Wheels spin on Tisbury School fix

School officials and committee members want more time; town meeting is delayed.

Tisbury School committee member Amy Houghton told parents, staff, and school administration that the conversation on modular classrooms and potential land use needs to remain open. –Brian Dowd

Updated Sept. 6

The special town meeting to decide on funding for Tisbury School portable classrooms is likely to be moved to Oct. 15.

Meeting inside the Emergency Services Facility conference room, which will operate as the cafeteria for K-4 Tisbury students, Tisbury School officials and committee members decided the best course of action was to move the special town meeting to have more time to put together the warrant article which will ask voters to spend $1.5 million on portable classrooms. It will be up to selectmen, who are scheduled to meet Thursday at 12 noon, to actually set the date.

“We really need to get our ducks in a row in terms of what needs to be on the warrant articles that we proposed,” school board chair Amy Houghton said.

One of those ducks is to hire an owner’s property manager (OPM) to help site and build a temporary school for students. Selectmen and the school committee are looking to either purchase or lease portable classrooms. Officials hope to make a decision on an OPM by Tuesday, but executing a contract with the OPM will take additional time.

Tisbury students won’t be going back to school until Monday, after lead tests showed classrooms with levels above what OSHA considers healthy. The testing came after a Department of Public Health evaluation that showed air quality issues with the aging building, and pointed to potential problems with lead and asbestos.

The plan is to house K-4 students in the 1993 wing at the school, with the rest of the building sealed off. They’ll eat lunch at the Emergency Services Facility across the street. Students in grades 5-8 are being housed in the “200 wing” at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. Neither solution is considered permanent.

Meanwhile, 13 students have left the Tisbury School to attend other schools on the Island, according to Tisbury School Principal John Custer. Last week, school committees from other Island towns voted to extend school choice enrollment, allowing Tisbury School students the option of attending other schools instead of being housed in the high school or the newer wing of the Tisbury School.

Siobhán Mullins, head of the parent teacher organization, said the town has been negatively affected by each student that leaves.

Tisbury has to pay $5,000 per student for each of the 13 students at their new schools because of choice enrollment.

“For every student who chooses not to come back to Tisbury this year or in the future, it’s going to cost the town even more money,” Mullins said.

School committee members and selectman Jim Rogers agreed that the town and the committee needed to work together, but there was confusion over who was to approach the other with information. 

The school committee said they couldn’t present modular facility designs until they had a better understanding of available town land. Rogers said the town couldn’t say which land was available until they had a building design to work with.

School committee member Michael Watts reached out to two modular building companies, Danvers-based Vanguard Modular Building Systems and Littleton-based Triumph Modular. Both companies needed more information on a potential site of the modular buildings, but the town is looking at a modular facility that would need 30 classrooms, plus office space, ADA-compliant ramps, a library, and a computer room.

Watts agreed to meet with town administrator Jay Grande and facilities manager Kirk Metell to discuss designs and available land.

Tisbury planning board member Ben Robinson said the scope of the project goes beyond modular trailers. “Do we want to rush now on creating this new school, essentially is what we’re going to have to do,” Robinson said. “We want a good school for two to four years; do not rush this now. We’re going to make bad decisions, we’re going to be at each other’s throats. We need to think through this properly.”

Grande said the most obvious site for a temporary facility is 55 West William St., which sits across the street from the current Tisbury School, but that lot poses other issues. Site work would need to be completed and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission would need to be involved if demolition occurred on the historic structure on the property.

“At some point it becomes too much to expect of our school community,” Custer said. 

What was obvious was that the school budget would not be able to sustain the additional expenses associated with moving students to other schools. So far the school has hired a full-time nurse for students at the high school, which will cost $450 per day, or roughly $36,000 through the end-of-the-year holidays.

Additional costs include moving, construction, transportation, and use of the YMCA. The high school committee has also put pressure on the Tisbury School to make a payment to make sure the high school budget is not adversely impacted by Tisbury students being there.

An orientation for parents and students has been scheduled for Sept. 6 at the Performing Arts Center at the high school. Kindergarten families meet at 2:30 pm, grades 1-4 families meet at 3:30 pm, and grades 5-8 families meet at 5 pm.


Around in circles

Similar questions were raised at a selectmen’s meeting Tuesday night.

Even if the town could legally meet the posting requirements for the Sept. 24 date aimed at expediting the emergency situation, it became obvious there are too many outstanding questions. Selectmen set aside $1.5 million for the portable classrooms, but Houghton said the research done by school administrators indicates that won’t be enough for the project, and where to put them remains completely up in the air.

“In terms of changing the amount in the warrant article you all proposed last week, that was something we wanted to come to you and say, ‘We’re not thinking that is going to be the correct amount of money,’” Houghton said of the $1.5 million. 

“It’s looking very likely that we’re going to be in modulars for a long time. We’re not at all looking to skimp on modulars, because the kids are going to be in there in excess of three years. These have to be stable, clean, and appropriate for our education program,” Houghton said. 

Houghton said the school committee wants to “move with urgency,” and move the fifth through eighth graders out of the high school as quickly as possible.

The idea of putting portable classrooms at the high school was floated by selectman Jeff Kristal, because there are other amenities there that could be shared, but Houghton said there are wastewater issues. A site suggested by Houghton behind the Emergency Services Facility in Vineyard Haven also has issues because it’s a leaching field for the town’s wastewater facility, Fire Chief John Schilling said.

And putting them at the Tisbury School site also presents challenges, because a renovation project is under consideration.

