Tisbury School costs skyrocket

School project would cost taxpayers $1,000 over 30 years, treasurer says. 

Another $26 million is needed for the Tisbury School project. The project included a temporary classroom campus, shown here under construction. — Rich Saltzberg

Updated 7/29

The Tisbury select board voted 2-0 Wednesday, July 27, to hold a special one-item town meeting at the Performing Arts Center in Oak Bluffs on Sept. 20. The sole business of the special meeting, as town counsel David Doneski put it, is a “supplemental appropriation” of $26 million for the Tisbury School project. 

Tisbury voters have already approved $55 million for the project. In a lengthy report to the board, Mike Owen, CHA senior project manager, explained the project has been beset by intense materials inflation as well as supply chain issues and these have torpedoed the project’s budget. That has translated into nearly a 50 percent cost increase and brought the total budget to the cusp of $82 million. The Times first reported the new budget numbers on Wednesday and that prompted significant attendance on the select board Zoom.

Asked by finance committee member Nancy Gilfoy what happens if voters reject the $26 million request, Tisbury School building committee chair Mike Watts, who was present on the Zoom with other school officials, said that would create a problem. No matter what happens, Watts said the town presently has “a very sick building” that doesn’t meet educational needs. 

“I think if we don’t get the money,” Watts said, “we have $10 to $15 million dollars that are just sunk, gone, and we haven’t solved the problem of our sick building and I don’t mean to paint it as dire but really, that’s where we are. And so we’re in a little bit of a rock and a hard place without [moving] forward with the project with a lot of money really heavily committed.”

Select board member John Cahill asked what the $26 million would mean for taxes as calculated for a median home in Tisbury. 

“For the original project at $55 million we were looking at tax bills going up an average of about 10 percent,” Treasurer Jonathan Snyder said. “If it’s going to be a total of $86 million, or thereabouts, the tax bills would go up roughly 15.5 percent from where they are right now. So it’s not insignificant.”

Snyder later clarified the $86 million denoted a total bond liability, including $5 million in paving borrowing not associated with the school project, but nonetheless a figure that would impact tax bills.  

Snyder told the board a median home in Tisbury was valued at $744,000, meaning half the town’s homes are valued higher than that figure and half are valued lower than that figure. 

“That median tax bill is $6,472,” he said. “If we increase that by 15.6 percent, you get $7,482. So $1,000 more.”  

“For 30 years?” Cahill asked.

“Yes,” Snyder said.

In a Friday email to The Times, Snyder clarified the tax bump wouldn’t amount to an extra $1,000, but would amount to $1,000 overall in additional taxes.

“The project approved by taxpayers would have cost $55 million, which for the median residential property would cost an additional $700 per year in property tax,” Snyder wrote. “The additional $26 million cost to complete the project will add an additional $327 per year for the median residential property.  In all, the school project will add $1,027 per year for the median property.” 

In response to a question from planning board member Ben Robinson of how comfortable the select board was with asking voters for the additional money, Cahill said, “Am I comfortable? No. Will I get there? I hope to. It’s just a lot of money. Whether it’s inflation, you want to blame it on that, or whatever you want to say the causes are, we have to consider all of our residents in this town. It’s such a significant number…that’s not chump change for a lot of people in this town and they’re going to have to carry that for a long time. I just hope we’re all doing our homework and we’re looking at it from the taxpayers side as well.”


In response to the same question, Roy Cutrer acting chair, said, “Am I comfortable? If I look at the alternative — not having the new Tisbury School, and what that means to the community, if I look at what we’ve already spent trying to reach that goal of having the new school for the town of Tisbury, it’s a tough question. But you know, yes, we have to do what’s best for the town in this situation and not moving forward is just taking and wasting money, wasting millions — $10 to $15 million dollars…So I don’t think wasting $10 to $15 million dollars is the way we want to go either…”

In an attempt to avert having to take the $26 million to the ballot box, when and if town meeting voters approve that sum, the board voted 2-0 to authorize a CHA report to the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) which breaks down all the swollen costs. 

If the DOR grants authorization, the $26 million would be considered an extension of the $55 million voters previously approved at a town meeting and at the polls. If the extension is rejected by DOR, the $26 million request must be addressed in a special town election. On the advice of town administrator Jay Grande, the board didn’t set a date for a special town selection. Grande said Town Clerk Hilary Conklin was unable to attend the meeting and he wants her present and able to contribute her thoughts when such a date is selected. Grande said he expected the board will be able to address the date at an Aug. 3 board meeting. 

