Good news: Tisbury School reunited by year’s end

Bad news: No breakthrough on regional agreement.

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From left, Malcolm Reid and Steve Hemman of Massachusetts Association of Regional Schools Consulting Group talk about what their program could do for MVRHS. — Jack Shea

At the end of a long day, it wasn’t all they hoped for, but it was something.

And Island School Superintendent Matt D’Andrea had the heavy-lifting jobs on relieving the physical plights of two Island schools.

D’Andrea will meet tomorrow with the Tisbury School Committee to outline a plan to reunite all of the Tisbury School’s students by the end of the year.

He told the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School committee on Monday afternoon that the sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, now housed at MVRHS, will be home by New Year’s after remediation of lead paint conditions at their Tisbury School.

Later Monday evening, following a presentation by consultants who are experts in finding solutions to impasses in regional school district agreements, D’Andrea also accepted an assignment to meet individually with town boards of selectmen and finance committees over the next two weeks to ask if they are willing to meet with a mediator in order to begin resolving the issues of funding a new or rebuilt high school, and ending a longstanding and divisive funding loggerhead.

D’Andrea could have an uphill mission, since Edgartown sent no one to the meeting, and Chilmark had one emissary, finance committee member Vicki Divoll, who indicated she had come of her own volition out of respect for the group. Divoll said she was asked to relay the message that Chilmark selectmen are not interested in changing the regional agreement and would not vote on the issue. 

Depending on the reaction he gets, D’Andrea will also begin assessing the cost of engaging a mediator.

“Use the term mediator rather than facilitator, because there’s a world of difference between the terms,” advised Steve Hemman, lead consultant with the MARS (Massachusetts Association of Regional Schools) Consulting Group.

D’Andrea told the gathering that the Martha’s Vineyard Mediation program had passed on a request to serve as mediator. “They felt they might be judged as biased, since they live here, and that their group lacks the expertise to deal with regional school issues,” he said.

Hemman and his colleague Malcolm Reid, both former superintendents and veterans of regional school district conflicts, traveled to the Island free of charge to help the Island education community find solutions and to pitch their services.

Their appearance drew about 30 town finance committee and school committee members and the MVRHS school committee, all hoping for a eureka moment of some sort. It didn’t happen. They did get straight talk from two men who’ve worked on agreements for 22 regional school districts around the state over the past 12 years. 

After a 20-minute presentation of how their consultancy works and information on the particulars of regional agreements (for example, regional agreements can be changed, but they never go away unless the districts are dissolved), both men were peppered with questions. They did not sugarcoat the answers.

For example, early-on questions tended to be about the success of mediation and how the process worked. “You definitely need to consider a mediator. You are an IsIand, people. Nothing is going to happen until the six towns say yes,” Hemman said. 

As the evening extended and silences lengthened, questioners probed ways and means to find progress. Hemman and Reid patiently worked with the audience, noting that while some regional agreement negotiations have dragged on for years before collapsing, others were resolved in less than a year. 

In one happy outcome, they said, towns agreed to use a pupil-based formula for a K-8 funding agreement, then use a different, wealth-based formula for high school costs.

As the discussion drifted to worst-case scenarios, the consultant said the state will step in by year-end to set a budget using the statutory formula if necessary. But the men held out little hope that the state education agencies would step in to resolve a regional agreement impasse. “They do not have the resources to do that work,” Reid said.

But the elephants in the room were the missing towns, on most minds. “How do you mediate,” Tisbury finance committee member Lolly Hand mused, “if there is no one here to mediate with?”