We watched the joint meeting between the board of selectmen and the Tisbury school committee for two weeks and, frankly, one thing seems clear — the wounds may be too raw for these two boards to come to any consensus.
Just before the April town election, selectmen and some other town leaders used their bully pulpit to torpedo a project the school committee had fully embraced and backed. They told the community the old school could be saved, and for a lot less money — $11 million less to be exact — even though consultants paid for by the town said it would actually cost more to restore the school.
As a taxpayer, who are you going to believe?
Now the selectmen seem to expect the school committee to forget all that and join them in a mission statement — one in which they’ve set an arbitrary price for the town’s contribution to the project.
Meanwhile, newly elected selectman Jim Rogers has made it clear that he will not support a project that includes taking down the existing Tisbury School building.
Selectmen chairman Tristan Israel has been an outspoken critic of spending more than the “town can afford,” and seems to have come to the conclusion that it’s $27 million. Though he said repeatedly during that meeting that $27 million is only a starting point. We’re not sure what that means. Is it OK if that price goes higher, or is it only OK if the overall project costs less? (Which is pretty delusional, given how construction prices go, particularly on the Island.)
And selectman Melinda Loberg? She mentioned in a letter to the editor before the election that she thinks there should be a wider conversation about Islandwide schools, even though she was on the building committee that pushed the failed project forward. Though she never uttered the “r” word, regionalization, it appears that’s what she’s talking about. Note to Loberg: You’re one of the top leaders on the Island, so you could start that conversation at any time among your own board to see if it’s something they would seriously push with other Island towns. We’re not necessarily opposed, but don’t keep dangling it out there without talking about it, or worse, let people volunteer their time and energy for a project only to act like Lucy in the “Peanuts” comic and pull the football away as Charlie Brown runs up to kick it.
While it’s good to know where town leaders stand on the issues — and it would have been nice for them to speak up earlier in the process and more clearly before hundreds of man hours and nearly $1 million was spent — it’s difficult for us to trust that this current process will work out well. There doesn’t appear to be an open mind on either side.
Pushed back to their neutral corners at meetings last week, the school committee put together a list of things it wants answers to before moving forward with the selectmen. At their meeting, selectmen went on at length about other competing interests that are coming for the town, and talked about how quickly property values are increasing versus wages for the town’s residents. They seem to be making the case for what the town can’t afford, rather than what it can afford.
All of which must be frustrating for the parents of school-age children in Tisbury. They have a building that’s falling apart. The staff has done yeoman’s work to make do with what they’ve got. In our experiences going to events and classes at the school, it’s a great community school environment. But how long can you sustain that? Teachers and parents saw light at the end of the tunnel with the new school project. Now they must feel like that light was an oncoming train.
There’s talk that the two sides — selectmen and school committee — will reconvene this month to talk it out one more time, to see if they can come to some consensus on a mission statement and how to proceed.
We want to have hope that they can put their differences aside, look at things objectively, and move forward. But if things go down the same path they did two weeks ago, we hope someone takes the leadership reins and hits the pause button. Time may be the only thing to heal these wounds.