We understand it’s been difficult for the Tisbury School Building Committee to attract parents and taxpayers to in-person meetings because of the ongoing pandemic — and Zoom meetings just haven’t filled the gap.
But the idea of using $25,000 in taxpayer money to “educate” the public about the proposed $53.2 million renovation/addition project is just tone-deaf. The coronavirus pandemic has hurt Island businesses and, in turn, that’s had an effect on residents. The Island Food Pantry has never been busier, and other food programs, like the one sponsored by Good Shepherd Parish, are also filling a staggering need on the Vineyard.
All of which is to say that the $25,000 proposed for this “education” could be better spent in so many other ways.
We’ve covered nearly every building committee meeting since last spring. People who want to be informed about the progress of the project have had that ability.
The startling thing, though, is that school officials aren’t better utilizing the resources they already have at their disposal. They have an existing website that just seems to be a series of videos of meetings that people didn’t attend, and the “project updates” page was last updated in December 2019. There’s no easy way to find details of what’s included in the proposed project, and the schematic drawings that have been generated are buried within one of the presentations. A simple FAQ would help, as would a gallery of the project’s features.
The only social media presence we could find for the project is through newspaper articles that have been shared, as well as the Tisbury School PTO.
There are other potential pitfalls with using this $25,000 in taxpayer money on a media campaign. It’s a slippery slope between “educating” the public and advocating for the project, which would be a violation of the state’s campaign finance laws.
Remarkably, that wasn’t on the town’s radar screen until The Times started asking questions about legality of using $25,000 in taxpayer money to educate the public.
There’s already a bad taste among some in town about this project, because taxpayers spent money on schematic designs for a new school in 2018 that essentially were tossed in the waste bucket when 21 more individuals voted against the new school than supported it. The state agreed to contribute $14.6 million for that project. There is no state aid for the current project — that opportunity has been lost — and no other relief for taxpayers, despite a lot of talk about finding private funding.
While in the big scheme of things, $25,000 doesn’t sound like a lot of money, it’s a bad look. Find another way.