The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) district has been in a holding pattern as it awaits a response from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) regarding admittance into their building program.
Two separate letters, one issued by MVRHS and one issued by the town of Oak Bluffs, were sent to the MSBA with the hopes of being accepted into their Core program, which could provide up to $40 million in subsidized state funding for a shovel-ready school building project. The authority also has a wealth of knowledge and experience in supporting school districts through the planning and construction process, and would be a valuable resource for the school.
The MVRHS committee has applied to the MSBA in each of the past six years looking for support to replace the 63-year-old high school. Recently, the process has been hindered by a longtime issue among Island towns — the regional funding formula.
When superintendent Matt D’Andrea went to Island towns looking for support for a letter to send to the MSBA saying that the towns would work in a good-faith manner to complete a feasibility study for a school building project, Oak Bluffs said they wanted to send their own letter. In it, officials express concern that the existing funding formula for capital projects (for which costs are divided up among the towns) gives Oak Bluffs the short end of the stick because they have a higher per-pupil attendance rate at the high school, and therefore bear the brunt of the cost.
The current FY23 funding formula apportions 28.3 percent of the budget to Oak Bluffs, 26.9 percent to Tisbury, 23.5 percent to Edgartown, 14.3 percent to West Tisbury, 5 percent to Chilmark, and 2 percent to Aquinnah.
At Monday’s MVRHS school committee meeting, D’Andrea said sending both letters did give the message that the towns are somewhat divided on the formula, although Oak Bluffs did convey the level of need for a new school.
“I have not heard back definitively from them on where we are. I think it would be great if we as a group, the school committee and school administration, could talk about how we are going to go forward,” D’Andrea said. “Whether or not we get into MSBA this year, we are going to have to take steps, and I think it’s going to have to start with people in this room.”
According to committee chair Amy Houghton, there are two options available to the school: they can either come up with an amendment to the regional agreement to pitch to towns that would address the funding formula and make it more palatable for all member towns, or they could continue meeting with all the towns in the hopes of bringing them together and coming to an understanding.
“This is a community that can pull together as a collective, and I hope the school committee can lead the way in doing that,” Houghton said. “If we come up with some sort of amendment to propose, we would put it in front of every town. Could the select boards say they refuse to put it on the warrant? I suppose they could, but I would hope not.”
D’Andrea said ultimately, it will be voters who decide whether or not they are willing to change the formula, either for a one-time project, or a permanent change.
Historically, D’Andrea said, when towns try and work together to come up with a formula, “folks tend to dig in their heels.” The school committee will have a separate meeting apart from their regular meeting time to discuss how to move forward.
Lots of tunes
Representatives for the Beach Road Weekend musical festival were before the school committee to request usage of two parking lots for the duration of the event, which runs from Aug. 26 to Aug. 28.
The two parking areas that are part of the request are the Performing Arts Center (PAC) lot, which contains about 122 parking spaces, and the athletic field lot, which has about 96 spots. Facilities director for MVRHS, Mike Taus, said he drafted a list of conditions that protect the high school and ensure safety of anyone on the property.
Taus said in order to reduce congestion at the ingress and egress points of each lot, shuttles that are going to and from the event and the satellite parking lots at the high school should enter at the drop-off area located directly in front of the main entrance. Taus added that there will be no indoor access to the school building, although three porta potties (that would be cleaned daily) for each parking lot would be provided by festival organizers.
To prevent folks who are not attending the festival from parking at the school, Taus suggested festival organizers provide two or more parking attendants for each lot. Attendants would also be responsible for picking up trash at the end of the day and after the event. Taus also wants to see some sawhorses at the back of the PAC so that people can’t park in the back of the building near the gym lot, should the request be approved by the committee.
Festival organizers will be required to pay a nonprofit organization fee of around $800 ($100 per day, per lot), according to Taus, and will need to pay for any police details that are required as the event filters out onto the main roads.
Peter Sawyer of Innovation Arts & Entertainment, the promoter of the event, said they have no problem paying for the police details, and are willing to provide full certification of insurance to the school.
Adam Epstein, the company’s CEO, said the high school is a perfect location to house satellite lots for Beach Road Weekend because of its central location and spacious parking lots. “Adding the high school lots as an option will make a big dent in our goal to reduce festival-related traffic and help eliminate congestion at Five Corners and surrounding roadways,” Epstein said.
He noted that festival organizers are taking steps to make the entire process as efficient and stress-free as possible, such as utilizing pre-purchased parking passes, forbidding tailgating anywhere on school grounds, and installing signage that bans any beverage consumption in the parking lot. There will be $2 million worth of liability insurance naming the school and any other requested parties as additionally insured, Epstein said, and all parking revenue from the operation will go toward the nonprofit group Friends of the Martha’s Vineyard Concert Series as a tax-deductible donation.
School officials did not take a vote, and will take up this discussion again at their next meeting.