Beefing up support personnel and cutting down Covid contingency monies, the all-Island school committee approved a third draft of a $7.5 million shared services budget for the school superintendent Thursday.
The FY 2022 budget, which reflects an 8.67 per cent increase over last year, was approved 9-2 at a committee meeting Thursday. The budget covers the central office administration for school superintendent Matthew D’Andrea and several elementary school programs Islandwide.
Along with contractual increases in salaries for faculty and staff totaling $223,842, the budget includes the addition of an administrative assistant for the district’s English Language Learning program.
The 10-month part-time position is intended to help with centralized translation and communication to the school’s English Language Learner community and to relieve administrative duties from ELL program director Leah Palmer and school ELL teachers.
“There’s an extraordinary amount of work in this growing [non-English-speaking] population,” Vineyard schools superintendent Matthew D’Andrea told the committee Thursday. “They are very high-risk students. I would call it an underserved population, and they are the group at our high school that has the highest dropout rate. I think we need to support this position.”
ELL students now make up nearly as much of the school population as special needs students, Mr. D’Andrea said.
Ms. Palmer, who attended the meeting, echoed the sentiment. “By investing in our ELL program, and investing in our English learners and our English learners’ teachers, we are going to see positive change,” she said. “It’s just going to take time. This is just the start of investing in this program.”
The budget also includes the addition of a full-time accountant for school business administrator Mark Friedman. The position adds a total of $125,000 to the superintendent’s budget.
The budget has seen significant trimming since a previous draft was presented in a committee earlier this month. Thursday’s proposal saw a reduction of $249,489 from the early draft, bringing the total increase over last year down from 12.29 per cent to the current 8.67 per cent.
Among the cuts made between drafts was the reduction of a handful of support positions, including one of the ESP support positions for the speech and language program that was proposed in an earlier iteration of the budget.
Committee members also tabled additional speech therapy support and a fourth school psychologist, both of which were proposed in early drafts.
At the meeting Nancy Dugan, director of student support services for the schools, explained the decision to cut back on earlier requests for speech and language support, noting the immediate need to support the schools’ ELL community.
“It’s a risk not having that one additional ESP that we said, but I feel like we are creative enough that we can work together and I personally felt it was very much needed in our office to have somebody who would be a bilingual [administrative] assistant to help our office with the communication,” said Ms. Dugan.
The superintendent will also reduce the shared services Covid contingency line.
The budget drew mixed responses from committee members, many of whom expressed reservations at the steep overall increase.
“While there are some things here that I absolutely believe that we have to have, and I know Matt has already gone through it and worked really hard on cutting it down, I feel a little bit like it’s still too large for me to feel comfortable supporting it,” said committee member Kate DeVane.
After brief discussion, the committee voted 9-2 to approve the budget as proposed, with committee members Skipper Manter and Kathryn Shertzer voting nay.
In other business Thursday, the committee heard updates on the schoolwide asymptomatic testing program, which is slated to begin in early January. According to committee member Alex Salop, the program is fully funded at this juncture. The school testing task force will announce a program manager on Monday, he said.
Also Thursday, Mr. D’Andrea gave updates on reopening progress at the elementary schools, which was paused last month when the virus cases on the Island first surged.
The Edgartown School welcomed grades 5 and 6 back to the classroom for four-day weeks this Tuesday with plans for grades 7 and 8 after the break, Mr. D’Andrea said. The West Tisbury School plans to increase days for grades 6-8 on Dec. 15. The remaining elementary schools plan to discuss expanded re-entry following the break, he said.