West Tisbury committee recommends Chilmarkers alone pay costs of town school

They also tackle immigration issues and mopeds.

West Tisbury board of selectman, from left, Sue Silk, Cynthia Mitchell, board chairman Richard Knabel, selectman Jeffrey "Skipper" Manter, and town administrator Jennifer Rand at a meeting on Wednesday. — Edie Prescott

Selectmen were busy at last Wednesday’s meeting: They heard from the special committee charged with exploring new funding models for up-Island schools, and approved two articles for the town meeting warrant — one to continue police practices regarding immigration, and another to eliminate moped rentals.

West Tisbury committee recommends Chilmarkers alone pay costs of town school

Chilmark should pay for its own elementary school’s operating costs. A West Tisbury special committee created by town selectmen (Nov. 8, 2016, “West Tisbury selectmen agree to participate in Up-Island School Committee”) to come up with what they regard as a more “equitable” sharing of school costs among the three up-Island towns that form the district gave its verdict to selectmen at a meeting on Jan. 18.

The West Tisbury Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) Allocation Formula Committee, and members Susan Silk, selectman Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter, ex officio, and Doug Ruskin delivered the news. Ms. Silk reported the findings, and Mr. Ruskin reviewed the financials.

The committee called the current sharing setup more than unfair: “The committee members agree that from a financial perspective having the UIRSD operate two school buildings for grades K-5 when one [West Tisbury] is underutilized and able to accommodate the District’s total enrollment is financially irresponsible governance. Further, having the taxpayers in the UIRSD bear the additional expense of operating the Chilmark School is also financially irresponsible governance.”

West Tisbury has chafed for a decade over the current cost-sharing formula, charging that its taxpayers pay too high a price for the operation of the Chilmark School (June 6, 2016, “Aquinnah, Chilmark, West Tisbury selectmen review school report”). Town selectmen organized the committee to come up with a new solution that “more equitably distributes the cost of educating the District’s children across the District’s three town budgets and ultimately among the taxpayers.” Their decision: Keep the Chilmark School open, let Chilmark taxpayers alone pay its operating costs.

“Many hours of research and numbers crunching later, and we are here to make our final recommendation,” Ms. Silk said. She added that she “has no horse in the race” — no kids or grandchildren in the school, nor does she work in the school.

“What I was concerned about was that we maintain the high quality of the school,” Ms. Silk said. “My assignment was to ask the really stupid questions.”

The report explains, “Almost from the creation of the UIRSD the taxpayers of West Tisbury have believed that they are unfairly burdened by the expense of providing that education. The allocation formula recommended here does not alter the budget. And, more importantly, the allocation formula recommended here does not in any way threaten the district’s reputation for quality education.”

Chilmark has rejected earlier reports from this committee (Oct. 20, 2016, “Chilmark rebuts West Tisbury school report”).

View the UIRSD cost allocation formula chart.

What should change

The committee recommended an approach to a new cost-sharing formula, paraphrased as follows:

Step 1. To determine the cost of operating the Chilmark School, which is determined by operating costs, principal/interest, capital and short-term borrowing.

Step 2. To have the Chilmark taxpayers assume this cost.

Step 3. To determine the cost of operating the West Tisbury School, based on the students who reside in the district and attend both district schools, allocated among the taxpayers based on each town’s student attendance in the district.

“This allocation formula provides a usable and repeatable process for annual configuration,” Ms. Silk read from the report.

Ms. Silk said that using this allocation formula, based on the projected full-year 2018 budget — noting that this was just a “snapshot” because “the numbers keep changing as different generations of the budget keeps getting developed” — that West Tisbury’s budget allocation would decrease by $721,124, Aquinnah’s budget allocation would decrease by $154,281, and the Chilmark budget allocation would increase by $875,405.

The committee noted that the proposed allocations ignored revenue because “the revenue components are really variable by a lot of different factors and to keep the [comparison] work simplified,” according to Mr. Ruskin.

School choice was also left out, because “it’s a moving target year after year,” Mr. Ruskin said. The committee assumed that students would remain at whichever school they currently attend. It was noted there are currently nine West Tisbury residents attending the Chilmark School, and it was assumed they would remain there.

