Updated 10 am
Voters in Tisbury rejected a tax hike Tuesday to pay for a new $46.6 million school to be built on land adjacent to the current Tisbury School.
The final vote on the question was 546 in favor and 567 opposed. The final tabulation includes a ballot that was marked “no,” but had to be hand-counted after it was rejected by a voting machine, town clerk Hillary Conklin said.
“It’s disappointing,” said Colleen McAndrews, who was the building committee chairman for the project. McAndrews said the project was first talked about in 2012, and she was involved from the beginning. “I have no idea what the [Massachusetts School Building Authority] will do. They don’t do what-ifs. We’re dealing with the disappointment now.”
At the school Wednesday morning, Principal John Custer said staff, after commiserating about the loss the night before, came ready to do their jobs. “Among staff, there is understandable disappointment,” Custer said, noting he emailed the results to teachers Tuesday night. “They came in today with chins up and ready to do our work with kids. I know certainly underlying that there is some hurt and disappointment.”
A parent asked Custer what he would tell students. “I think my answer might have surprised them; quite frankly, I’m not addressing the students,” he said, noting that students were only minimally involved by giving suggestions early on about what they’d like to see in the school. “The mood is a little different, but not significant,” Custer said. “Kids are a great distraction.”
Some 32 percent of the town’s 3,529 registered voters cast ballots.
The proposed school was approved overwhelmingly at town meeting earlier this month, after two nights and five hours of debate, but that’s not always a bellwether of what’s going to happen at the polls.
After town meeting, the debate continued in letters to the editor and online comments. Opponents said the town’s taxpayers could not afford their share of the Proposition 2½ debt exclusion, and that not enough consideration had been given to renovating the old school. Proponents said a new school was needed because there is no space in the aging school for special-needs classes, among other things. Renovations would be too costly.
To show just how divided the town was over the project, the town’s three selectmen each took different positions on the new school. Chairman Larry Gomez supported it, Tristan Israel opposed it, and Melinda Loberg abstained and, in a letter to the editor, said it’s time to start an Island-wide conversation about regionalization beyond the high school level.
The town was approved to receive $14.6 million from the Massachusetts School Building Authority, and would have had to come up with $32 million of the cost. The state funds were contingent on the town approving its share. Based on a 20-year bond, a property owner would have paid an additional $108 per $100,000 valuation in property taxes.
Marvin Rosenkrantz voted no to the Tisbury School project, but told The Times outside the polls that he thought it would pass. “A lot of people think they want [a new school],” Rosenkrantz said, “but when people’s taxes go up more than $500 a year, they’ll look back and regret it … but I’m 85 years old, I don’t give a goddamn anymore.”
Across the street, Tisbury School students Brycen Millen, 5, and Isaac Rendon, 5, were playing at recess and watching project supporters, including their teachers and fellow classmates, rallying outside the polls. “I don’t want [the school] to get wrecked,” Brycen shouted to his teacher Rita Jeffers as she rallied with a “vote yes” sign.
Janet Cummings, a parent of two Tisbury School students, was one of the ralliers. “This will be a nail biter,” Cummings told The Times. “I’m keeping my fingers crossed all day.”
McAndrews said she will begin assessing next steps. The school’s needs aren’t going away, she said. “We’ll move on and figure it out,” McAndrews said.
The building committee has a meeting planned for 5 pm Monday, she said. It was scheduled no matter the outcome.
That’s the appropriate venue for such discussions, Custer said. “That’s been part of my surprise and frustration in recent weeks,” he said. “People have a right to do this, of course, but it’s surprising to me that, as opposed to using meetings to share their opinions, they’ve used letters to the editor.”
In other election results, Jim Rogers was elected as selectman in an uncontested race to replace outgoing chairman Larry Gomez.
In the only contested race on the ballot, Nancy Gilfoy (678), Laura Rose (522), and Thomas Keller (501) all won three-year terms on the finance committee over Paul Cefola (458).
Updated with now official results. -Ed.