In other business, after some friction between Cahill and Cutrer, the board voted 2-0 to approved two slates of zoning board of appeals (ZBA) members: Jeff Kristal and Akyah Lucas to five-year terms and Frank Piccione, Brandon Smith, Rick Homans, and Lesley Segal to one-year terms. Cahill said he found it confusing why different folks were selected for different terms and wanted to discuss the issue ahead of any votes. Cutrer wasn’t interested in doing that.

Human resources coordinator Pam Bennett explained in part that ZBA prospects were assigned based on the terms they were willing to commit to. 

Updated to clarify the tax implications -Ed.


  1. Have to wait until Sept 20 and even then it could be voted down. Not a way to run anything. Wealthy people who dont have kids in school will pay but the median income people will flee like rats up a drainpipe. This craziness. There has to be another formulation. We taught people by Zoom for two years and while conservatives minded that approach, the Dems thought it was great especially the teachers unions.

  2. Stop being idiots. Build a joint elementary school for the Island and save 100 million over 20 years.

      • If you call dramatically rising taxes “doing fine” in all towns than I guess you like paying unnecessary taxes.

  3. I am surprised that the following isn’t on the table ; Hire new architect and build what can be done for $ 55M.
    The board is making it sound like a yes for $ 86M or a no and wasting $10M.
    I am astonished that the board is stooping to trying to circumvent a ballot vote. The key supporters will make sure supporters are there and hope no one else shows up for a vote at a certain time. If it makes it to the ballot, a ballet vote will give people several hours to choose when to go and vote

    • Absolutely agree with Segal. Get me something for 55 million and show me the plans in 30 days. We aint doing 86 plus. You have 55 mill and no more and we arent even happy about that.

  4. Could this be the impetus for a discussion of the merits and costs of a … forgive me… regional school approach??

  5. Next up, the cost of borrowing is going up.
    Borrowing 82 million dollars at 5 % for 30 years has a payment of $440,194 a month
    at the beginning of that payback period , $341,667 is interest and $98,527 goes to reducing the principal.
    If the interest rate rises another 2 percent to 7 % or so by the time they actually borrow the money, that adds significantly to the monthly payment
    It brings the monthly payment to $545,548 . At the beginning of that payback period , $478,333 is interest and $67,215 goes to reducing the principal.
    Total payments (principal and interest) over 30 years @ 5 % —–$123,000,570
    Total payments (principal and interest) over 30 years @ 7 % —–$196,397,510.

    for a nearly hundred year old building…
    25 million here, 25 million there, and before ya know it, we’re talking about real money….

    • Kind of sounds like our national debt on a smaller scale. MV will need more rich people to buy here and build to make these payments on an empty building because no one will be able to afford to raise a family here. Isn’t it ironic, don’t ya think?

      • carl– the national debt is THE issue that will break the capitalist model.
        years ago, the fed implemented a policy to have the majority, or at least a significant portion of federal debt be short term debt.
        As debt came due, they borrowed to pay it with shorter terms and cheaper rate loans.
        As a result, we are now in the position of a homeowner with a variable rate balloon mortgage that is due in a short time period. Since interest rates are rising, we now have to borrow at a higher rate to pay off our previous debt.
        That will significantly increase the portion of the budget that goes to interest on the debt, thereby, in effect, taking more money out of the operating budget, and reducing monies available for other things like infrastructure and social programs that are investments in the quality of life for future generations.
        Like my grandkid’s.
        Unless of course, we borrow more and dig a deeper hole.
        It seems neither party is interested at all in actually paying down the deficit.
        If there is any kind of surplus, the republicans want to give tax breaks for the “job creators” and the dems want to increase funding for social programs. Both pander to their base to get votes, but it is not sustainable to continually increase the deficit. The bubble will eventually burst with catastrophic consequences.

        • This comment has to be something Engelman agrees with. Could it be that the three of us are finally in agreement on something? But kidding aside your analysis is freighting. We need to live within our means and tackle this debt.

          • Andy only worries about the debt when there is a democrat in the W.H or the dems have control of congress. Both of which are the case now.
            So, you might be right.

