With the opening day of school behind them and buses rolling, the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School district committee met Monday night to get the new school year underway.
Duncan Pickard, president of the student council, reflected a commonly held view: "School started, and the kids got here on buses. We appreciate all of that."
A few days before school opened, MV Coachlines, a contractor awarded the bid to manage the school bus service this year, broke its transportation contract with the Island school districts in response to a labor dispute with the school bus drivers. The district committee and up-Island regional school committee voted to take on the responsibility for managing the bus service for at least six weeks.
"We had an interesting couple of weeks. It's not easy to start up a bus company in three to four days," said James Weiss, superintendent. "Thanks to the drivers, the Vineyard Transit Authority, and people in our office, we got insurance, set up drug testing, and organized routes."
The drivers signed commitments to drive for six weeks, and in the meantime, Mr. Weiss said, "We're taking a good solid look at the possible ramifications of this and hope to have a report in a few weeks."
In addition to managing its buses, the school district will be replacing its aging fleet, starting with the off-Island buses, after this year. Hoping to fine-tune their new bus specifications, the school committee agreed to spend $1,000 to send James Maseda, transportation director, to a bus conference in Austin, Texas, in October to research the possibilities. Diane Wall, committee member, requested that Mr. Maseda find out about equipping the new buses with seatbelts.
In her principal's report, Peg Regan told the committee that the high school's enrollment is slightly up this year, at 822 students, with an official census to take place October 3. "We seem to be bringing kids back from private schools and the charter school. The program has to much to offer in it - it's an attractive school to come to," she said.
Ms. Regan presented the school improvement plan to the committee for a second reading, emphasizing its importance in terms of college and university admissions accreditation. The committee approved an athletic waiver on its third reading, which informs parents that their child is participating in an extracurricular sport in which there may be some risk of injury involved. Students whose parents do not sign the waiver will not be prohibited from playing sports.
The rest of the evening's agenda concerned land use issues, including the Martha's Vineyard Arena lease and ice time increases, and the proposed new YMCA facility to be built on school-owned property across the street from the high school.
Ms. Regan said that under terms of a lease that expired in March between the ice arena and the school district, the dirt lot used for parking next door was rented to the facility for $1 a year. The ice arena has proposed cost increases for ice time, so Mrs. Regan suggested that perhaps the terms of the new lease could be negotiated with a trade-off for the parking lot and ice time. The land use subcommittee will examine the issue at a meeting on September 29, at 6 pm, and the budget subcommittee on September 30, at 8 am.
Before turning the meeting over to YMCA members, Mr. Weiss told the school committee that the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) had requested the school district to confer with the town of Oak Bluffs on long-range planning for the area of development across the street from the high school. He recommended that the land use planning subcommittee meet with the Oak Bluffs selectmen.
The school committee then viewed a short video about the YMCA's proposed new facility, which also featured Islanders talking about what a YMCA would mean to them.
Following the video, Jan Pogue, president of the Martha's Vineyard YMCA, and Michael Dutton, a YMCA board member and legal counsel, answered questions from school committee members. Mr. Dutton also provided an update regarding legislation necessary to allow the school district to lease its land to the YMCA for a total of 80 years.
Under a state statute, Massachusetts municipalities are not allowed to lease property for a period of more than five years. To extend a lease beyond that, the state statute requires legislative approval in the form of a bill signed by the Governor.
"We suspect we will have this hopefully done within the next several months," Mr. Dutton said.
While the leasing legislation undergoes this process, Mr. Dutton requested an extension of the commencement date notice, the date the school committee will be notified of the legislative approval, to January 2, 2007. The school committee approved the change.
Once the legislation is passed, the YMCA will provide a construction timetable to the school committee. "We're not going to break ground certainly until we're confident we're well on our way from a fundraising perspective and until we've got the legislative approval on the length of the lease," Mr. Dutton remarked the next day.
Following the Y's presentation, Ms. Regan reported that the land use subcommittee met two weeks ago and heard concerns expressed by three Island fitness and health club owners about the YMCA's impact on their business, which they estimate will result in a loss of 15 percent. She said their questions centered on the size and scope of the Y, leasing arrangements, and membership costs, and that they wanted an independent feasibility study done.
In conclusion, Ms. Regan told the school committee that part of the school district's decision to lease the land to the YMCA was because, "We felt the Y was highly supported by the community." She informed the committee that a copy of the YMCA lease is available for review in her office.