Date set for $26 million vote, if needed

Tisbury waits for DOR decision; Cutrer’s school job questioned.

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The Tisbury School project is going to require additional borrowing. — Rich Saltzberg

At a rare Friday afternoon meeting, held exclusively in-person, the Tisbury select board reopened the warrant article regarding the Tisbury School’s renovation and addition project that will be taken up by voters at a special town meeting on Sept. 20.

Tisbury residents will be asked to vote for or against the borrowing of an additional $26 million “to supplement” the already approved $55 million, according to the warrant. If it passes, the total tax burden will be $1,027 for a median house valued at $744,200 – assuming the town can secure a relatively low interest rate of 3.5 percent.

Whether the Proposition 2½ debt exclusion goes to a town wide vote remains to be seen. While such borrowing typically requires such a vote, the town has requested an exemption from the state Department of Revenue (DOR) because the additional borrowing has become necessary because of issues — inflation and supply chain — out of the town’s control.

With no decision yet from the DOR, the select board approved setting a date of Oct. 4 for an election should it be needed to approve the $26 million. 

On the timeline, Tisbury planning board member Ben Robinson inquired as to when the town will be informed on whether the town is exempt, per the state Department of Revenue, from holding the ballot vote. 

“We’re talking about a ballot vote two weeks after the town meeting vote… You’re asking the state to exempt a ballot vote because you don’t want to wait two weeks to allow the taxpayers to have a say?”

“We hoped we would have heard today,” responded acting select board chair Roy Cutrer.

Town Administrator Jay Grande said he’s “discussed potential election days with [the] town clerk,” and came to the conclusion that Oct. 4 “is one of the days that would work.” 

“I want to make sure that everyone knows what’s going on,” said Grande. “I was hopeful that we would know something by the end of this week. But I do have every confidence that sometime next week we should have some type of feedback from the [DOR]; however, with the nature of ballot questions and timing, I am just working closely with the town clerk to make sure we don’t miss any critical deadlines.” 

Robinson asked why the town would not be willing to withdraw the request to the DOR, reiterating, “and allow the taxpayers to have some say in [a] $26 million override.” 

Grande initially deferred to Cutrer, although he responded to Robinson that he “doesn’t mind answering the question,” but said the board has an active motion on the table. “I don’t know if that question is appropriate at this time,” he added.

Grande continued, stating that if the town withdrew the request, it would be subject to questioning on “why [Tisbury] didn’t follow the process [of the DOR].” 

Robinson noted that the town has never followed the aforementioned process “for any overrides” before. 

“We haven’t had this situation before,” said Grande, adding, “there are many other communities in the same situation…this is the process.”

Cutrer slammed the chairman’s gavel midway through Robinson’s inquiry, shutting down any further discussion. “I think we’re good. I think we can end this discussion and take a vote,” Cutrer said.

After a unanimous vote to approve the updated warrant article amended with the additional $26 million, Cutrer cited articles from unnamed sources regarding other Massachusetts towns that have also exceeded financial projections for school construction projects. “Those are out there, those are articles that can be read,” he said.

The select board moved on to unanimously approve both the single ballot question and the holding of the special election, where the question will be considered, on October 4 “and to opt out of in person, early voting.”

Regarding questions on when the demolition of the gymnasium will commence, Grande deferred to the school committee and building committee to offer “specifics [and] assurance that we have not gone off the deep end.” He said the school committee meeting slated for Tuesday, Aug. 9 at 4 pm will delve into the matter. 

Resident Tony Peak asked Cutrer if there will be an “official open meeting address of the fact that you are an employee of the school,” in addition to Cutrer’s wife being a member of the Tisbury School Committee.

Cutrer responded by stating, “ I am an ESP at the Tisbury School. I specialize in math and science. Most of the ESP’s on the sixth floor at the middle school are in their 60’s. We are a valuable part of the school and I am proud to be part of that team. My wife, Jennifer, is a member of the Tisbury School Committee. Is that sufficient?”

Peak asked if Cutrer or the select board had engaged the state Ethics Commission concerning the ties.

Grande said the issue “is something Mr. Cutrer and the clerk can address.”

Peak asked if Tisbury residents will be informed on whether or not it has been addressed, and what the response is, to which Grande replied, “I’m sure you will.” 

Resident Jeff Robinson recommended that the town “make sure that nothing goes on as far as tearing the gym down…before everything is finalized,” and asked the select board to forward the suggestion to the school committee. “I just want to make sure that nothing happens there until this is finalized,” he added.

Cutrer said the goal is to “stick to the scope of the construction project,”  which was agreed upon by Grande. 

“There is an approved scope, and that was approved by town meeting, ” said Grande. “One of the primary objectives was to stay within that scope, consistent with those votes.”

Ben Robinson questioned the board about “the scope” of the approved project and stated that the town meeting vote was to approve the $55 million for the school renovation, but “we have yet to approve the extra $26 million.”

Grande said the town meeting warrant article, which was “limited discussion per the request of the moderator,” consisted of “language and discussion about a renovation and addition,” which implies “the scope” of the project.

