Edgartown selectmen caution against hasty school-choice funding changes

Selectmen told school officials to take a step back as the All-Island School Committee prepares to discuss school-choice funding assessments.

Edgartown School principal John Stevens, Martha's Vineyard Public School superintendent Matt D'Andrea, Edgartown School committee members, chairman Susan Mercier, Megan Anderson and Kelly McCracken.

Edgartown selectmen Monday urged a group of Martha’s Vineyard school officials to exercise caution as the all-Island school committee prepares to reevaluate how the superintendent’s shared services budget is assessed among the six Island towns. Under a proposal now on the table, Edgartown and Tisbury would see a hike.

On Jan. 13, the committee will return to the formula, which is currently based only on the number of students in each school. West Tisbury officials object to paying an assessment based, in small part, on students who attend the West Tisbury School from outside towns, which include Edgartown.

Martha’s Vineyard Superintendent of Schools Matthew D’Andrea, Assistant Superintendent Richie Smith, Edgartown School Principal John Stevens, and three Edgartown school committee members attended the meeting with selectmen.

“Some All-Island School Committee members have asked us to look at the shared services formula, specifically where the students who are in a school-choice program are assessed … They’d like to consider the possibility of assessing from the district in which they live,” Mr. D’Andrea said.

Selectman Art Smadbeck told school officials that before any change is made, the All-Island School Committee should make sure it’s in compliance with the state laws that concern the establishment and management of regional school committees, referred to as “superintendency unions.”

Mr. Smadbeck said the All-Island School Committee is not properly constituted according to the governing law. Specifically, he said, all five members of the up-Island school committee sit on the all-Island school committee; the law says that each district should have no more than three members.

Secondly, Mr. Smadbeck said, the All-Island School Committee needs a written agreement that dictates methods and procedures for assessing towns. Whether or not such an agreement has ever existed is unclear.

Mr. D’Andrea did not comment on the composition of the All-Island School Committee, but he conceded that he has been unable to locate any written agreement.

“There is no written agreement that I can get my hands on,” Mr. D’Andrea said. He said that the school district’s lawyers are looking for a record of such a document, but nothing has turned up.


Edgartown selectmen urged the school officials to take as much time as necessary to evaluate the details of a potential assessment shift, and to make sure that the school district is in compliance with all the relevant laws.

“I think that the Jan. 13 decision – it sounded to me like they wanted a decision on that date- I think that’s premature,” selectman Margaret. Serpa said.

The all-Island school committee plans to host a workshop discussion about the assessments next week and expects to vote on whether or not to alter the formula on Jan. 27. Mr. Smadbeck urged the representatives to take a step back and make sure that everything was in order before changes are made.

“It has to be reduced to a written agreement that all of the school committees have agreed to. That’s what we don’t have,” Mr. Smadbeck said.

Ms. Serpa said that a seemingly informal agreement was established years ago to fund the superintendent’s office before the school choice program, or even the charter school, existed.The stickiness concerning who should fund these regional programs would not have even been a consideration.

Mr. D’Andrea agreed that any changes would have to be examined closely, and that implementing those changes would have to be as meticulously planned out.

“If we are going to make a change, let’s talk about the best time to make that change,” Mr. D’Andrea said.

Edgartown school committee chairman Susan Mercier agreed with selectmen and said the school committee also had a lot of questions about how and when an assessment change would be implemented.

“There was a tremendous sense of urgency at the all-Island meeting that was held in December,” Ms. Mercier said.

She asked the selectmen for permission for the Edgartown school committee to work with town counsel Ron Rappaport to “go through some documents… and answer some questions.”

Ms. Serpa said she would like to wait for the school district’s lawyer to come forward, but Mr. Smadbeck suggested that having Mr. Rappaport answer some questions about the relevant laws for the school committee could be helpful. Ms. Serpa agreed.

Footing responsibility

The shared-services budget encompasses three general areas, including the superintendent’s office, shared programs, and other direct services.

Under the current formula, the high school pays 20 percent of the budget costs, and the three towns with elementary schools — Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury — and the up-Island district (West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah) are responsible for the school-site enrollment costs, or the costs associated with the number of students physically in each respective school.

In essence, towns and the up-Island district are responsible for school-choice students who attend their schools, regardless of the student’s home address. For example, if a student from Oak Bluffs chooses to attend the West Tisbury School, West Tisbury is responsible for the costs of that student, not Oak Bluffs.

If the formula was adjusted to reflect costs from only students in the district, the total up-Island cost would be $1.19 million, compared to $1.35 million under the current method. Edgartown, which this year sent out 14 more students than it received, would go up about $51,000 under the alternative formula. Tisbury, which sent 31 more students than it received, would go up about $113,000. Oak Bluffs, which sent an equal amount of students as it received, would remain steady at $1.54 million.

The formula was based on the notion that the costs average out over a period of several years.