The Up-Island School Committee unanimously voted to withdraw an article requesting $120,000 from the up-Island towns to fund a space needs study for the West Tisbury School.
The request has effectively been tabled. School committee members wanted to wait until funding could be available from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), which could not only fund a portion of the entire project, but an assessment as well.
The space needs study article was proposed in response to the needs arising at the West Tisbury school, including a growing student population, the need to upgrade energy utilities, and the possibility of using the space as a temporary emergency shelter.
“I think there’s an opportunity for us here in the next year to really flush out what the priorities are of the administration, both in the building and the district,” said committee member Skip Manter. “That groundwork would allow us to more vigorously support [the space needs study] going forward.”
Manter went on to say that the committee should wait a “couple years,” adding that he felt the space needs study was “ultimately an MSBA opportunity.” Manter said he felt there should be more clarification and research into the actual needs of the West Tisbury school, and to know the costs that the up-Island towns will be paying as part of the $2 million dollar high school feasibility study that’s going to voters at spring town meetings.
The involvement of the MSBA will likely be key to moving school changes forward, but the application process for consideration is rigorous, and the program itself competitive, with predictions that it could become even more so in the coming years. School officials said that out of about 90 school applicants for MSBA assistance, typically 10 to 12 schools are selected for aid every year, but that number may be dropping to fewer than 10 due to changes in MSBA financing, increased school costs within their budgets, and projected limits to funding, committee members said.
Mark Friedman, a member of the Up-Island School Committee and a school business administrator, explained that the West Tisbury school is in competition with other Massachusetts schools for MSBA funding. The schools experiencing double digit yearly student population increases, or extreme space limitations that force students to complete classwork in the hallways, or are impacted by emergency situations like fire and flooding – those will inevitably get MSBA priority.
“Taking those situations and putting them aside,” Friedman said, “there’s a group of schools that just apply each year and work through the process.” The West Tisbury school would fall into that category.
Some committee members wondered about what kind of preparatory work could be done to facilitate progress with the MSBA application. With the deadline for the MSBA core program application just weeks away, it was noted that just to complete the application would be a heavy administrative task, involving exhaustive research and data, but that it was possible, despite the hurdles of sheer research and competition. There were talks of possibly hiring an individual to help specifically with collecting the research and putting a sufficient application together.
The high school was recently accepted into the beginning stages of the MSBA project, after several years of applying.
“If the committee does come to the point where it feels that’s the path we want to take, we know the questions that they ask and so we can start the process to compile data,” Friedman said. “But we certainly don’t want to start that process if the committee isn’t going to be committed to applying to that program. This would be a waste of time and we have too many other projects to tackle.”
It was also speculated that if the West Tisbury school were to apply and be invited and assisted by the MSBA, the space needs study would become a null issue, as the MSBA would be conducting their own feasibility assessments. The committee is aware that some kind of action will need to be taken soon.
“Obviously it’s going to be done in the future,” said Manter. “I think it’s inevitable, I don’t think we’re going to have a choice.”
In other news from the Up-Island regional school committee meeting, a donation for $700 from the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby was received in the mail and directed to the Francis Pachico memorial Scholarship fund. The committee voted to accept the donation and to split it between the Chilmark and West Tisbury schools.
According to Chilmark School principal Susan Stevens, the Chilmark school was without water for most of the school day on Monday due to an electrical problem. Lash said they were able to use the community center and the Chilmark Library bathrooms for the day. Island Water Source arrived to complete the repairs. The water was back on at the school around 2:30 pm according to Lash. As is routine when a water system goes down, the principal also had the PH and bacteria of the water tested once it was back up and running to ensure safety and quality for students, teachers, and administrators.