Get it together

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It’s difficult to imagine a more nightmarish situation for a school administrator than to get test results back that show more than a dozen classrooms, some restrooms, and other common areas have tested positive for lead above OSHA standards. Worse is when those results come within a month of students being scheduled to return to those classrooms.

That’s the precise scenario at the circa-1929 Tisbury School, where asbestos is also an issue, not to mention mold from water infiltrating the school building’s envelope. Oh, and radon? They haven’t had the ability to test for that yet.

We can grouse all we want about what could have been — a new $46.6 million school that the state agreed to contribute $14 million to build. It’s reasonable to lament the leadership void that likely pushed the needle from a town meeting victory for the new school to a defeat at the polls by a mere 21 votes.

If former selectman Tristan Israel ever attempts a comeback, it’s a fair question to ask him why he helped torpedo that project by writing a Letter to the Editor.

It’s a fair question to ask Melinda Loberg why she abstained from a vote on the project, a wishy-washy response to an important project that served only to confuse constituents. In her own letter, she wrote that it’s time to start a conversation on regional schools Islandwide, something she hasn’t done in the 18 months since the failed vote.

And selectman Jim Rogers, the board of selectmen’s representative on the newly formed school building committee, can and should be questioned about why he didn’t take the Department of Public Health (DPH) report on the school’s air quality more seriously in June when he told The Times, “None of this is a surprise.”

That was a bad look, and, in the process, precious time was wasted. At that point, selectmen should have jumped in and pushed immediately for the lead and asbestos testing recommended by the DPH. Also, can someone explain why it took the teachers’ union to get the DPH to the Island to do this air-quality evaluation in the first place? 

It’s also fair to ask school officials why they jumped so quickly at a new school project in 2018, knowing there were some in town who felt the price tag was too high, and others who felt a sentimental attachment to the old building, and wanted to see it renovated instead of bulldozed.

There are valid questions to be asked, but even if you got the answers to them, the outcome doesn’t change, and the immediate issues facing the school aren’t solved.

We understand the anger and frustration that were on display last Tuesday at a joint meeting between the school committee and the board of selectmen, but it’s time to channel that into solutions.

The school administration has acted quickly with a plan. (Perhaps a little too quickly, by announcing first that K-4 students would be housed at Camp Jabberwocky, and then switching it back to the Tisbury School.) K-4 students will be housed in the 1993 section of the school, with the rest of the building sealed off. No remediation work will be done while students are using those classrooms, even with the building being sealed off. 

Students in grades 5 through 8 are headed to Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, where they will be housed in what’s known as the “200 wing,” an area where the young students can be isolated from the high school population.

Later this week, there will be separate orientations at the high school and at Tisbury School. Parents should attend those sessions armed with questions, and administrators should be prepared with answers.

Meanwhile, selectmen had scheduled a special town meeting for Sept. 24 to consider the lease or purchase of portable classrooms. (If you’re one of the many people asking why the Oak Bluffs empty trailers can’t be used, we’re told they’re suitable for office space, not classrooms.) Once again, leaders are switching gears, though, realizing that there are too many unanswered questions to hold a special town meeting later this month. Selectmen are scheduled to meet Thursday, but the following questions aren’t likely to be answered: How much will the portable classrooms cost? How many portable classrooms are essential? Where will these portable classrooms be located?

All town leaders — selectmen and the school committee — need to work cooperatively to make this project the town’s priority. They need to move with speed, yes, but there also need to be diligence and focus.

Too many stops and starts will confuse voters. Get together. Settle on a plan. And present a united front to taxpayers at the upcoming special town meeting.