While Houghton suggested ordering the modular classrooms while the town meeting process plays out, town finance director Jon Snyder said that’s not possible. “I don’t think we can commit funds that are not yet appropriated,” he said.

Selectmen are trying to avoid a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion that would require approval at both town meeting and a ballot question.

When Houghton cautioned against bringing in “shoddy trailers” because of the length of time students are expected to be in them, selectman Jeff Kristal bristled. “Shoddy isn’t a word that entered the conversation,” he said. “If $1.5 million isn’t enough, you have to tell us.”

Grande said the town is looking for direction from school officials — how many portable classrooms, the price, and where they want to put them.

Selectmen and the school committee will hold a joint meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 10, to continue discussions and decide on an OPM.


Tisbury school releases back-to-school details

On Wednesday, Principal John Custer sent an email to parents about the start of the school year:
While we still have work to do, we have made significant progress in the past week toward getting ready for the arrival of students on Monday, Sept. 9. This has been a huge challenge for our staff, and we appreciate all the kind words of support we have received from families. We very much look forward to welcoming our Tisbury students back soon. Included in this email is information to help you and your children prepare. If, after reading, you have questions, please reach out to me. For matters specific to your child’s grade/classroom, please reach out to the homeroom teacher.

  • Morning bus runs will remain the same, and drop-off at school is expected around 8 am. 
  • One afternoon bus will be dedicated only to the YMCA and Boys and Girls Club. This bus is scheduled to leave the Tisbury School at 3 pm daily. Students who go to the YMCA or Boys and Girls Club should take this bus, as opposed to the other two buses that make regular stops around Tisbury. 
  • George’s and Tony’s afternoon buses are scheduled to leave the high school at 2:50 with 5-8 students, and proceed directly to the Tisbury School, then pick up K-4 students and make their regular routes. They are scheduled to leave the Tisbury School at approximately 3:05. Accordingly, drop-off at bus stops in the afternoon will be approximately 15 minutes later than usual. Supervision will be provided for students until the bus departs. If inclement weather, students will be in the gymnasium until the afternoon buses arrive at the Tisbury School.
  • K-4 students will continue to be supervised on the west playground in the morning starting at 8 am, before lining up to come into the building at 8:10. Students who arrive late to school should go to the main office.
  • Breakfast will be provided for K-4 students daily in the White House. 
  • Water dispensers are placed on each floor. Students are encouraged to use refillable bottles.
  • Additional restroom facilities are being ordered, likely to be placed next to the White House. In the meantime, students will use restrooms located in rooms 117 (1st grade) and 118 (Kindergarten). 
  • There will be a bus for kindergarten students being dismissed at noon from Sept. 9 through Sept. 20.
  • We will continue to have access to the gymnasium and its locker rooms, as well as the stage. Access is through the main gymnasium exterior entry.
  • The main office “suite” (including the nurse’s office) is accessible via the main exterior entrance for parents and visitors. Students arriving to school late or being dismissed early should continue to go through the main office.
  • Unified arts classes (art, music, library, computers, Spanish, health) will be held in classrooms, the White House, the gymnasium, and the fire station conference room. Students will be accompanied by staff members to and from these classes.
  • Our cafeteria tables will be relocated to the fire station for K-4 lunches. I plan to be present for all lunches, along with School Resource Officer Ogden. Staff members will walk students to and from lunch. On days when there is unsafe weather, we will bring lunch to the school and have students eat in classrooms.

George Brennan contributed to this report.


Updated to correct pressure coming from high school committee and not the YMCA. — Ed.


  1. This is stupid. The whole town could pitch in and fix the problems. Tisbury has some of the best contractors on the island.

    • redsox– you are correct about Tisbury contractors. We have some really good ones– most are not bonded because, — who needs the aggravation and expens of that bureaucratic cluster fence ?
      ( I like making up my own punctuation rules). Also, look what happened with Brian last summer when he tried to volunteer his landscaping services ( in honor of his deceased brother) to make the post office parking lot in V.H nicer. While the school MAY be able to accept volunteers to tutor . etc. I would be very surprised if the town, state federal local ( whoever) regulations would allow a person to set foot in that school with as much as a hammer with the intent to help renovate the school. The prevailing wage rules at $56.56 —plus plus plus– any contractor would have to bill out at at least $150– for every person on site. That’s the elephant in the room on these ridiculous bids for government buildings..

  2. This all looks very formidable and sad that the scenario that is unfolding could not have been percieved as coming down the road. We all know that the Tisbury School needed serious work, and it is the perfect time to talk regionalization of the elementary schools. I must say that D’Andrea is mysteriously missing from this article, and I still hold him responsible for not predicting this path, and not creating this vision. I believe that the question of his competency must also be addressed moving foreward. If D’Andrea could not have predicted the Tisbury School restructuring, how can we allow him to proceed over the current Tisbury project, the new athletic field proposal in summer of 2020, and a 100 Million high school? We just need change in the superintendents office.

  3. Ben Robinson is already predicting they will “be at each other’s throats” if he doesn’t get his own way. Did he learn anything from the last time? History truly does repeat itself. Deja vu anyone? The fact that this individual plays a role in my child’s future education is deeply unsettling.
    Why is the head of the PTO so concerned about the towns bottom line? “The town is negatively affected by each student that leaves.” Let’s flip the script shall we Ms. ? Each student that leaves has been negatively impacted by the town.
    I’m stunned only 13 students opted for school choice. I’m quite certain that each and every parent was considering their own child’s unique needs when opting for school choice. I hardly believe that the towns fiscal health played any role in their decision making, nor should it!

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