        • Nothing to do with Capitalism. Everything to do about bad decisions by politicians on both sides of the aisle

    • You have done the easy part of identifying the problem.
      How about a solution?
      How about replacing the the Tisbury school with double wides with covered interconnected walkways.
      For 25 million you could get the good one’s that could last as long 20 years.
      When was the existing Tisbury built?…

      • The Tisbury school bill falls dramatically when the middle school educational program is subtracted. That is my understanding.

        This point has been made by those with greater expertise than I.

        So, build a regional middle school at the high school. .

        • Let’s examine this. You want a new building for roughly 450 to 500 kids to go up at the high school. Who will pay for it? How many more busses will be needed to service those kids that are now serviced on existing routes. Where will you get those bus drivers? House them? You need new principals and admin and food service and custodians. Remember the remaining kids at their respective schools still need nurses and lunch and art teachers and Spanish teachers and music teachers. It isn’t a one for one trade off. You need a new wastewater treatment plant in OB. Remember that the high school can’t have a hookup for their proposed project for a new track. Can’t do 10 toilets for the campground. Who is going to pay for that upgrade?

          Everyone keeps saying regionalize. Have you forgotten the high school needs a serious upgrade. Will the island do as Tisbury did and vote that money from the state out the door because a few folks sold their agenda passing out a story about the Cabot school in Newton that was never intended to be a long term solution but rather a short term swing school space to move kids to while they renovated other schools. Everyone believed them.

          And here we are. Unless you are in your 70s and 80s and lived here for the past 50+ years, none of you paid for the construction of the Tisbury school. You have done a small addition in the 90s and some required window and roof work. You have complained bitterly about your taxes when you really have not had a major infrastructure project other than police and fire in your lifetimes.

          Educate children in a nice facility or don’t. It is really that simple. You want a net zero building but you want it cheap. You want energy efficiency but you want it cheap. You want different leadership but you bash whoever throws their hats into the fray. Run for office, join a committee, actually solve problems. Pay for a feasibility study to put something at the high school. Get real numbers.
          Or get your sources to state their qualifications and get them interviewed.
          Stop just throwing this junk out there.
          Tired of this!

    • Don, the cost of borrowing continues to go up and down.
      You numbers are crystal ball.
      Why is the town borrowing so much money?
      The Tisbury School is well beyond it’s useful life.
      They should have been putting money in a replacement fund for twenty years.
      Save and spend, not borrow and spend.

      • albert– the fed has raised interest rates by 1.5 % in the last 2 months.
        Don’t worry, I understand what that base rate is and what it does.
        But one thing for sure it raises the cost of credit for everything downstream. You are right that rates go up and down, but I don’t see any down for the next fer years, which it the timeframe we are talking about there.

  6. They don’t care. Someone will pay. Ordinary islanders will flee. Nice building very few in it.

  7. I feel sorry for Tisbury tax payers, Y’all were duped! Vote for this ridiculous overrun and then wait for them to come back asking for even more when they are over budget again. Vote no and force them to build whatever within the money they have already been given.

  8. When was the last time Tisbury built a school?
    How much did it add to the tax rate?
    Nothing lasts forever.
    It’s time for a new one.
    One that will last as long as the last one.
    Not the equivalent of double wides.,

  9. I may be wrong, but didn’t the State offer a lot of money some years ago to help build a new school? It was rejected by the Town. Now it will be time to pay the piper.

    • You are correct. The MSBA offered money for a new one but Ms Scott, Ms Orr and Mr Robinson along with Ms Loberg and Me Israel derp sized it with a letter to tax payers days before town ballot claiming that it would cost less if we kept the “historic” school and remodeled it ourselves.

    • “Let’s examine this”
      None of the points listed have merit.
      ” Have you forgotten the high school needs a serious upgrade. ”
      Um, no. That is the very reason why the time to think about regionalizing middle school is NOW.
      It is a crying shame that Vineyard school administrators were unable or unwilling to do long-time planning for Vineyard schools. I recall one meeting at the Tisbury School library where a pointed question on this issue was posed: “Have you done any long-term planning for Vineyard schools?” The answer was No.

      Re “Stop just throwing this junk out there.”
      My comment is not “junk.”

