Special town meeting to tackle Tisbury School costs

Oct. 15 meeting scheduled, will focus on two articles for $2 million.

The town has set a special town meeting for Oct. 15 to deal with issues surrounding lead at Tisbur School. — Gabrielle Mannino

Voters will have a chance to decide on nearly $2 million in emergency funds to pay for costs associated with housing Tisbury School students temporarily at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and purchasing or leasing modular classrooms in the wake of toxic lead being found in the school’s classrooms and common areas.

At a meeting Wednesday night, the board of selectmen voted 2-0, with selectman James Rogers absent, to hold a two-article special town meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 15. The board opened and closed the warrant within the same meeting, meaning no other business will go before voters that night.

Voters will decide whether to allow $1.5 million from the town’s stabilization fund (essentially the town’s savings account) to be spent on modular classrooms and costs associated with remediation at Tisbury School. A second article will seek to use $450,000 from the same account to pay for emergency expenses already incurred by the school department because of lead and asbestos found in the building in August.

Students in K-4 are isolated in the 1993 wing at the school, and eat lunch across the street at the Emergency Services Facility. Grades 5-8 are bused to MVRHS, where they’re housed in classrooms in the so-called “200 wing.”

The selectmen’s vote followed a joint meeting between the finance committee and school committee. During that meeting, the finance committee approved the two warrant articles.

There were still few specifics about the expenses. Officials still don’t know how much the modular classrooms will cost, how many there will be, or where they will be located.

There were some parents at Wednesday night’s meeting. Siobhan Mullin, a parent who has been outspoken at recent meetings, wondered if the money being approved would be enough.

“We’re confident at this time,” Superintendent Matt D’Andrea said, noting there have been multiple conversations with the OPM. “Our goal is to get the students back in a healthy school as soon as possible.”

The amount being approved provides flexibility with so many unknowns, selectman Jeff Kristal said.
D’Andrea assured the finance committee that voters would have more specifics when it comes time to vote on Oct. 15. Last week, selectmen hired Daedalus Projects as the owner’s project manager (OPM) for the renovation and addition of the Tisbury School, but the OPM representative, Joseph Sullivan, has also agreed to help the town figure out the modular classroom and remediation efforts.

Asked if the amount being considered is enough, D’Andrea said: “With our conversation with the OPM to this point, the answer is yes. We can’t say anything for certain, but he has indicated that is a good amount to start with.”

Amy Houghton, chair of the school committee, said it’s unclear how much money will be needed to offset operating expenses, and how much will be left for remediation of lead and asbestos.

Deborah Medders, the town moderator, urged selectmen and the school committee to set expectations for parents coming to the meeting. She wants to keep the meeting focused on the emergency funds, and not open up discussion of what’s ahead. “It should be articulated on the sidewalk, in the conversation … what this meeting is for so there is a real, clear expectation that it’s to address the immediate financial need,” she said.

That was a concern for finance committee member Sarah York, who is also a parent. “It’s important we don’t get ahead of ourselves,” she said.

Parents are still upset that their children are dealing with upheaval after voters rejected a new $46.6 million school by 21 votes in April 2018, in part because, they believe, town leaders sabotaged support for the new building.

Kristal suggested a pre–town meeting session that would allow parents to ask some of their questions ahead of time, “Just so we can answer those questions and set expectations.”