Tisbury School vote put on hold

Tisbury voters approve home-rule petition aimed at herbicides.


A vote on a proposed $46.6 million new Tisbury School project will have to wait at least another day.

After more than two hours of debate on the issue Tuesday night, a decidedly split audience decided to call it a night just after 11:30 pm, with 10 voters still lined up to speak.

Supporters said the new school project provides the space needed to effectively provide educational instruction, while opponents criticized the cost of the project and what some say was not enough attention paid to renovating the existing school.

The town’s share would be just under $32 million, with the state kicking in $14.6 million. A Proposition 2½ debt exclusion is required, which would add about $108 for every $100,000 in assessed property value.

The only vote on the school was whether to take the vote by paper ballot, and that failed by a vote of 191-115.

While town moderator Deborah Medders prepared for an overflow crowd, the extra room wasn’t needed. The existing Tisbury School’s tiny gym was nearly packed to capacity. There were 407 of the town’s 3,529 registered voters who checked in, more than 11 percent.

“You will not be done in one night,” Medders predicted. She was right.

Voters did, however, make it through a 20-article special town meeting. Things stalled nearly immediately when it came time to tackle the 40-article annual town meeting warrant.

Voter Nelson Sigelman, The Times’ former editor, successfully moved to have the school vote taken out of order, citing the number of people in the audience who were clearly there for that issue. That included a group of students on Tisbury School’s student council, who sat in the non-voter section watching what Thomas Jefferson once called the “wisest invention ever devised.”

The tone was set early by Cord Bailey, a graduate of the Tisbury School, who called on voters not to make the lavish choice. “I still think the current building should be renovated rather than torn down,” he said.

He wasn’t alone. Ben Robinson, chairman of the town’s planning board, ended the night’s discussion with a long dissertation about the missed opportunities by the building committee to renovate and add on to the existing school. “The [Tisbury School Building Committee’s] process has failed our community,” he said.

Erika Mulvey, a member of the building committee, said the idea that a renovation wasn’t looked at is a false narrative. She said renovations would have cost $3 million more than the project before voters.

“We never just wanted a new building from the beginning,” Mulvey said. “The priority is meeting the educational needs of the kids. We don’t care what the building looks like, we want to meet the needs of the kids.”

Tisbury School Principal John Custer spoke of the opportunity before the town to take advantage of the 44.28 percent reimbursement from the Massachusetts School Building Authority. “This is the most fiscally responsible, long-term solution that met the needs of the school community,” he said of the project before town meeting voters.

Voter Rachel Orr said Tisbury is made up of a year-round population of modest means. “Unless we adjust something, I can’t afford it,” she said.

Town meeting will reconvene Wednesday at 7 pm in the Tisbury School gym.

In other business, town meeting sent a strong message to Eversource that it’s going to do all it can to limit herbicide spraying in town. Voters, after making some editing changes to the language, approved a home-rule petition that will ask the legislature to give the town’s board of health authority to regulate herbicide spraying in town.

Selectman Tristan Israel sponsored the article, saying the town, along with other Island and Cape towns, has done what it can to push back against spraying of utility rights of way by Eversource. “I think we owe it to ourselves and our children to keep trying,” Israel said.

Voters stopped short of adding language proposed by Barbara Lamson that would have added pesticides as something regulated by the board of health.

Board of health member Michael Loberg supported the herbicide regulations, but said trying to regulate pesticides as well might become too onerous. “I would try to keep it focused where it is, and that’s on Eversource,” he said.

There was quite a bit of back and forth about setting up a stabilization fund for Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School for capital projects, before it was ultimately approved by just four votes, 150-146.

The fund will use money left over from other budgets to fund capital projects under $1 million.

Voters also approved a bylaw that allows anyone who intentionally lets go of helium balloons to be fined $100, after a passionate floor speech by sixth grader Shane True. “We’re not against balloons,” he said. “The reason for this is that it’s basically littering.”

Shane talked about the harm that can be done to animals, and he answered a question about what would happen if someone accidentally let go of a helium balloon with a funny quip.

“If your kid does it accidentally, just tell him not to do it again,” he said.

The idea of the bylaw is to educate, Shane said. “It’s not like it’s going to be super crazily enforced.”

Voters approved some zoning changes, including one that allows recreational marijuana facilities in the same area of town where medical marijuana dispensaries are allowed — the B2 district. Planning board member Daniel Seidman said that means they can’t be located in the downtown area.

Wording was also changed to limit the size of a grow facility to 2,500 square feet, he said.

Voters approved setting up a sewer district near the business district on State Road, and set up a stabilization fund to pay for the so-called Wick system. Selectman Melinda Loberg said the town isn’t ready to act on expansion of sewer capacity, which a consultant said would cost an estimated $6 million, but these two articles lay the groundwork. The town is looking at cheaper alternatives to improve issues with nitrogen from septic systems, she said.

Voters approved creating two new positions, a wastewater lead position and an assistant building inspector.

Selectmen took a beating when they opposed a planning board initiative that allows members to vote on an issue even if they miss a meeting. The provision of state law adopted by town meeting allows a member to go back and look at a recording of a meeting to catch up on the issue before voting.

Israel and selectmen Chairman Larry Gomez spoke against the article, saying someone who commits to public office should make the meetings.

Planning board member Cheryl Doble said some hearings on special permits extend over several meetings, which makes it difficult for members to attend all of them in person. A member would still have to be at a meeting in person to make a decision. “You can’t phone in a vote,” she said.

Josh Goldstein, who represents Tisbury on the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, said that board has adopted the provision of state law, and it’s helped keep business moving forward. “This is modern technology, use it,” he said. “Don’t go all ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and be afraid of it.”