.

But using excess and deficiency money in this way would add nearly one point to the total budget increase, making it 5.6 per cent rather than 4.65 per cent, Ms. Houghton said.

In the end, with Robert Lionette and Mr. Manter opposed, the majority of committee members voted to certify the budget with the excess and deficiency offset intact.

In a procedure dictated by state ethics rules, the voting process took place in two stages.

Because Ms. Houghton’s husband Olsen Houghton works at the high school, she abstained while the committee first voted the line items relating to salary compensation. The full committee then voted on the budget as a whole.

In other high school business Monday, principal Sara Dingledy reported that enrollment has continued to rise since school began in September, bucking a two-year trend of slight declines.

While last fall’s student census counted 706 high schoolers on campus, Ms. Dingledy said the number is now 722, with at least four more newcomers set to arrive soon.

“We don’t know what January will bring,” she said. Vineyard schools often see second-semester arrivals from Brazil, where the academic year begins in early February.

At the high school, the new students join an already burgeoning group of English language learners.

“We’ve had 43 new ELL enrollments through January,” Ms. Dingledy told the committee.

Another influx of students is on its way from closer to home: Eighth-graders in the town schools now number 180, while the senior class this year numbers 140 students, district finance director Mark Friedman said.

“We don’t know exactly [how many of the eighth graders] will be going to the high school next year, but there’s a large possible upswing,” Mr. Friedman said.

Also Monday, the committee discussed continued funding for the track and field project and agreed to meet at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 10 on a request from Harbor Homes and Martha’s Vineyard Community Services to use the former early childhood building as an overnight shelter through March. The high school leases the land to Community Services for its campus.