MVRHS looks at two mediators in funding formula negotiations

Cost of off-Island firm may justify hiring local facilitators.

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Superintendent Matt D'Andrea addresses the MVRHS school committee about hiring a consultant to help mediate between the member towns.

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School is looking at two firms that could be hired to facilitate discussions surrounding the regional funding formula.

At Monday’s school committee meeting, member Skipper Manter suggested an alternative to hiring the Massachusetts Association of Regional Schools (MARS) for the mediation work. 

At a previous all-Island finance committee meeting, a consensus was reached to look into hiring MARS to mediate discussions that so far have gone in circles. 

Originally, Superintendent Matt D’Andrea said the cost of hiring a MARS team would range from $15,000 to $25,000. But at the school committee meeting, high school finance manager Mark Friedman said the cost could be upwards of $35,000.

One element the Island community has to inevitably face when hiring off-Island help is travel reimbursement expenses, according to Friedman.

“They are obviously going to have to be here for multiple meetings — that means paying for their car and boat rides, and any other expenses they might incur,” Friedman said.

He said school and finance committee meetings are often late in the evening, making lodging reimbursements a consideration as well.

“A lot of the time the boats are shut down, so someone might have to stay the night,” Friedman said.

D’Andrea said although the MARS team would bring a level of necessary expertise regarding regional agreements, he said Manter’s idea to hire on-Island mediation firm Martha’s Vineyard Mediation Program was a good one.

“If we are spending that much money on a consultant, we might as well put it toward the project instead, put it to good use,” Manter said. “If you spend this money, at the end of the day you just have a piece of paper that is nothing more than a recommendation.”

Manter described M.V. Mediation as a group of professional mediators that most likely are aware of the situation at the high school, and have at least some background on the issue. 

“We need more of a mediator’s expertise than any actual educational knowledge,” Manter said. “We at least have to come to some sort of agreement between the towns.”

Friedman said the school has often sought cheaper resolutions to big problems, but the times they decide to spend more are usually “for a good reason.”

“None of these conversations around the regional agreement have been easy. We have really struggled to make progress with this,” Friedman said.

According to Friedman, the knowledge MARS would bring to the table might be worth spending the extra money. “This is a very technical process. We need people who have extensive expertise and background in this area,” Friedman said.

He said the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education must support the regional agreement, and they examine every aspect carefully.

Although Friedman said MARS is the only entity he is aware of with this level of competence, there will still need to be a procurement and hiring process.

School committee members voted to invite both MARS and M.V. Mediation to a joint public meeting in the Performing Arts Center in order to hear their presentations and decide which firm might be more appropriate. The meeting will take place on Monday, Oct. 7, at 6 pm. 

 

A challenging but successful start

MVRHS Principal Sara Dingledy said that despite some logistical obstacles, the start of school went well for both Tisbury students and high school students. 

“We dealt with some logistics problems, but overall it went well,” Dingledy said. She said high school student officers greeted Tisbury kids at their buses, and welcomed them onto the campus. And inside the building, Dingledy said students were just as accepting and adaptable.

“Kids really self-directed in this instance. There were no barricades or anything, just a little sign that said for high school students to go around” the Tisbury wing.

She said that the beginning of school coincided with a tragic loss of a high school student, which was difficult on students, faculty, and administration. “But overall it was just a really good vibe,” Dingledy said.

Junior class president Zach Smith reported similarly, saying that it was a “great opening to the school year.” 

“Everybody seems to have transitioned very well, and we had a second great opening also,” Smith said of the Tisbury students coming to the high school. “The Tisbury students were excited, and they seem comfortable already,” Smith said.

He also acknowledged the loss of his fellow student, Davin Tackabury, and asked the school committee meeting for a moment of silence. 

D’Andrea said despite a couple of challenging weeks of preparation and adaptation, the staff at the Tisbury School and high school were the factors that made the transition work.

He also commended the Tisbury students for being able to acclimatize to the new environment.

“Kids are so adaptable. It was like they were in normal school, not at the high school or in a new part of the [Tisbury School] building. They were excited, and they were happy,” D’Andrea said.

In other business, the high school is moving from number grades to letter grades.

Initially, Dingledy said the school used a percentage score for kids to qualify for sports. 

“We always prided ourselves on going above and beyond MIAA requirements, but we also have an interest in maximizing participation,” Dingledy said. 

She said that as of now, students need to pass 70 percent of their overall course load to qualify for sports.

If a student leaves class with an 82 average, Dingledy said that would equate to a B-minus on a report card or transcript. 

“We believe this will increase participation. Some kids would tank one class, which would bring their overall grade down,” Dingledy said. “We want to help kids who aren’t necessarily hitting it out of the park in the classroom get out on the field.”

But she said “numbers still exist” in the school grading system: “All grades get tagged to a weighted GPA, so numbers are still a part of it.”