Pay the bill, then get out
Pay the bill, then get out
West Tisbury voters will need to bushwhack their way through a wicked thicket of questions concerning the Up-Island Regional School District next week, when they gather for their annual town meeting. The decisions will be difficult because the town is keeping company in a school district whose legal structure is badly flawed and whose elected school leaders have for years evaded their responsibility to set things on a more rational and fairer footing.
Most regional systems, such as the Vineyard high school region, and regional high schools, technical/vocational schools, or middle school regional districts elsewhere, center on one institution created both for financial and educational efficiency. The participating towns are confident that, with the state's financial incentives for genuine regions, and the combined financing of schools that none of the towns could reasonably afford to finance on its own, they will be able to do the educational job more successfully economically and pedagogically than they would otherwise.
That's not true of the Up-Island region, which has never advanced a solid pedagogical reason for being and is structured to take no advantage of potential regional efficiencies. Such efficiencies include matching school facilities to enrollment, deploying teaching and management personnel as efficiently as possible, and tailoring educational programs to district-wide imperatives. None of this is available to the school superintendent or his Up-Island district management team. The Up-Island region is an uneasy, unequal, artificial marriage of diverse educational objectives, whose joint goal is to take advantage of state funding possibilities for such services as regional transportation.
The district is expensive and fractious to operate, and pressure for change from the West Tisbury finance committee and from West Tisbury taxpayers generally has been, for the most part, ignored. Avoiding serious efforts to solve the problems has, for years, been helped by analyses that show the financial situation worsening for West Tisbury if it leaves the district. The town's leverage to effect change has been weakened by these analyses, although most reasonable observers believe that the district, because of the expensive and under-populated Chilmark School, spends more money than it might, and were its costs to be restrained, West Tisbury would benefit.
What are the voters of West Tisbury to make of all this?
They will be asked next week to reject the district budget, because it was not trimmed as the finance committee demanded. The school committee insists that further budget cuts will damage the region's educational mission and hurt the children. With a per pupil cost that ranges from $17,000 at the low end to $26,000 at the high end, depending on how you do the math, voters and taxpayers will be forgiven for their skepticism. After all, it is as meaningful to ask how much better the education ought to be when spending is at such lofty levels, as it is to warn taxpayers that the educational result would be devastated if the spending were reduced two or three percent. Still, the budget should be funded.
More importantly, after funding the budget, voters ought to take the more promising step of beginning the process of withdrawing from the district. It's a long process, and if beginning it focuses the attention of school district leaders and selectmen in Chilmark and West Tisbury on West Tisbury's legitimate complaints and then leads to badly needed changes in the district framework, much will have been achieved. If that cannot happen, then West Tisbury will ultimately be on its own, and it will have to bear the costs. But, the town will have regained a firm grip on the education program for its own children, and if there are savings and improvements to be had, the town will be able to effect them, without the fruitless bickering and paralysis that have resulted from manacling together three municipal views that, since the district was created, have proven irreconcilable.
Chaotic energy DCPC
questions deserve a firm no
Next week voters at annual town meetings in West Tisbury, Tisbury and Oak Bluffs will be asked to begin a process to create an Island-wide district of critical planning concern for the purpose of regulating energy production, use, and conservation. Voters with common sense will vote no.
The energy DCPC effort is chaotic and wildly out of step with the extensive public process known as the Island Plan, whose goal - itself an example of a kind of planning hubris - is a 50-year design for Island life. This page, obviously, has doubts about the Island Plan effort - its imagined reach, its priorities, its limited voter participation - but it is well underway, comprehensive in its proposed scope, and systematic in its approach. With respect to each of these attributes, the energy DCPC effort is the unmoored opposite.
Even the MVC has doubts. "We were not behind this at all," Mark London, MVC executive director, told The Times. "The Island-wide DCPC is not a commission initiative."
DCPCs come with instant moratoriums on developments of every sort within the areas proposed to be covered. Reasonable exemptions may be allowed, but they may not be, as well. The possible rules, as described in the minutes of discussions among the supporters of the DCPC, appear to extend to the most personal matters affecting every Islander and homeowner. These are not questions for ad hoc interest groups and appointed steering committees. Such ideas as are contemplated by the DCPC enthusiasts require cautious, close-up voter scrutiny, for which the DCPC process does not provide.
On this question, thoughtful voters will come out where Edgartown selectman Art Smadbeck comes out. Edgartown voters will not face the energy DCPC question.
Referring to the energy DCPC proposal and contrasting it with the MVC's Island Plan program, Mr. Smadbeck said, "It is very premature to suddenly take a left turn and go somewhere else when we have not even heard from the group that is designated as the planning agency for the Island."
David Caron for
Oak Bluffs board of health
David Caron of Oak Bluffs is a pharmacist at the Martha's Vineyard Hospital, a job he's held for nearly 10 years. His professional training will be a distinct advantage if Oak Bluffs voters elect him to replace Linda Marinelli on the town board of health.
Mr. Caron's view of the challenge facing the board of health is sensible and open minded.