      • You ignored my expense questions. Nice deflection. Doubtful you are willing to pay for this? Just because you asked a question and didn’t get the answer you wanted you have discarded the result. Why do you think a middle school is good? They create new problems for kids you can’t begin to comprehend. Are you an educator? Are your sources educators with middle school experiences?

        Moving on from your usual non answers!

        • Grant… the problem is we are running out of other peoples money. No one wants to pay for anything they just want what everyone else has for free.

        • There is a considerable body of data and opinion by educators and psychologists regarding the advantages of junior high school (as it used to be called) being in the same campus as high school. In my day that is how it was. As for “no one wants to pay for anything,” that is a meaningless statement. Just suppose there simply is not the money lying around to pay huge costs overruns associated with all-the-bells-and-whistles schools?

          As for “deflection,” Grant seems to be doing most of the deflecting.

          OK, “Let’s examine this.”

          Grant: How many more busses will be needed to service those kids that are now serviced on existing routes.
          Answer: Same buses can be used. Adjust opening and closing times accordingly. School buses are already in use.
          Where will you get those bus drivers?
          Answer: They live on MV. People are trianed to drive buses all the time, for instance, by the VTS.
          House them?
          Answer: Gimme a break. Is Grant serious? “Housing bus drivers” is not a serious deterrent to CONSIDERING the benefits, both educational and financial, of having an all-island middle school. After all, it is the *educational program* for both elementary and middle-school children that is driving the design, and hence costs, of the Tisbury school renovation. So shouldn’t educational program also drive discussion of the benefits of an all-Island middle school located at the MV Regional campus?
          Grant: You need new principals
          Answer: Why plural? Hire a new all-island middle school principle.
          Grant: Admin
          Answer: We have plenty of administrators at the Vineyard schools. Centralized middle school should reduce number of total administrators; some of them will be transferred to All-Island Middle School.
          Grant: food service
          Answer: Don’t be ridiculous. One point of consolidating is to rationalize all services (in addition to the educational gains for middle-schoolers).
          Grant: and custodians.
          Answer: Ditto.
          Remember the remaining kids at their respective schools still need nurses and lunch and art teachers and Spanish teachers and music teachers.
          Answer: Grant doesn’t seem to understand that the point of centralization would be to reduce the duplication of all of these functions.
          Grant: It isn’t a one for one trade off.
          Answer: Sense unclear. Recast.
          Grant: You need a new wastewater treatment plant in OB. Remember that the high school can’t have a hookup for their proposed project for a new track. Can’t do 10 toilets for the campground. Who is going to pay for that upgrade?
          Answer: Dust cloud.

          • “dust cloud” refers to your introducing the Camp Ground etc. into the discussion.

            The Harvard Ed. article, from 2012, certainly is not the only or last word on pros and cons of middle/junior high schools. As anyone who reads the article will see.

            Other sources point to the advantages of middle /junior high schools in focusing students’ interests at an earlier age. Just one, from 2015:

            Those who do a search for “k-8 vs middle school debate” will get pages of hits presenting multiple points of view. Google’s summary:
            “The research comparing outcomes of students at K-8 and middle schools remains inconclusive. While some studies have shown that students who move to a middle school experience steeper declines in academic achievement than those who stay put, other research has found few differences between the groups.”

            Demands for “apologies” for a difference of opinion are, frankly, absurd—reminding one of certain right-wing blogs where everything is taken personally, and a lot of mansplaining is done.

    • Whenever I drive by the jumble of trailers that is the “temporary” Tisbury School in waiting, I think of what might have been. Somewhere on a computer, or on a shelf in the town hall (ask for it), there is a proposal to build a new school on town land (thus no disruption) and move the town hall (too small and cramped) and the police station (in a congested location where it never belonged) to the current school site. The plan may also suggest selling the downtown police station building to defray costs and turn the old school building into apartments. Creative repurposing of old buildings happens in other more innovative communities. Misplaced adult nostalgia for a school a small percentage of the kids (who would have been very happy in a new location) could walk to, and a lack of firm leadership doomed that plan. Unfortunately, all I can do now is shake my head, think of what might have been, and contemplate the increasing cost of living in Tisbury on a fixed income.

  10. Just say NO

    With declining school attendance for lack of pupils, start negotiating with other towns about sharing schools….

