Tisbury selectmen, school committee to survey voters

At issue is what’s next for Tisbury School.

Tisbury selectmen met with the school committee, and other town and Island officials to discuss the fate of the Tisbury School Monday night at the Tisbury Senior Center. — Rich Saltzberg

Updated Dec. 12

Tisbury selectmen and the school committee are still trying to figure out what’s next after voters rejected a $46.6 million project to build a new school.

The narrow vote last April, 567-546, reflected a polarized community. Division over the subject was evident throughout a joint meeting between the two boards Monday at the Tisbury Senior Center.

The only solidarity the two committees could reach was the need for a survey or questionnaire that could be distributed to Tisbury residents so they can weigh in on Tisbury School issues and inform the board and the committee as to what they’ll support. Selectmen were expected to discuss the issue further at a meeting Tuesday at 5:30 pm.

Even the survey subject saw differences of opinion, with selectman Jim Rogers doubting the efficacy of it, and Assistant Superintendent Richie Smith saying the public needs to understand the education plan before weighing in.

“Can we reach out to the folks who wanted new construction to say, Are you willing to get behind, rally, and support an effort that will be renovation and addition?” Tisbury School Committee chair Amy Houghton asked.

Superintendent Matt D’Andrea suggested “five or six questions” via SurveyMonkey, a cloud-based survey company, would be an effective way of reaching Tisbury’s citizenry for direction on a future school project.

“So much of what we’d talked about also had been predicated on that education plan, and I’m not sure there’s many people out there that know what is in that plan,” Smith said, advocating for its inclusion to inform voters.

Rogers disagreed, and said he didn’t think people would delve into the plan. “People are looking for guidance from us,” he said. “We’ve heard all summer long — we want you guys to be leaders; we want guidance. That’s what we’re trying to do. That’s why we’re here tonight. And my guidance is that I’m in support of a renovation-addition because that’s what I’m hearing from my constituents.”

A survey would not produce a “cross-section of the community,” based on past survey results, Rogers said.

School committee member Colleen McAndrews agreed, because many elders might not have access to the web or be digitally informed enough to navigate an online survey. She suggested a mailing be used in conjunction with a digital survey. “It would cost about $1,600 to mail something to every registered voter,” she said.

McAndrews would like to see consensus between the boards. “If we can all come to the table and agree on a project, it will be supported. I’m sure I’m speaking for the selectmen, you’ll support whatever the decision is … The school committee will do the same thing.”

Tisbury facilities manager Kirk Metell said there are timing considerations. “We have issues in the building right now — we have chased after a mold and mildew issue in the school, we’re talking about future testing on those. We do have leaky windows. We have a leaking roof. It’s not going to stop. We have to figure out if we’re going to be writing articles this year to take care of some of those items, or are we going to wait a year or two years in order to get a full project going?”

Selectman Tristan Israel deferred to the school committee on the issues Metell brought up.

On Tuesday night, selectmen discussed the previous day’s meeting briefly. They agreed to put placeholders for school repair articles on the town meeting warrant, but have not yet voted to support them. The warrant articles address issues such as the roof, mold, and floors.

As for the questions, the school committee discussed possible topics Tuesday morning, selectman Melinda Loberg told the board, but did not come up with specific questions. Because of that, Israel cast doubt on having a survey ready and answers compiled by the next time the boards meet, in January.

The possibility of sending surveys with property tax bills is not possible, town administrator Jay Grande said, because the survey would need to be ready by Friday.

Rogers said he remains unconvinced that a survey will help.

“I would like to keep it very simple,” Israel said.

On Monday, Rogers said he believed a year from next June, a project of some sort would be underway.

He did not support spending money on the building except for work that improves air quality or remediates mold.

“Anything that’s health and safety should be addressed first,” school committee member Janet Packer said.

“Are we going to be able to stop the future growth of that [mold], without taking care of the outside envelope and taking care of the windows and roof?” Metell asked. “No, we’re not going to be able to if it continues to leak the way it’s leaking now.”

The meeting adjourned with the understanding the school committee would craft survey questions for review by the selectmen.

Updated to add information from a subsequent selectmen’s meeting and to correct attribution on a quote. – Ed.