Tisbury voters approve emergency school funds

Discussion and votes took less than 30 minutes.


In two nearly unanimous votes at a special town meeting Tuesday night, Tisbury voters approved spending nearly $2 million in emergency funds to deal with toxic lead and asbestos found inside Tisbury School.

The discovery led to a one-week delay in the start of the school year, and students being split between two schools — kindergarten through grade 4 in a 1993 wing of Tisbury School, and grades 5 through 8 at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

Even a last-minute curveball, that modular classrooms won’t be ordered because they’ll take five to six months to get to the Island, could not derail the votes. Superintendent Matt D’Andrea said $300,000 will be used to encapsulate the lead and remediate the asbestos, enabling the students to be reunited to start 2020 inside Tisbury School. The town got state approval to bypass the public-bidding process in order to get a contractor quickly, D’Andrea told voters, to “reunite students into a healthy Tisbury School.”

D’Andrea introduced that plan at a forum held Thursday at Katharine Cornell Theater.

Voters approved $1.5 million and $450,000 from the town’s stabilization fund, an account set aside for capital projects. To use the money, the town needed a two-thirds majority — the $1.5 million was approved 208-1 and the $450,000 was approved 212-1 to wild applause. Voters were still arriving even as the final votes were taken.

As the special town meeting started, town moderator Deborah Medders introduced key school and town leaders, including Tisbury School Principal John Custer, to rounds of applause.

Selectmen chair Melinda Loberg asked for similar recognition of parents who have been “stressed out” by the sudden change to their children’s schedules.

“I, too, just quickly want to say thank you to parents, students, and staff of Tisbury School for working through this difficult situation,” D’Andrea said. He went on to thank others, including Tisbury Fire Chief John Schilling, whose station meeting room has been used as a makeshift cafeteria. He said he’s learned a lot about lead, abatement, and encapsulation. “But, most importantly, we have learned that the school department and the town must improve communication and coordination to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

The plan is focused on keeping students safe, minimizing disruptions to their education, keeping the school together as much as possible, and reuniting the students as quickly as possible. He said the school department has consulted with environmental regulators, and will work on sealing off the contaminants.

“The [Department of Labor Standards] has assured me that this is a safe process, and have agreed to visit the worksite to ensure that all safety protocols are being followed,” D’Andrea said. A full-time environmental hygienist is being hired to do testing on a daily basis, to make sure that the building is safe while remediation is completed, he said.

Tuesday’s special town meeting didn’t match some of the contentious sessions that led up to it, where parents let school and town leaders have it for not doing more about lead concerns raised previously, and for not doing more to sell voters on a new school in 2018. Selectmen were widely criticized for “sabotaging” the new school, which lost by just 21 votes.

Parent Anna Cotton, who had been critical at some of those meetings, praised the school committee and selectmen for working together. “I think this is a really amazing opportunity for our town to come together and do something productive,” Cotton said.

Justin Lucas, another parent, asked the night’s only question. He wanted to know why the article included language about the modular classrooms if those were being abandoned.

Town administrator Jay Grande said the money could be used for those classrooms in the future. The article was worded broadly to provide what he called “working capital.”

D’Andrea said the money in the second article would be used to cover expenses associated with splitting the students that included hiring an additional nurse, other personnel, and transportation. “We’re confident that the $450,000 will be enough,” he said.


  1. What is Plan B for when the environmental hygienist performing the daily tests reports the results of lead, asbestos, radon levels EXCEED acceptable levels during the remediation process? Where will ALL the kids be placed ? Especially now that no trailers are being ordered. Do we have back-up plans?

    • OBGULL,
      Are you joking? A Plan B would require foresight and vision both sorely lacking in town leadership and in the Superintendent. This outcome is considered good news? Forgive me if I hold off on corking the champagne until a full renovation or new building is erected. The radon testing ordered by the State has yet to be completed. I would never allow my child to cross the threshold of that building. Wake up Tisbury!

      • Facts matter. I don’t believe the STATE “ordered” any testing. Please stop twisting facts. Radon testing has been covered at numerous meetings and clearly, very clearly stated in public meetings that it will not be done until the heating system is on. Facts do matter! For all the “the sky is falling” folks, I assume you have had your homes tested for Radon before you step across the threshold every day and better yet before your children sleep in their beds. And I assume per state “lead law” you do not allow children under the age of 6 to be in your home without full remediation or sealing of all lead paint that was used before 1978. (not a law for municipal building) If you have done these things, by all means cast your stones.

      • So OBDULL you voted no at your special town meeting since you wanted the school fixed before your kids went in? It said there was 1 person that voted no, must have been you.

        • You couldn’t be FartherAway from the truth. If my username starts with OB, most would pick up on the fact that I am a resident of Oak Bluffs and therefor cannot vote at the Tisbury town meetings. Your investigative skills need some work. Hope you have a lovely day.

  2. While I agree that this money has to be spent, it’s a pretty expensive band aid
    A new school would have cost the town 32 million.
    This money, along with $65 k to send students to other schools, plus who knows whatever small expenses that add up, puts us well over 2 million..
    30 million left. How’s that heating system coming along ? Let’s hope it keeps running for a while, even at about half the efficiency of a new one.

  3. Well, if D’Andrea states that the work will be done by January, and the ’tisbury school is reunited’, it probably will. He has kept his word, and been such a disciplined leader through all of this, how could he be wronged?

  4. So,OBGULL,since you’re an OB resident, shouldn’t you worry about what goes on in OB and let VH screw things up on their own?

    • Just trying to figure out if there is a contingency plan in place. That’s all. If VH screws things up with their school, they end up sending their kids to OB high school which in turn does affect my town and it’s resources.

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