    I also know that you can go back to the negotiation table to work out better deals. Our select and school boards are not equipped to do this in representing the town and citizens

  11. so the over run “estimates” are now almost half of the “estimate” and we’re just beginning. whats the projection for school population, anyone know that? stop now and scrap the plan. which sounds to me mismanaged from the start. this unfair to everyone and i have no confidence in this process. my vote will be no.

  12. Dumb comment
    A school renovation and build proposed at least 15 years ago was around 25 th. That too was rejected.

    • Dainer– I may be dumb– but it is really difficult to determine which comment you are referring to. As close as I can tell, it was in reference to Ted’s comment which was rhetorical but factual. Your comment gives no context — 25 th of what ? And rejected by whom ?
      If you are going to call a comment “dumb” you should provide some context.
      Unless of course you are just warning us that the comment we are about to read is dumb. In that case, you should put a semicolon after the word “dumb” .

  13. All the inflated bidders, MSBA offering the partial fund, far less than 80% cap, the committee not transparent about why we don’t or can’t get much more from MSBA, and, the added problems of price gouging beyond the inflation due to the international lockdowns and failed shipping logistics and Pandemic factors,

    Why should we proceed when the circumstance is unpredictable and the prices are changing every month?a

    It is time to pause and re-access whether the design should be simplified, or-prefabricated to cut down the costs with a simplified design, or, the demo-construction to be postponed, to avoid forced progress in this unpredictable circumstance that would even skyrocket another 50% some day, and more again.

    We should not to be enslaved each time. We have the control NOW to pause/stop.

    We should not fear the opposition of some selfish group who had blocked the creative thinking, who had refuse to employ the part-time teachers of other towns in the past, to add more cost to our annual budget for years, and, the group had quietly rejected already voted ‘renovation and addition’ proposal several years ago, in their private meetings, and, without disclosing these meetings to the newly appointed or selected town officials, they fought for the binge spending from the start in the vision planning, to aim to get a new campus on top of the untouched town aquafer, with the scale of a college campus in mind, and they tried to bully the rest of the town tax payers.

    That is how ugly and painful the whole process has been to be voted down and redesign in the 2nd round. I only see the bleak resolution as long as we have discordant and uncaring group, poisoning the public discourse each time in the past and future.

    Do not extort/enslave us. Act as fair town employees, and, be respectful.
    And, good luck to all of us!

  14. Is there a pdf file available that breaks down the estimated cost of this project line by line that is available to the public ?
    If it’s not available to the public, it should be. We are paying for it after all,and the planners seem to be out of good ideas.
    There are a lot of people with lots of knowledge about different things in our community. — Anna Edey, for example is world class knowledgeable on composting toilets, composting food scraps and greywater systems.
    I see the current school has a garden. It would be very beneficial for the kids to learn about composting from the cafeteria, and how it can get turned into vegetables.
    I would be willing to consult on a composting bin design as I have developed a rodent proof composting bin, with 3 of them in use on the island . My personal one has been in use for 3 years–only bugs and worms in there, and I even throw meat scraps in it.

    Any chance of volunteer work on this project ?
    The ag hall in W.T. seems to be doing ok , and was built with mostly volunteer labor.
    A couple of the churches also.
    We value our sense of community here.
    Let’s put it to use.

  15. To force many Tisbury taxpayers to have to think about the real possibly having new hardships or leaving the Island because of the crazy taxes rising constantly due to incompitence etc is discraceful.
    Demand our so~called leaders to get it together forthwith or get publicly shamed out of office.

    Oh, on second thought, that wont work. When that happens their buddies get into their vacent hot seat(s) then appoints them into 5 year positions into other town departments! So the mess and incompitence continues.
    Just wish somebody could figure out how to run this town logically truthfully and be `For the People` instead of being for themselves and their small circle of buddies.

  16. Looks like the Tisbury School Destruction Committee needs some oversight. Who appointed this group? Can they be recalled and replaced with builders and contractors? We should be looking at ways to manage their project and minimize the damages. For the same amount of money they raised, imagine the professionally implemented reading programs and other academic interventions that could take place at Tisbury School, reducing inappropriate special ed placement and improving reading skills, making it an up-to-date learning center, in an attractive historic building. Instead, look what we got. An expensive mess. What was wrong with doing some upgrades and maintenance? Why the overly big project? Some families will opt out of the Tisbury Trailers and look at the other Island schools.

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