Chilmark selectmen troubled by effort to ‘stifle’ school

Board approves annual warrant and new harbor assistant, and considers recycling old pilings.

Can these pilings be reused? Two schools of thought in Chilmark. - Rich Saltzberg

The thaw in relations between Chilmark and West Tisbury over funding of the Up-Island School District may have been short-lived, Chilmark selectmen learned at the board’s Tuesday meeting.

Town executive secretary Tim Carroll told the board Chilmark School Principal Susan Stevens came to him with concerns about how the Up-Island School Committee was treating the Chilmark School — specifically that the two West Tisbury members seemed explicitly bent on hobbling school growth despite previous requests by the committee that Chilmark boost enrollment.

“They told her they didn’t think it was appropriate for children who are going to the preschool to have any priority in being seated in a K1 class that came up the next year,” Carroll said.

Rather, Carroll said, they argued all spaces should be open by lottery to all kids, not preferential to kids in preschool in Chilmark.

“The principal was concerned that was kind of undermining the purpose of our preschool, which is supposed to be a feeder for the [Chilmark] school,” Carroll said.

As the board was digesting Carroll’s initial report, he added that the same West Tisbury committee members spearheaded a refusal to contribute funds for the replacement of “damaged and dangerous” playground equipment at the Chilmark School.

Selectman James Malkin said he wished to consult Chilmark’s representative on the committee, Robert Lionette, to get a clearer picture. At the same time, he described the apparent positions taken by the committee as “redolent of the Up-Island Regional School District issues” relative to having “one school versus two schools.”

In past up-Island selectmen’s meetings, West Tisbury officials have argued their town overpays to the school district, while Chilmark underpays. Chilmark officials say that’s not true, and have defended their school against what they fear is a campaign to eliminate it in favor of the West Tisbury School. At the last up-Island selectmen’s meeting, Chilmark went so far as to point out that by several calculations, it would either be fiscally the same or better off if it left the Up-Island School District.

“It just feels like it’s intended to stifle growth at the Chilmark School,” Carroll said.

Selectman Warren Doty appeared particularly taken aback by the playground stance.

“We used the same formula for funding repairs to the West Tisbury schoolyard,” he said.

“Well, the West Tisbury members were saying this was the first time they’d ever heard of this project, and they had nothing to do with it,” Carroll said. “That seems odd, since it has been on their minutes a number of times.”

In response to a question from chairman Bill Rossi, Carroll explained Chilmark could self-fund the playground expense via a patchwork appropriations, including asking voters at town meeting.

Doty said he expected to meet with Stevens at 9 am Wednesday. There is low morale at the Chilmark School due to a pervasive feeling among the staff that a campaign is afoot to close the place down, Doty has previously said.

The board decided it would all attend the next Up-Island School Committee meeting and get to the bottom of the priority placement and playground issues.

The annual town meeting warrant the selectmen unanimously approved includes several Up-Island School District spending items, including a $227,500 transfer from the general stabilization fund to pay Chilmark’s portion of renovations to the heating and ventilation systems of the Chilmark School — an article contingent on West Tisbury and Aquinnah ponying up their shares of an overall cost of $284,375 for the work. Another article seeks $2,858 to upgrade the fire alarm system at the West Tisbury School — again provided the other two towns contribute their shares for the overall projected cost of $21,440.

There is a request for $70,550 from the Open Space Fund to “rehabilitate” the Chilmark School’s playground. Last, as part of a compound funding article, a $35,000 education budget appropriation (a Proposition 2½ override) is on the warrant. If approved, the article is contingent on ballot question approval at the annual town election, held two days later on April 25.


Wiring, hiring and pilings

Carroll, along with Malkin, the selectmen’s harbor liaison, updated the board on the progress of a consultant from electrical engineering firm Vincent Di lorio of Norwood. Tasked with drawing up specifications for a major electrical upgrade along the harbor, the consultant is reviewing survey plans of the harbor, and hoping to examine as-built plans for the docks, Carroll said.

The proposed work stems from last summer, when several people who came in contact with harbor water suffered shocks and tingling sensations from stray voltage. Inspector of wires Cole Powers corrected what he believed to be the source of that voltage, but made it clear he could not rule out further electrical anomalies, in part because of the bygone and broken state of harbor electrical infrastructure overall. Powers recommended substantial improvements, which the selectmen secured funds for at a special town meeting on Nov. 27. Whether the consultant can complete his specifications so the work can go out to bid and be finished by the start of the season remains an unknown.

On the recommendation of harbormaster Dennis Jason, the board voted unanimously to approve the hire of Tamar Rogers as an administrative assistant to the harbormaster. Before the vote, Rogers pointed to her maritime experience, U.S. Forest Service firefighting experience, medical training, and adeptness at administrative computing as qualifications for the job.

Rogers will be in the harbormaster’s shack five days a week in the season, Jason noted.

“I find her the most qualified of the applicants that we received,” he said.

Pursuant to recommendations made by Menemsha Plan consultant William Brewster, the board approved, upon their removal from the harbor, the examination of pilings for recycled use as signposts and vehicular barriers to a boardwalk.

Carroll disagreed with Brewster’s notion of using new pilings, estimating they would cost $1,800 apiece. Since dozens of pilings are slated for replacement in the harbor, Carroll suggested repurposing the old ones to meet Brewster’s design goals. The board found the idea encouraging.

“These are real pilings, they’re wood — everybody likes wood down in Menemsha,” Malkin said. Jason told the board the pilings to be pulled were too deteriorated, and he was doubtful many could be salvaged.

In other business, after Police Chief Jonathan Klaren outlined police activity Saturday night that culminated on Middle Road and at the Keith Farm after a three-town vehicular pursuit, the board commended Officer Jesse Burton for preventing an erratic driver from endangering pedestrians at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival.

“I’d be remiss not to thank the other officers, and not to acknowledge that there was excellent communication between our department, West Tisbury, Aquinnah, and even Dukes County Sheriff’s,” Officer Burton said.