Shared-services allocations were also assumed to remain the same, and were not considered.

The committee reviewed but rejected three other allocation-distribution possibilities, but all three “yielded a financial result that was untenable,” according to the report.
Although selectmen voted to accept the report, it does not mean that selectmen accept the committee’s recommendation, they agreed.

West Tisbury selectmen put immigration on annual warrant

Cynthia Aguilar, a member of the Island group We Stand Together, asked West Tisbury selectmen on Jan. 18 to agree to place a warrant article on the spring town meeting warrant that would allow police and selectmen to refuse town funds to enforce national immigration laws, absent a “criminal warrant or other evidence of probable cause.”
Ms. Aguilar said she represented her undocumented Island neighbors. Selectmen voted to allow the article, but they qualified their decision. Selectman Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter was clear: “Just because we may vote to put an article on the warrant,” he said, “doesn’t mean we vote as a board to support it.”

“That’s right,” selectman Cynthia Mitchell said.

The proposed article is as follows: “To see if the town will vote to request the selectmen to authorize law enforcement and town officials to refrain from using town funds and or resources to enforce federal immigration laws in keeping with current practices unless presented with a criminal warrant or other evidence of probable cause as required by the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

“After the election,” Ms. Aguilar said, “we, and many people in the community, were very fearful about what [President] Trump might do regarding immigrants — that the deportations might increase — so our concern was mainly to deal with those fears.”
Board chairman Richard Knabel asked how Ms. Aguilar got to this point.

“We worked with different Brazilian people within the community, although it’s not just a Brazilian issue. We have two lawyers on our subgroup — one is an immigration lawyer — and their recommendations were [that we write] this article and [use this] the wording,” Ms. Aguilar said.

“We did speak with the police chiefs,” she said, “and there was some resistance, and we changed the wording, which we thought would make it better.”

Chilmark interim Police Chief Tim Rich, for example, noted that it would be contempt if, when asked, local police did not cooperate with federal officials. In response, the group altered their original wording. Ms. Aguilar also reported that she has enough signatures on her petition to make it onto the warrant.

“If this is the current practice, why do we need this?” Ms. Mitchell asked.

“This says that we do not want this kind of deportation pressures coming into this community,” Ms. Aguilar said. “Some cities and towns have gone even further and call themselves ‘sanctuary cities’ — such as Boston and Somerville. We are not going that far, but we are asking for a continuation of current practices.”

West Tisbury selectmen support eliminating rental mopeds on Martha’s Vineyard

The effort to ban moped rentals on the Island gained a little traction in West Tisbury Wednesday evening, when selectmen unanimously approved a nonbinding ballot measure for April’s town election, asking voters if they favor an Island-wide ban on moped rentals.

“We’ve got to end this,” Chief Rich, a member of the Moped Action Committee, told the board. “I have been working on the moped problem since the late 1980s, and it has been reinvigorated after that terrible accident this past summer where a young woman lost her leg. Some of the older committee members and myself decided that we’ve got to end this.”
Tisbury and Oak Bluffs are the only towns on the Vineyard that issue business licenses for moped rentals.

Although the vote in West Tisbury would only be symbolic, Mr. Rich said the town’s support is essential to building Island-wide consensus.

Mr. Rich said that previous Oak Bluffs boards of selectmen have allowed license transfers and change of ownership of moped rental businesses, although doing so violates a town bylaw adopted in 2004. The bylaw prohibiting transfer of ownership was intended to phase out moped rentals completely over time.

“We’ve come to the conclusion, and I came to this conclusion a long time ago, that [moped rentals] just aren’t workable for Martha’s Vineyard,” he added. “What we’re looking for is to have the current bylaws in the towns — specifically Oak Bluffs — enforced, and if they were, the problem would resolve itself.”

Mr. Rich said he got a close-up views of the carnage created by moped rentals during the 30 years he served as Chilmark police chief and as an EMT. He redoubled his efforts to stop moped rentals in the wake of a fatal accident in 2014, when a moped driver lost control and drove into the path of an oncoming pickup truck operated by his son, Jonathan. Mr. Rich said that renting mopeds to inexperienced riders will invariably result in more tragedy.