School committee considers possible teacher housing

Kate DeVane will not seek re-election this fall. 

A map showing a yellow highlight of West Tisbury School's territory. The triangular segment in gold is the area that can potentially be used to build affordable housing for the school's personnel.

West Tisbury affordable housing committee member Jefrey Dubard came before the up-Island school committee during a Monday afternoon meeting to present a potential location for affordable housing for school staff. 

“When the land where the West Tisbury School currently sits was purchased in 1972 … 2.7 acres of it were undeveloped,” Dubard said. He shared a map on Zoom showing land sitting along Old County Road, which he said can be used for the school’s development, or recreation and conservation for town residents. Dubard talked with town counsel Ron Rappaport, who confirmed the area could be used to make housing for teachers and school personnel. “Obviously, the times we live in, I think it could be a wonderful and impactful way to take advantage of it,” Dubard continued, aware this decision would require the support of and a vote from the school committee. 

Dubard said he brought the proposal before the committee to “see what the initial response was,” and whether the members thought this was a “reasonable use” for the land. 

“Do you have any idea how much housing can be built on that lot?” school committee chair Alex Salop asked. 

According to Dubard, this detail would need to be worked out together among West Tisbury School, the affordable housing committee, and the school committee, with input from the school community. He estimated the “ballpark” would probably be around 16 bedrooms, if individual units were built. Dubard expects more bedrooms may be possible under a “shared-house situation.” 

“I can’t believe anybody on this committee wouldn’t think this is a wonderful idea,” Salop replied. 

School committee member Robert Lionette raised the question on whether this potential housing would only be for West Tisbury teachers, or if it would be available to personnel from other schools. Dubard said while it seems “widely applicable” based on his conversation with Rappaport, he is still not sure. 

When Lionette asked who would fund the housing, Salop said if it were only for West Tisbury School teachers, it would fall to the town to finance the project. However, if teachers from other schools could be housed in the potential location, funding would fall on the school district. 

“I don’t think we need to overcomplicate this at the current moment,” Dubard said. He mentioned how a request for proposal (RFP) would be needed if the plan goes forward, and restrictions can be placed, listing the 401 State Road affordable housing project’s age and income restrictions as an example.

Dubard disclosed he is an Island Housing Trust (IHT) board member for transparency. 

School committee member Kate DeVane said the restrictions would need to be considered carefully to not “age people or step people out of their affordable housing units.” An example DeVane gave was how residents can lose their eligibility at the IHT neighborhood Scott’s Grove after making $90,000 or so a year. “It would be too bad to have a whole bunch of teachers hit a certain step, and then not qualify for their housing anymore,” DeVane said. 

The committee agreed to return to this topic in the future. 

In other business, Chilmark School Principal Susan Stevens said a contract was being negotiated between her school and the Chilmark Free Public Library. According to Stevens, the contract is the same as last year’s, but there was a request to allow usage of the library on Mondays, a day the library is closed between late August and May. She said this would allow the students to gain from programming done at the building while protecting library staff from potential COVID exposure. The contract has been sent to the Chilmark Library board of trustees through Superintendent Matt D’Andrea for review.

Meanwhile, West Tisbury School received a $90,000 summer school grant from the state. West Tisbury School Principal Donna Lowell-Bettencourt said the school has “been very busy” getting the program ready, and interviewing for additional staff. The program is scheduled for Mondays through Thursdays, starting on July 5 and running through August 4. Lowell-Bettencourt also said programs to provide students with food during the summer will be done in partnership with Island Grown Initiative. “Additionally, If the state has the funding, we automatically qualify next year. So we’re hoping this will be a two-year program,” Lowell-Bettencourt said. 

DeVane announced during the meeting she will not be seeking re-election this coming autumn. She said the public announcement was made so whoever wanted to run for her seat had ample time to get the paperwork in order.