"I want to create a user-friendly board," Mr. Caron told The Times, "where we're still upholding the standards of the Commonwealth, yet kind of applying a sense of decency and a sprit of cooperation with the people that we work with. The biggest thing I would like to do is restore a sense of decency and sense of cooperation to the board."
For Oak Bluffs voters, here's a political platform they should embrace.
Dianne Powers in West Tisbury
John Early's retirement from his long and distinguished service as a West Tisbury selectman presents voters with a challenge. Mr. Early's replacement will, of course, chart a fresh course through the myriad issues that arise, even in a small, rural, peaceable town such as West Tisbury is. But, Mr. Early lent a deliberative, consultative, practical, and effective presence to board deliberations over his 30 years in office. All of these qualities are indispensable to the judicious conduct of town affairs.
Fortunately, in Dianne Powers, voters have a choice who, in her own way, brings similar attributes with her candidacy for the vacant selectman's job. Ms. Powers, Dukes County Registrar of Deeds, is a capable and meticulous administrator, whose performance as registrar has been a bright light in the dim constellation of Dukes County government agencies. She is politically sensible and thoughtful. She has a long history with the town, as she suggests in her answer to a question about the town's future with the Up-Island Regional School District, posed to her by The Times.
"As a forming member of this district, I have struggled with this issue. While I would still argue the educational strength of the original intention of the district, the information prepared and distributed by the finance committee has made me realize that at the very least, we must send a strong message to the district committee and participating towns that there need to be changes."
Ms. Powers, as evidenced by this comment, is a thoughtful, principled, and tactical leader. Her addition to the board of selectmen will serve West Tisbury well.
Beer and wine sales, yes
Tisbury voters must decide whether to begin the careful, detailed process of permitting limited sales, in restaurants and inns, of beer and wine. Approval of the proposal next week will not ensure that beer and wine sales will be allowed. Another vote, this time on the state election ballot, will be required, along with the development of rules tailored to suit Tisbury's sense of itself. We favor a yes vote to begin this process.
The excellent committee to consider the alcohol question, wisely established by Tisbury selectmen, heard no calamitous forecasts from town leaders or safety officials. Indeed, there is no factual basis or widely held opinion, only sentiment, that supports the notion that this is a dangerous choice for the town to make. The view here is that allowing limited beer and wine sales, according to rules carefully designed to fit Tisbury, will be a convenience to town residents, an enhancement to town visitors, and a boost for town businesses, all without changing Tisbury significantly, except perhaps for the better.
Cynthia Mitchell in West Tisbury
Cynthia Mitchell, the former West Tisbury town treasurer and selectman, is completing a term on the town board of assessors that had been Ray Houle's, until he died last year. She was appointed to the job toward the end of the board's annus horribilis, under fire from several wealthy property owners unhappy with their property valuations. As has been characteristic of Ms. Mitchell's leadership during her extensive career in public service - in her private role, Ms. Mitchell runs the Island Health plan - she has proven a capable, unflappable administrator and a steadying force. She is both collaborative in practice and independent minded by nature.
Based on her experience since her temporary appointment in March of last year, Ms. Mitchell told The Times, "Much of West Tisbury, like other towns on the Vineyard, is a far cry from the "cookie-cutter" neighborhood/development pattern for which the state's mass appraisal valuation system is best suited. Yet we are required to fit our unique island communities into the identical frame. How we do this has been a hot topic recently, and the West Tisbury assessors are well advised to find a way to successfully describe it to taxpayers. When I was appointed to the board in March of 2006, I committed to doing precisely that and in May of last year, we held the first of what will be, at the very least, an annual forum for such purposes.... I would love to see us identify the key indicators that could form the basis for, say, a simple annual report to taxpayers that would paint a picture that is readily understood by the average property-owner and easy to update and compare year to year. The report could be posted on the Town's web site, presented annually in a forum with questions and answers, and printed as a handout."
Relating the assessors' work to the assessors' constituents is a job for which Ms. Mitchell is well suited. She deserves a seat on the assessors in her own right, and the town will be well served by her election.
Kerry Scott in Oak Bluffs
Kerry Scott has been a hard charging, determined selectman. This page has criticized her performance frequently, particularly her tendency to see her role as a beleaguered warrior on behalf of the people against treacherous selectmen-colleagues. This approach, similar to the approach common to one or two predecessor selectmen, leads to fractiousness and factionalism. The people's work isn't championed; it's hobbled.
Still, Ms. Scott is a fierce advocate for open decision-making and more thorough airing of issues with voters. It's a view we endorse; and the mess the board got itself into with the collection of employment contracts it concluded in a mishmash of procedural errors makes broader discussion of such matters critical. It is also the case that the board, including Ms. Scott, have not explained why they've done some of the things they've done.
Ms. Scott's drive to examine and then re-examine the board's decision-making is a great credit to her, and we think that if she will only forsake the outsider's posture she has assumed in her first term as selectman, Oak Bluffs voters will benefit from the attention she will bring to the job in her second.