In this together

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To the Editor:

First of all, sincere thanks are due to The Martha’s Vineyard Times for its coverage of the MVRHS funding working group. This group is having an important discussion about how Vineyard property owners should pay for much-needed work on our high school. By shining a light on that conversation, The Times is performing a real public service.

I’ve written before about the inequity of the current high school funding formula, and don’t want to bludgeon a dead horse. But two quick points need to be made about the way we frame this opportunity to pay for our regional school in a way that’s more fair and just:

One way to frame the conversation is to talk about how much each Island town pays for the high school. But this obscures the fact that public education is not paid for by the towns: It’s paid for by the property owners. Each town is simply the agency that collects the tax money and hands it along to the regional school. To understand this fact is to shift the frame to where it belongs: to a conversation about the differences — in fact, the profound inequities — in the tax rates that property owners are paying in different towns across the Island.

The second framing issue here is the vital distinction between public and private schools. We all appreciate that private education is paid for by tuition: If my family wants to send our child to college, we’re on our own — we pay the tuition, room and board — and our neighbors up the street bear no more of that cost than they’d be asked to chip in when my family buys a new car.

Public education, by contrast, is funded by a whole community. Public education’s foundational principle is that we’re not on our own; we’re in this together. This means the family with three children in a public school pays not a penny more in property tax than the family next door with no children at all.

And yet, and yet: The leaders of the Island towns whose taxpayers pay the lowest tax rates for the regional high school (we’re looking at you, Edgartown, Chilmark, and Aquinnah) persist in trying to frame public education through the lens of tuition, treating our public school as if it were a private institution.

Taxpayers in Tisbury are paying the high school about $1.70 per $1,000 of assessed property value each year, while their neighbors in Chilmark pay less than 30 cents. Why? Because our current formula counts the kids, charging taxpayers what amounts to a municipal tuition rate for the students their towns send to MVRHS.

I’m a taxpayer in Edgartown, and I believe that property owners in my town are not paying our fair share to the Island’s regional high school. I’d be happy to debate this question on its merits, in a public forum, with anyone who believes they can defend the current funding formula as fair and just.

Nis Kildegaard
Edgartown