Regionalization light


It would be easy to assume that outgoing superintendent of Martha’s Vineyard Schools James Weiss was born cheerful. How else to explain the fact that the man began his Island tenure in 2005 with a smile, and as his job winds down, he continues to wear a smile. Remarkable really, when you consider the job.

Sure, he wears a serious countenance when a photographer catches him at a meeting with one of the five (or is it six, or 10 — hard to keep it straight) Island school committees he must meet with on a regular basis. But generally, the guy seems pretty cheerful for someone who has at last count presided over a school system comprised of 550 employees, more than 2,100 students, a budget of about $50 million, and by his own account, lived through 60 school budget processes.

Mr. Weiss is scheduled to retire at the end of June and said he will work right up until June 30. At a juncture when others might be milking every sick day, personal day, and vacation day due, Jim Weiss has shown no inclination to slack off on the job. “I’ve got too much to do,” he said. In a series that began on April 29 at the Tisbury School and will end on June 9 at the Chilmark School, Mr. Weiss has been speaking about the Island school system in a series of forums organized by the League of Women Voters.

“As I depart, I want people to have a sense of how good their schools are,” Mr. Weiss told The Times prior to his first stop. “I’m not taking credit for it, because I just inherited a wonderful system and didn’t destroy it. I want people to understand where we are, so they support the new leadership. I also want to talk about where we can work together in what I call ‘shared responsibility,’ to make things better.”

His speaking tour comes against a backdrop of voter rejection of rising school expenses. Tisbury, Chilmark, and West Tisbury all said no to the cost of a new $3.9 million school administration building, sending the project back to the drawing board.

West Tisbury voters also rejected a request for $300,000 to fund the Up-Island Regional School District budget, and when they next meet at special town meeting on June 2, they will be asked to consider withdrawing from the district. The driving frustration behind that article, one of two articles voters will consider along with a request to fund the budget, is the cost of the Chilmark School.

Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail, and voters will see that any move to withdraw from the district would be a case of chucking the baby out with the bathwater, and tossing the tub out too for good measure.

But voters have every reason to question the costs of a school system that promises to continue to grow more expensive. Good thing Vineyard towns can count on the sizable tax payments from seasonal property owners who do not contribute kids and have no voice at town meeting.

School committee members, teacher union representatives, selectmen, finance committee members, and new Superintendent Matt D’Andrea and Assistant Superintendent Richie Smith have their work cut out for them in the years ahead.

Mr. Weiss’s parting gift to the school system he has served so ably over the past 10 years is the blueprint he has begun sharing with those who have turned out to hear what he has to say — more listeners would certainly be welcome.

Mr. Weiss is realistic. In a forum held at the Oak Bluffs School last week before an audience of about 25 people, he said, “While I agree that a regional system could save us money, I have to say that I don’t see that happening.”

Instead, Mr. Weiss described a system of shared responsibilities and collaboration, a rational system where towns cooperate to cut costs. Let’s call it regionalization light.

As an example, Mr. Weiss said that currently every school buys its own type of toilet paper and holders. If all the schools bought the same paper in bulk, the company would drop-ship it once, plus provide the holders or dispensers and come to the Island to install them, Mr. Weiss said.

On an Island with six of most everything, including dog catchers, standardized toilet paper and dispensers would be a promising start.