Edgartown officials blast elementary school regionalization

A discussion about consolidating the Island’s elementary schools prompted a sharp and negative reaction at the Edgartown selectmen’s meeting.

Edgartown selectmen bristled at the notion of elementary school regionalization. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

In forceful terms, Edgartown selectmen Tuesday rejected outright the idea of regionalizing the Island’s elementary schools. No proposal was formally on the table, but the concept was a topic of discussion at a forum on May 18 sponsored by the League of Women Voters where superintendent of schools James Weiss and retired superintendent Peter Palches spoke about the concept and the efficiencies they said it would create.

Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury operate K-8 schools. Edgartown selectmen, with Edgartown school committee members present Tuesday, swung hard at the notion of regionalization.

“This is a very bad idea for Edgartown,” chairman Art Smadbeck said. “It’s a very bad idea to even be thinking of giving up our school committee, or local control of our school.”

Mr. Smadbeck objected to every facet of the regionalization concept discussed at the May 18 meeting, but he reserved his strongest objection to the cost.

If a regional elementary school system used the same cost allocation formula used by the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, he said, Edgartown would foot approximately 37 percent of the costs.

Mr. Smadbeck distributed a financial analysis that showed Edgartown school costs would rise from $7.1 million to $11.0 million annually, and its per pupil cost would rise from $19,771 to $30,609, under the current state formula for allocation of costs.

“Not one dollar of that increase would go to any Edgartown student,” Mr. Smadbeck said. “Not a dollar, not a nickel, not a penny.”

Mr. Smadbeck said he would oppose regionalization, even if costs were allocated according to a formula he felt is more equitable. Asked after the meeting why he raised such strong opposition to a concept that is not yet a formal proposal, he said, “It demands a response.”

Selectman Margaret Serpa also strongly opposed the concept of regionalization.

“It’s very disturbing,” Ms. Serpa said. “It’s not going to save money. Five people on a committee for a whole Island is not a fair way to run a system. It needs to be put back to bed.”

Leslie Baynes, who served five terms on the Edgartown school committee and is now a member of the financial advisory committee, also opposed the idea.

“If one town falls in trouble, and can’t support the budget, there becomes pressure to cut the budget to control their costs, which in effect, could hurt Edgartown,” Mr. Baynes said.

School committee members also spoke briefly in opposition to regionalization.

Mr. Smadbeck, Ms. Serpa, and Mr. Baynes said they did not attend the May 18 League of Women Voters discussion. They did not speak to Mr. Weiss prior to Tuesday’s selectmen’s meeting. Mr. Smadbeck said he was reacting to an account of the League meeting published in the Vineyard Gazette on May 23.

Reached Wednesday and told of the reaction by Edgartown selectmen to his reported comments at the meeting, Mr. Weiss said regionalization is not a simple concept.
“I think there are some things we need to do regionally, like we do our buses,” Mr. Weiss said. “We have a regional bus system, it works, it saves everybody money. We’ve probably saved a million dollars in the nine years we’ve been doing it. If you look at the way we do some special education programs, we save money for everybody.”

Mr. Weiss said he does not believe Island towns will agree to the concept of regionalizing all school functions. “The notion of complete regionalization, it’s not about the money, it’s about power and control,” he said. “I think it’s a longshot at best. Total regionalization is just not in the cards.”

Pouring permit

In other action Tuesday, selectmen unanimously approved a farmer series pouring permit for Bad Martha Brewery. The new venture is backed by Island developer Peter Rosbeck II, and Jonathan Blum, an Edgartown seasonal homeowner who is a senior executive with Yum! Brands, Inc., the company that operates Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut. The company is finishing construction on a micro-brewery and tasting room on Upper Main Street. Selectmen Michael Donaroma did not participate in the discussion, because the brewery is built on his property and he is the landlord.

The farmer series pouring permit is a new kind of alcoholic license that allows the licensee to sell and allow samplings of the alcoholic beverages it manufactures on the premises.

Attorney Sean Murphy, who represents the business, said the brewery intends to open from 11 am to 7 pm, but may expand hours as late as 11 pm. The license would allow beer to be served in a 900-square-foot tasting room with 10 seats, and on an open porch with 32 outside seats.

During the public hearing on the license, Marilyn Look, whose brother owns Al’s Package Store on Upper Main Street, and also lives near the new brew pub, questioned whether the business is actually a bar.

“How is that not a bar,” Ms. Look said. “You pay for a bottle of beer to drink on the premises, that’s not a bar?”

Ms. Serpa spoke in support of the license. “I think it’s a new venue, it’s a new experience,” Ms. Serpa said. “There are avenues for complaints if they come up.”

Ms. Serpa and Mr. Smadbeck voted to approve the license. It still needs approval from the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission.

This article was updated to clarify that Marilyn Look is the sister of the owner of Al’s Package Store, and also lives near the new brew pub.