The select boards of West Tisbury and Tisbury both decided to sign letters of support for the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) funding for Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, joining three other Island towns in providing unconditional support.
The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School committee applied to MSBA, a state organization that directly funds school districts’ building projects, to replace the 63-year-old high school. This is the sixth time the committee has applied for the funding. The committee wrote a letter on Friday, Jan. 21, after being notified the high school may be on the MSBA short list. The school district visited town select boards to receive support and their signatures. Edgartown, Chilmark, and Aquinnah signed the letter in support, while Oak Bluffs opted to write its own version of the letter, pointing out they support the high school project, but not the regional school district’s funding formula.
Superintendent Matt D’Andrea went before the West Tisbury select board Wednesday, Jan. 26, to present the letter. “This is a great opportunity for us on the Island. We certainly need a building project for the high school, and this would be a great opportunity to receive real help in the process and also the funding aspect,” D’Andrea said.
The West Tisbury select board unanimously voted to sign the letter.
Meanwhile, the Tisbury select board voted unanimously that same evening to endorse MSBA funding for the high school. Amy Houghton, who is both chair of the Tisbury School committee and the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School committee, was among those who pitched the endorsement to the select board.
“I think it’s really critical that we come together as a community across the Island to put forward a project that can make our high school facilities as good as the interior of the school and the educational programming,” Houghton said. “I realize that there’s a lot of discussion about how to pay for that, and as we know from our experience in Tisbury, that is all part of the feasibility study, and so I would urge the select board to sign onto this letter and know that we in good faith can work together to support a project that is in the best interests of our entire community.”
“What’s the board’s pleasure as far as Tisbury signing this?” chair Jeff Kristal asked ahead of the vote.
The formula has long been a point of contention, but that won’t halt his support, select board member Larry Gomez said. “Because we’ve been arguing about this since I’ve been on the Island, and that’s over 25 years,” Gomez said. “So I would support it 100 percent.”
“I would support signing the letter tonight,” select board member Roy Cutrer said.
“I’m in agreement with the two of you,” Kristal said. “I think that this Island — Tisbury lost $14 million because we didn’t sign on or couldn’t do, which is like $20 million in today’s dollars with the cost of building … I think we’d be foolish not to sign it and offer the ability to sit at a table with Oak Bluffs and the other towns and discuss the formula at a later date. I think we’re all in favor of discussing it.”
Kristal said Houghton told him the formula dates from the 1950s.
“The regional agreement is from 1954,” Houghton said, and it was created before a regional school existed. “And, in fact, more interesting, at the time this regional agreement was signed, there was no telephone service in Chilmark or Gay Head. There was still a lighthouse keeper living in the Gay Head lighthouse. It just seems like this is a time to take a look at the regional agreement and see if it’s still appropriate. It may be that everybody thinks it is, or it may be that folks think that because the community has become one where kids are transient — keep in mind that there are such shifts and sways in how much each town is assessed annually because of the movement of students. And West Tisbury particularly is seeing a significant change in the assessment formula because they had a rise in the number of students at the school.”
Houghton described the formula and regional agreement as “complicated,” and prone to raising questions each year as to whether or not “each town is getting a fair shake.”
Houghton thanked the board for signing the agreement.