Union lawyer: Tisbury School ‘not in good shape’

Water damage, ventilation issues plague building.

The 150-plus windows at Tisbury school pose a big concern, as most are foggy, cracked, and are leaking. — Gabrielle Mannino

A lawyer for the union that represents teachers at Tisbury School has pointed out what teachers, administrators, and town officials have known for some time — the aging building is in disrepair.

“It is clear that the Tisbury School will require substantial funding to address the issues at the school,” Sarah Gibson, the attorney hired by the Martha’s Vineyard Education Association, wrote after visiting the school twice. “The building is not in good shape. The current state of the building is disheartening, to say the least.”

Gibson issued a report prior to Tuesday’s joint meeting between the board of selectmen and school committee. At that meeting, selectmen kept an article on the town meeting warrant and town ballot seeking a Proposition 2½ capital exemption, but is still working out the wording of that article as the April 9 town meeting and April 23 elections approach.

Gibson visited the school on Jan. 4 and Feb. 18 to look at concerns raised by members of the union over health and safety concerns. Her report points to water intrusion throughout the school building, which in some cases has caused rot and other damage. “In the teachers’ room, the seal around the window has deteriorated to the point that daylight is visible through the seal,” Gibson wrote. “Not surprising, fixtures in classrooms show signs of water-related deterioration, or mold/mildew growth.”

Buckling classroom floors were observed, which are “obvious fall hazards,” she wrote. “In addition to the many problems with the building envelope, the ventilation system in the building suffers from age and lack of adequate capacity.”

Gibson wrote that the building’s condition calls for “immediate and long-term attention.”

Her letter is addressed to Tisbury School teachers Rita Jeffers and Natalie Krauthamer. Reached Thursday, Jeffers said she would have to consult with union representatives before responding to questions.

John Custer, principal at Tisbury School, said the report reinforces the needs that school officials tried to address with last year’s failed vote for a new school.

“None of it was surprising,” Custer said. “It reinforces what the feasibility study said.”

In her report, Gibson recommends a warrant article address conducting an assessment of the building to determine what short-term measures “can sensibly be taken to address the obvious and serious issues” with the building. She wrote that the short-term priority should be the building envelope and ventilation issues. “Although testing for mold spores might identify locations in the building affected by mold, I would suggest that initially, in lieu of testing for the presence of mold, any building assessments be targeted toward resolving water intrusion issues generally,” Gibson wrote.

Gibson suggests teachers could pursue free testing through the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Town officials toured the school in August, and many of the issues pointed out by Gibson were evident at that time.


  1. Allowing this degradation to reach the point of a health hazard for students and teachers is a clear failure of town leadership.

  2. This should be a call to town meeting to use 100% of the new short term rental tax to totally renovate the school without raising taxes (Already the highest on the island)

  3. Hopefully this is what the rental tax will be used for. Vineyard Haven should have got the same 50 per cent match from the state that Edgartown got when they built their school.

  4. We had a vote last year about this building . Let me quote Scott Adams (creator of the Dilbert comic strip) “you can never underestimate the stupidity of the general public”

  5. I recall an editorial published days before the vote last year signed by Tristan Israel, Katherine Scott and other members of the community encouraging Tisbury residents to vote no for a new school. The editorial was intended to dupe voters into believing a beautiful renovation was imminent and would be more cost effective. It is a year later and where are the plans for a beautiful renovation promised to us? I hope these members of the community hang their heads in shame after reading this article. Our children and selfless and tireless teachers are forced to work in these conditions. It is deplorable. The members of the community who voted against the new school FAILED the children and educators at the Tisbury School. Evidence of toxicity of mold inhalation is well documented. Mold testing conducted in the spring of 2018 in the Kindergarten classrooms indicated mold was so pervasive it required THREE attempts at remediation to get it to “acceptable” levels. The ceiling in the Kindergarten classroom collapsed following a leaky unit above the classroom during Christmas break 2017/18. Thankfully school was not in session. How would you feel if your child were sitting in the classroom at the time?

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