Up-Island region is not a region at all

To the Editor:

This letter has been forwarded to the Up-Island Regional School Committee, the principals of the West Tisbury and Chilmark Schools, and Dr. James Weiss, the superintendent of Island schools.

The light dawns on Marblehead. Most of us Massachusetts natives have heard the expression in preceding sentence more than once. It describes a situation where someone finally sees the obvious. Some of us have actually had the expression applied to them and applied legitimately. The phrase can be applied quite well to the West Tisbury finance committee and we, the West Tisbury finance committee, acknowledge the truth of that phrase, as regards the Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD).

The truth we have not seen is that UIRSD is really not a region. The district began primarily because the residents of the three Up-Island towns realized that the state was awarding transportation money to regional school districts. And the money was substantial; in some districts it was $1 million or more. While people hoped that regionalization could bring economies, the desire to capitalize on the state’s largess was the primary reason for forming the district.

In our judgment there has been little effort to create and manage a truly regional school district. There has been little interest in answering such questions as:

• How can we provide quality instruction to the students in the region? The focus has been more on providing quality instruction to the students of the West Tisbury School and the students of the Chilmark School, even in those years where all of the students in a particular class could be accommodated in one of the region’s buildings.

As a result, we have had situations where there have been three separate classes for grades where 30 children are enrolled. A true region should be able to get the same results with only two classes, which means a lower cost to the taxpayer without sacrificing the quality of education.• What is our strategy for coping with rapidly changing enrollment? Again, the focus here seems to be not on the region, but on the individual school.• How much does it cost to provide a particular course, e.g., fourth grade math, in the region? This answer cannot readily be derived from the UIRSD budget.

Such questions have been answered quite satisfactorily by the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS):

• True, MVRHS is located in one building, but the school has figured out how to properly teach all of its students, no matter whether they are bound for college, a trade, or even having problems adjusting to school.• For the past few years, as enrollment at MVRHS has declined, the principal has told us what his plans are if the enrollment declines to certain levels.• If you want to know how much it costs to teach Spanish, you can find this answer quite easily by simply looking at the budget.

It is our judgment that the financial management at MVRHS has earned our support, despite budget increases every year. The UIRSD has not earned that support. For years, we have been asking for a budget that can be readily understood; that has not happened. We have questioned differences in the two schools and not been enlightened as to the rationale behind some basic decisions.

We would dearly love to approve all of your budgets. But, in the current circumstances, we cannot do so and fulfill our responsibilities as finance committee members. Can the circumstances be changed? Will you convince us that you are acting like a true region?

We look forward to meeting with you on February 23.

Greg Orcutt

For the West Tisbury Finance Committee