11 COMMENTS

  1. At the rate they keep coming back for more money to finish this school project, it is going to be cheaper to send every child over daily to the Falmouth Academy for an education.

    • James, what a great idea.
      Falmouth Academy is a 7 thru 12 school.
      This year the tuition is -$32,000, sports and field classes are extra.
      The bus fare from WH/FA is extra.
      The boat fare is extra.
      Upon further scrunity what a foolish thing to say.

  2. Ah, politics. Neatly making an end run around the voters by exempting this 26 million dollars in additional funding from a prop 2&1/2 override… meaning the money could be approved in one night at the special town meeting on September 20, or due diligence, as Jay claims? Maybe a bit of both. Tisbury voters should be paying close attention.

    • Do you mean the voters should be paying close attention like they did when they trusted your words in a letter to the editor in April 2018 when you promised taxpayers a savings of $11 million dollars if they voted no for a new school? You and your cronies effectively torpedoed a project years in the making that would have cost taxpayers roughly $30 million for a brand new school. If I were a Tisbury resident that put my trust and faith in you and your compadres words I would be so royally peeved now. Why anyone places any merit in what you or anyone else that signed that letter is beyond me.

      • Well, Kate, thanks to the years and years of negligence by the school committee we are right here in this place where people like you feel free to fling mud instead of taking any responsibility for this debacle. If you are going to point fingers, why don’t you blame those responsible for allowing the school building to slide into disrepair for all these years? It wasn’t until the second school building committee was formed that a formal evaluation of the building was conducted. That study found that the school is basically a sound structure. Instead, you attack those with legitimate, honest questions who had very good reasons and every right to oppose the original plan. The citizens of Tisbury voted whichever way they chose. They are not blind sheep, which seems to be what you and your friends prefer.

  3. You do mean years and years of guidance from select boards and finance committees and voters to keep taxes as low as possible?
    Tisbury has not maintained anything properly for decades. When was lead paint banned? Really? Did you and your folks ever stand up at town meeting and add money to their budget? Every single voter owns this school. Now that you have the project to save the building it just costs more. Go to town meeting on the 20th and support what you asked for. If a ballot is needed go and support it there as well. The issue at hand is paying for what the town needs, not who did what and when.

  4. Conflict of Interest …. Mr. Cutrer, being a.person on the Select Board and an ESP, and his wife is on the school committee may just be a COI. Did anyone read the conflict of interest laws before taking the oath of office?
    And how is it that $26 million is being tossed around like pocket change with no negotiations.

    Something smells like a kettle of rotting fish.
    Start thinking how this kind of overrun may just bankrupt the town. The project is not clear, numbers increased, there have been no negotiations, possible Conflicts of Interest. And no one is talking about the care and maintainance of the after build. That is surely not part of the overrun!

    • I see the corruption you’re talking about here! This family man, whose lived here for ages and primarily works in a career that depends on reputation.

      Insidious plan:
      – Raise his family in Tisbury, sending his own children to school there.
      – Spend a decade working a second job for 25-30k per year helping special needs children in the poorest school on the island, before any of plans for a new school start.
      – Wait for the town to decide to construct a new school.
      – Wait for them to foolishly turn down 14.5 million of state based financial aid in the largest financial blunder the towns (even the islands?) history.
      – Convince his wife to run for a painful, thankless volunteer position, taking flak from the very strangers she’s try to help.
      – Make sure there is a once in a century global pandemic.
      – Then convince the town to overwhelmingly elect him over an incumbent candidate who ALSO supported the building project (and is on the committee…).
      – Then wait for supply chain crisis to cause nation wide inflation to spike at a 40 year high, specifically in construction…

      ALL to make sure he’s there to vote for a more expensive building for our children! Wow. That is some 4D chess right there. What. A. Monster. Thank goodness your sleuthing was able to cast a light on it in the bravest way possible.

  5. I do not like calling out someone but mendacity calls for a rebuttal. The town of Tisbury was sold a bill of goods about how we would save ourselves from tax increases if we would listen to Marie and others like the gang from Haven Side and lets not forget our elected Board of Selectman, at the time of the vote for moving ahead on the building of a new school with financial help from the state, all of the above mentioned were standing outside the post office in Vineyard Haven telling all who could take time out of the work day that we as a town did not need a new school and have our taxes raised. In fact, I can remember Marie taking up residence at the door to the post office for days on end with the story of how much we would have to pay. I am sure that most wish we could go back in time and vote yes on the school building which was on the ballot. And let’s give credit where credit is due here is the list; Selectman Melinda Loberg, Tristan R. Israel and oh who was the other stooge? And let’s not forget the unending battle for no votes by Marie against the cut through roads, next time you have an issue with the back up at State and Edgartown Road, thank those who deserve your thanks for nothing.

  6. Here’s to remind us of the meaning of Democracy:
    Democracy (from Greek δημοκρατία (dēmokratía) dēmos ‘people’ and kratos ‘rule’) is a form of government in which the people have the authority to deliberate and decide legislation (“direct democracy”), or to choose governing officials to do so (“representative democracy”).
    1 : government by the people : majority rule. 2 : government in which the highest power is held by the people and is usually used through representatives.

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