Setting the school record straight

4

To the Editor:

As chairman of the Tisbury School Building Committee and a year-round Tisbury resident, I would like to take this opportunity to clarify some of the numbers that have been discussed around the Tisbury School project.

The total cost of the project is currently estimated at $46.6 million. The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) has approved a grant of $14,581,442. The estimated Tisbury share is just under $32 million.

As a town, Tisbury has been given an amazing opportunity to participate in the MSBA grant process. The MSBA strives to work with local communities to create affordable, sustainable, and energy-efficient schools across Massachusetts. Of the 96 schools that applied in 2015, Tisbury was one of eight schools that was invited to participate — which is less than a 10 percent acceptance rate.

While it is true that, if passed, “this would be the most expensive municipal project in the town’s history,” I would like to share some information about the construction of the existing school in 1929. Based on information from the town’s annual report from 1930, this demonstrates that the investment in 1930 is proportionate to the current proposed project:

In 1930, the total real estate value in town was $6,362,989. Today, it is $2.72 billion, an average annual percentage growth rate of 7.2 percent per year. That’s not quite as much as the average stock market gain over time, but it’s close.

The Tisbury School opened in 1929-30, and was built for $185,202. Today’s new school project is estimated at about $46.6 million, which is a 6.41 percent average annual increase in cost.

Additionally, it has been stated that the “Tisbury taxpayers … would continue to see higher taxes to pay for the project for about 20 years.” However, the value of the increase in taxes will be declining over the 20-year loan. The estimated tax increase of $558 in the first year — based on a median year-round home value of $515,900 — would be reduced annually with an estimated value of $450 in the 10th year, and an estimated value of $325 at the end of the 20-year term. A graph showing the decline in debt is included in the FAQs page of the project website (tisbury-school-project.com/faqs).

The size of the new school has also been misrepresented. The existing school is 56,410 square feet. The proposed new school is 75,390 square feet. Though the certified enrollment of 285 students is based on an anticipated slight decline in enrollment over the next 10 years, the new school building design addresses the current deficiencies in space for special education, more fluid interior spaces to support collaborative teaching methodologies, and increases in the size of shared spaces — for example the gym and cafeteria, which are also used by the community at large. The improved outdoor space, including the playgrounds, recreational fields, and gardens, will be a much-needed upgrade that will be enjoyed by both students and community members. It is also important to note that the Educational Program, which influences the design of the building, needs to meet the requirements of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and the MSBA.

The MSBA process requires that the town approve each step of the study. The project team has hosted several community forums, met with numerous town boards, made public presentations, and offered tours of the existing building to answer questions and get feedback. Throughout each step of the study, the building committee and board of selectmen have been presented with the team’s findings, and have voted in favor of continuing to move the project forward with the current plan.

The building project must deliver the best possible solution to meet the high standard of education that we have in place to best serve our students. The cost of the project is indeed a large sum, but we have diligently reduced size and features to make the project budget as reasonable as possible while still meeting all educational requirements. We are confident that we have been thorough and transparent throughout the process, and hope that the town will see the value in building a new school that will serve our students for the next 50-plus years.

Colleen McAndrews
Vineyard Haven

4 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for clarifying questions that I’ve had. It’s nice to see the facts spelled out before people go to vote.
    Makes sense everything that you talked about especially school size and what voters were faced with back in 1929. Same thing now and I hope that people will see the benefits of supporting something new in the town of Tisbury. We should be proud of our schools and this school has seen better days.

  2. As the former Superintendent of Schools, I was so pleased to see Colleen’s letter. It cleared up many of the misconceptions that are out there about the proposed new school. Tisbury truly needs and deserves a new Elementary school. This will bring an up to date facility to the community and afford its students the same opportunities that the other schools on the Island provide. I urge the community to vote yes.

  3. 1) 45 million is still 45 million, whether it is paid directly or paid through state taxes (which are then reimbursed to Tisbury.)

    2) How much of a community resource do you claim this will be? In practice, not much, I think. It’s hard to use the existing gym and cafeteria, because you have to negotiate w/ difficult school staff and work with the rules of union janitorial staff. You can call it “communal” all you want, but we don’t use our existing space efficiently at all. There’s no sign that this will change; school folks will still protect their turf. (For example, the “community space” in the VH library is not available for rent to anyone who is a profit. Did you know that “community” excluded entrepreneurs? It does.)

    3) The ground design is atrocious. For kids, the most competitive thing across the Island is “access to large fields” (for soccer or baseball etc.) This design takes away field space in lieu of “contemplative” space, which is rarely used. We don’t need to turn the school into a community garden; we need to turn it into a school.

    This whole project is a perfect example of “bad things that happen when you spend someone else’s money.” Were it me, I’d structure it more like this:
    a) You start at $20 million, but you get $10 million extra for teacher salaries.
    b) You can spend up to 40 million on the building. But for each $2 million increase, the teacher-salary bonus goes down by a million. If you want a $30 million building, you only get 5 mill in salaries, etc.

    I’d eat my hat if everyone couldn’t find a way to have a small cheap efficient school.

  4. Can you guarantee the taxes on the school piece alone will decrease pover the ten year period? Other taxes will increase and you know it. The burden falls on the taxpayers who are only there one month of the year and have no children in school. I thought teachers and educators improve education not new buildings.

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