Up-Island school committee reviews agreement with Wampanoag Tribe

Members of the newly elected up-Island school committee attended a meeting at the Wampanoag Tribe administration building on November 10. From left, Jeffrey "Skipper" Manter of West Tisbury, Kate DeVane of West Tisbury, Theresa Manning of Aquinnah, Michael Marcus of West Tisbury, and Robert Lionette of Chilmark. — Photo by Janet Hefler

The Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) school committee met at the Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah (Gay Head) administration building in Aquinnah Monday night, instead of at its usual venues, the West Tisbury and Chilmark schools.

To start, committee chairman Michael Marcus asked superintendent of schools James Weiss, school committee members, and school administrators to introduce themselves. The committee welcomed newly elected members Kate DeVane of West Tisbury and Theresa Manning of Aquinnah, and also paid tribute to Roxanne Ackerman, who did not attend the meeting. Ms. Ackerman was not reelected, after serving on the school committee for 31 years as a representative from Aquinnah.

“I want to welcome you all to tribal lands,” Wampanoag chairman Tobias J. Vanderhoop said. “Thank you for making the time to have your meeting here, and I look forward to participating in the evening’s event.”

Wampanoag education director Leigh French, Aquinnah selectman Jim Newman, and Aquinnah police sergeant Paul Manning, parent of a third-grader at West Tisbury School, also attended the meeting.

On the agenda was an annual review of Indian Policies and Procedures (IPP), as titled by the Federal government, that were jointly established by the district and the tribe. The IPP are required by the Federal government in order for the school district to qualify for Impact Aid funds. The intent of the IPP is to ensure equal participation of Wampanoag Tribe children in school education programs, and to encourage communication between the schools and the Wampanoag community.

The Impact Aid Program provides financial assistance to local school districts that have lost property tax revenue due to the presence of tax-exempt Federal property, including Indian lands and military bases. It has been the UIRSD school committee’s tradition since 2008 to return the money to Aquinnah, since the town receives no property tax from Wampanoag tribal housing that would go towards its school district assessment.

School business administrator Amy Tierney said the funds have diminished over the last several years and are down to about $11,000 a year. Children counted for Impact Aid are ones who live in tribal housing in Aquinnah, Ms. Tierney said, and account for three percent of the UIRSD enrollment, which qualifies the district for the funds. There were 12 children in fiscal year 2014 and 13 in fiscal year 2015.

School superintendent James Weiss said that some significant changes were last made to the IPP a few years ago. Ms. French, who is in her second year as Wampanoag education director and does not regularly attend up-Island school committee meetings, had a few questions. She noted that the IPP refers to student assessments, which include confidential information.

“How does that work?” she asked. “If most of the parents don’t want to participate, then is this agreement null and void?”

Mr. Weiss said the MVPS are required to have parents’ permission to exchange information with her, and that it would be helpful on both sides to have that permission for all tribal students.

Ms. French also asked whether the agreement between the UIRSD and Wampanoag Tribe extends to high school students who live on tribal land. Her concern was that elementary school students would lose monitoring and needs assessment services upon entering high school.

Mr. Weiss said the IPP document does not extend to the high school and is an agreement between the UIRSD and the tribe only. However, he added, “In the past we’ve tried to keep up with all of the students from the Tribe.”

The school committee agreed to discuss the IPP at its December meeting and to send a copy of any proposed changes to the tribe for its members’ approval before a final discussion and vote in January.

Full time SRO not wanted

In other business, the committee resumed a previous discussion about adding funds for a school resource officer, possibly full-time, to next year’s budget. Mr. Weiss read the committee the exact language from a new state law that went into effect last August that requires every chief of police, in consultation with the superintendent and subject to funding, to assign at least one school resource officer to serve the city, town, or regional school district.

Mr. Weiss said that he and the West Tisbury and Chilmark school principals met last Friday with the police chiefs from the district’s member towns of Aquinnah, Chilmark and West Tisbury. Based on their discussion, he put together a draft proposal for an SRO’s responsibilities, which would not include acting as a school disciplinarian or involvement in discipline enforcement.

Mr. Weiss said that although there is no commitment to anything yet by the police departments or the UIRSD, West Tisbury and Aquinnah are considering assigning a half-time officer and Chilmark an officer 15 hours a week to implement the requirement for an SRO in the West Tisbury and Chilmark schools.

Each officer would attend an SRO training program and wear a modified uniform. The officer would have a vehicle available and carry a weapon.

After a lengthy discussion, the school committee members came to a consensus

that the decisions about SROs would be left up to the individual police chiefs and the funding for the position included in their department budgets. The committee also agreed that a full-time SRO would not be necessary.

At Mr. Marcus’s suggestion, the committee agreed to discuss the SRO proposal further at a budget workshop at 7 pm on November 17 at the Chilmark School. They will also discuss funding bathroom repairs that must be made now at the West Tisbury School and a proposed playground design contractor.