Strong schools make strong communities


To the Editor:

A simple search inquiring whether facilities play a role in student achievement revealed much about the detrimental impact of deteriorating school facilities on learning. The issue of deteriorating schools has plagued many a community.  From a report on Duval County Schools, in Florida, where school projects are expected to top $1 billion by 2025, I found the following to be instructive:

Beyond aesthetics, research has shown that facility conditions impact student education environment and achievement, teacher performance and satisfaction, and the social and community environment.

On Tuesday, voters in Tisbury will make their voices heard about whether the town should allow for an additional $26 million to be expended for the addition/renovation project that was overwhelmingly approved by voters in June 2021. The project voted at town meeting and the ballot was supported by 79% of the voters.

Since the vote in June, town officials, a building committee, school leaders, staff and the project team have worked collaboratively to develop and refine a project that meets the educational needs of a 21st century student body and recognizes the desire by many voters to retain some of the 20th century charm of the current brick building — add to the mix a pandemic, supply chain disturbances, a strong commercial building economy off-Island and the high cost of doing business on the Vineyard.  The end result is a project that meets the educational goals, retains the charm and is approximately $26 million over budget.  

The impact on taxes is significant for many; the impact of postponing a project is significant for many.  

The School Committee hopes that voters come to the special town meeting with facts and can clarify any misconceptions that may be surrounding this project. In an effort to clear up some of those misperceptions, I offer the following:

  • The town has bonded the $55 million at an interest rate of 3.5%. The town has been informed that the additional $26 million, if approved, will not affect the town’s AA+ credit rating.
  • The town has received a budget with a guaranteed maximum price on hard construction costs that cannot be exceeded. That price is NOT TO EXCEED $82 million.  The town is not required to borrow all of that money if we are able to find grants or alternate sources of funds that support certain aspects of the project.
  • The town treasurer has estimated the increase to a $744,000 home will be $766 per year — inclusive of the $26 million for a year-round resident.
  • All capital/building projects in Tisbury, and likely across the Island and country, have seen significant escalation during the past 1-2 years.  As voters, this year we had to approve an additional $100k for tennis courts — a 50% cost escalation.  The town has seen the same double-digit escalation on the wastewater project, Main St. renovations and the bandstand at Owen Park. 
  • The “Island Condition” has made attracting bids for our project and other capital projects in the town very difficult — oftentimes only receiving one bid. Lack of competition makes it extremely difficult to negotiate rates, particularly when there is plenty of work to be had off-island.
  • Some have suggested that retaining the “gym” is the answer. It is important to note that the addition slated for the space where the current gym sits is a multi-purpose space that houses a gym, cafeteria, space for industrial technology class, band, stage, physical therapy space and many mechanical closets. The addition allows us to free up space in the renovated section of the school to come in compliance with requirements related to special education and health — deficiencies for which we have been cited. Maybe more important, the space is redesigned to meet the needs of people with different physical abilities and to be a stand-alone space for our community — in the event that we need a place to house a bus full of tourists who are stranded due to ferry cancellations, as we have done.

The School Committee, the School Building Committee, and the Select Board have received and considered building concepts from qualified and unqualified critics. To be clear, we have not received any concrete proposals that give voters an opportunity to truly evaluate the costs, regulatory compliance, understanding of the educational plan or realistic timeframe for completion of an alternate design. Facts and figures tied to a design concept that is compliant with municipal building codes is necessary to validate any proposal being cast upon voters at the 11th hour.

We urge voters to come to town meeting and ask hard questions about design, costs, educational needs, timing and how children and staff are being taken care of, because we have done our homework, sharpened our pencils and have been working on this for more than 10 years. 

On behalf of the Tisbury School Committee,

Amy Houghton, chair