Oak Bluffs fires return salvo at Tisbury lawsuit
Oak Bluffs selectmen reacted sharply at Tuesday's meeting to Tisbury's decision to take its neighbor to court over educational funding. While the lawsuit charges that Oak Bluffs is not paying its fair share, selectman Ron DiOrio contends the town may have paid more than its share since 1993.
"The dollar amounts are going to be significant," said Mr. DiOrio. "I'm not saying we expect to collect money, but I think it's important that we get that on the table. Had [Oak Bluffs] implemented a wealth-based formula in 1993, as we were mandated to do, then Oak Bluffs taxpayers would pay significantly less money for support of the regional high school over the years. That's a number, and we can generate that number."
Mr. DiOrio and chairman Kerry Scott suggested that the town should also examine whether other costs should be factored into the funding mechanism.
"The school is housed in Oak Bluffs, and that is a substantial chunk of property that is off the tax rolls. It would really be terrific if there was some recognition, on the part of the other towns, that that is a serious cost incurred on the part of this town," said Mr. DiOrio. "You go to court, and you seek fairness and equity. You go there with clean hands, and I hope we come out with clean hands and come out with a fair, equitable mechanism for funding that school, and a fair and equitable mechanism for addressing the fact that it is housed here in Oak Bluffs, on our property. I mean, that could easily have been 300 houses that would be paying taxes."
The board instructed the town's financial officers to generate estimates of unique costs associated with the school property incurred by Oak Bluffs. The board also wants to know the amount that would have been owed if the state's wealth-based formula had been implemented in 1993.
Selectman Duncan Ross questioned why Oak Bluffs was named in the lawsuit, while the other Island town that voted to change the funding formula, was not named.
"I think it's interesting that the town of Aquinnah is not involved in this lawsuit," said Mr. Ross. "I think that speaks volumes."
Selectman also requested a future meeting with the town counsel and school officials to discuss its response to the lawsuit.