An unsurprising development


It’s really no surprise that the Tisbury School renovation and addition project is over budget. Whenever you seek to renovate, it always costs more than new construction.

What is a surprise is just how quickly the price of this project has escalated, with nary a shovel in the ground, aside from the contractor setting up shop on town-owned land across the street from the school building, and modular classrooms being delivered to the field next to Tisbury School.

That doesn’t bode well for the project price when the contractor digs in and begins renovating the 1929 building. There are bound to be more costly surprises inside those walls.

But more disturbing than the price jump is how the Tisbury select board handled its first discussion of the project’s budget issues. During an update by town administrator Jay Grande on May 11, the amount the project was over budget was never discussed. Instead, Grande told the board that the Tisbury School Committee was supporting “Option 3” without ever disclosing publicly what “Option 3” entailed, let alone what Option 1 and Option 2 were.

It was obfuscation by Grande and the board, akin to their attempt to hide the illegal water pumping by the Mansion House Inn into the town’s wastewater treatment plant. They all knew what they were talking about, but the public either sitting in the audience or tuning into the broadcast would be at a loss.

It’s quite probable that the town will have to come back to taxpayers for more money for the school project, even with the cuts being made in Option 3. So it would be in the best interest of the town’s leaders to be open and transparent about what their plans are for the project — even when it’s not pretty or popular.

People can understand that the project is over budget, and that some of that is out of the town’s control. There are worldwide supply chain issues that are driving up the prices of everything. What the public won’t take kindly to is having information hidden from them by people who are elected to represent them.

Meanwhile, we also want to take this opportunity to share just how disgusted we are with town leaders who knowingly stiffed The Times, the Gazette, and Tisbury Printer out of money for ads and campaign materials for the Tisbury School vote.

Using a consultant, they booked advertisements, and then months after the election was over, the consultant told us to send the invoices to the town. That is at best misleading, and at worst dishonest.

The town knew they couldn’t pay for those ads because it would violate the laws for ballot initiatives.

How did they know? 

We brought it up when the town first broached the subject of using $25,000 in taxpayer money to fund a public education campaign about the project. We also discouraged the idea in an editorial, saying even if it were deemed legal — it’s not — it was a bad look to use taxpayer money to seek millions in taxpayer money. 

They didn’t have to listen to us. These are the words from the town’s attorney, an opinion that was shared during a public meeting. “The use of funds to inform members of the public, as well as officials of the town, regarding progress of a project, or particular details of a project, would be permissible,” town counsel David Doneski said in January 2021. “The issue that raises a question is that public funds may not be used to influence the outcome of a ballot question. So whatever is created and used could not be for the purposes of advocacy, to urge people to vote in a particular way, but rather would be restricted to an informational presentation.” 

They knew and they went ahead anyway — using a consultant and being coy about where the money was coming from to pay for the advertisements. We’ve learned our lesson, and won’t accept political ads in the future without payment upfront.

In the meantime, three Island businesses and employers are out thousands of dollars during difficult times. To top it all off, the town never bothered to tell us they had a ruling from the Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF). We had to get that on our own after being tipped off about it.

In their letter to Amy Houghton as chair of the Tisbury School Committee, OCPF offered public education workshops so that campaign finance laws aren’t violated in the future.

That seems like a good idea. But education only works if you use the knowledge you’re given.