Select boards agree to get in a room

How to fund high school construction costs is at stake.

The Island's select boards will "get in a room" to figure out a funding formula for their share of a new high school. -MV Times

The select boards of all six Martha’s Vineyard towns will appoint a board member to work with the Island’s town administrators to hammer out a way to pay for a new high school.

At a joint meeting of all six towns with the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School committee Wednesday night, the boards agreed to get in a room and try to come to a consensus on how to move forward on funding the portion of the project not covered by state funds through the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA).

The regional agreement splits operational costs among the six towns based on enrollment. For that reason, the bulk of the regional school budget is paid for by taxpayers in Oak Bluffs and Tisbury, where the majority of students live.

Oak Bluffs has been vocal in seeking an agreement that spreads the cost of the capital project by the property values in each town. Chilmark, backed by Edgartown and Aquinnah, proposed a compromise that would split the costs by 25 percent for each of the down-Island towns and the fourth 25 percent share would be split between Chilmark, West Tisbury, and Aquinnah.

Oak Bluffs rejected that idea, and Tisbury never officially weighed in. 

The MSBA is looking for a united front from the towns in order to commit to its percentage of funds, most likely 40 percent of the building costs of what is expected to be a $100 million high school.

In opening the discussion, which was sometimes impossible to hear over Zoom, school board chair Amy Houghton called it “exciting” to see everyone together. “I hope we can all work together and listen to each other to meet the needs of our students,” she said.

When Houghton started to explain that there were problems with the regional agreement and its compliance with state regulations, Edgartown select board member Art Smadbeck cut her off, and bristled at the idea of talking about the regional agreement. 

“What I was concerned about when I saw the agenda is you’re bringing in the regional agreement,” Smadbeck said, with Houghton attempting to interrupt him. “Don’t try to use a grant to try to leverage something else,” Smadbeck said.

There was some back-and-forth between Smadbeck and Houghton over whether they should be talking about the regional agreement. 

“The only impediment I can see is that if we try to throw in on top of trying to figure out how to divide up the cost of this building — to try and throw anything else in at this point, until we finish that, it is going to be a distraction. I would encourage you not to do that,” Smadbeck said.

He said it’s the responsibility of the six towns to come up with a way to fund the remainder of the schools.

Houghton explained that in order for the regional school district to qualify, some language in the regional agreement pertaining to it providing vocational education and transportation has to be cleaned up. She said that’s a job for the district’s attorneys, and doesn’t affect the funding formula for the district to get the regional agreement “up to snuff with their guidelines.”

“None of it’s controversial,” Houghton said.

At times the meeting was completely inaudible, particularly when those in person and offscreen were speaking. For example, Chilmark select board member James Malkin spoke for more than a minute and could not be heard by those on Zoom, who expressed frustration in the Zoom chat. Briefly, the meeting was also Zoom-bombed, but that person was quickly removed from the meeting.

Houghton asked for the select boards to target May 15 as a deadline, noting that the regional school district has to be prepared to provide all of its information, including how the district intends to pay for its share of the high school project, to the MSBA by Sept. 30.

“We’re not going to the state twice, that’s why we need to make sure the funding part of this be buttoned-up as soon as possible,” Houghton said. “I want to put a timeline out there that’s reasonable and possible.”

Smadbeck said he’s confident the town select boards can get in a room and come up with an agreement. “We’re not going to sell tickets to the meeting, but if we come out and we’re a little bloody but we have an answer …” he said.

Houghton supported the idea of not having the school committee represented. “I think that’s important, because you need to have conversations and have those conversations in a room where you can hopefully look each other in the eyes. It’s important for credibility and moving forward, and developing something where everyone can be happy and support.”

Select board members from each town then chimed in and said they were “on board” with getting into that room and coming to an agreement.

Smadbeck asked that Superintendent Matt D’Andrea be available at the meeting of select board members and town administrators to answer questions.

“I look forward to having something that brings all of us together to have a great new building as soon as we can do it,” Houghton said.


  1. Mrs. Houghton how dare you bring up the regional agreement when speaking of the regional high school.

  2. Smadbeck needs to accept the reality that without a 6 town discussion of the regional agreement then there will not be a new school.
    His obstinance is petulant.

  3. “Houghton explained that, in order for the regional school district to qualify, some language in the regional agreement … has to be cleaned up” This is not news. The school committee was told exactly that by representatives of M.A.R.S. ( at a school committee meeting convened 2-3 years ago to try to get the towns together on this issue.

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