Selected councils from the six towns of Martha’s Vineyard will appoint a council member to work with the island town administrators to find a way to pay for a new high school.
At a joint six-town meeting with the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School committee on Wednesday night, councils agreed to get into a room and try to come to a consensus on how to move forward. forward to finance the part of the project not covered by the State. funds through the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
The regional agreement splits operating costs among the six cities based on enrollment. For this reason, most of the regional schools budget is paid for by the taxpayers of Oak Bluffs and Tisbury, where the majority of students live.
Oak Bluffs has been vocal in seeking a deal that splits the cost of the capital project based on property values in each city. Chilmark, backed by Edgartown and Aquinnah, proposed a compromise that would split the costs by 25% for each of the lower island towns and the fourth 25% share would be split between Chilmark, West Tisbury and Aquinnah.
Oak Bluffs dismissed that idea, and Tisbury never officially weighed in.
The MSBA is seeking a united front from the cities to pledge its percentage of funds, likely 40% of the construction costs of what is expected to be a $100 million high school.
Opening the discussion, which was sometimes impossible to hear on Zoom, school board president Amy Houghton called it “exciting” to see everyone together. “I hope we can all work together and listen to each other to meet the needs of our students,” she said.
When Houghton began to explain that there were issues with the regional agreement and its compliance with state regulations, Edgartown board member Art Smadbeck cut her off and walked away. bristling at the thought of talking about the regional agreement.
“What worried me when I saw the agenda is that you bring the regional deal,” Smadbeck said, with Houghton attempting to cut him off. “Don’t try to use a grant to try to leverage something else,” Smadbeck said.
There were back and forths between Smadbeck and Houghton over whether they should talk about the regional deal.
“The only hurdle I can see is if we try to throw in addition to trying to figure out how to split the cost of this building – to try and throw in something else at this point, until we finish this , it’s gonna be a distraction. I encourage you not to,” Smadbeck said.
He said it is the responsibility of the six cities to find a way to fund the rest of the schools.
Houghton explained that in order for the regional school district to qualify, certain provisions of the regional agreement relating to the provision of vocational education and transportation must be cleaned up. She said it’s a job for district attorneys and it doesn’t affect the funding formula for the district to bring the regional agreement “up to their guidelines.”
“None of this is controversial,” Houghton said.
At times, the meeting was completely inaudible, especially when those in person and off-screen were speaking. For example, Chilmark board member James Malkin spoke for over a minute and could not be heard by those in Zoom who expressed frustration in the Zoom chat. Long story short, the meeting was also bombarded by Zoom but that person was quickly removed from the meeting.
Houghton asked selected boards to aim for May 15 as the deadline, noting that the regional school district must be prepared to provide all of its information, including how the district intends to pay for its share of the high school project, at the MSBA. before September 30.
“We’re not going to the state twice, so that’s why we need to make sure the funding part of this gets wrapped up as soon as possible,” Houghton said. “I want to put together a schedule that is reasonable and possible.”
Smadbeck said he was confident the city’s selection boards could walk into a room and come to an agreement. “We’re not going to sell tickets to the reunion, but if we go out and get a little bloody, we have an answer…” he said.
Houghton supported the idea of not having the school committee represented. “I think it’s important because you have to have conversations and have those conversations in a room where you can hopefully look each other in the eye. It’s important for credibility and for moving forward and developing something where everyone can be happy and supported.
Some board members from each city then stepped in and said they were “ok” to walk into that room and come to an agreement.
Smadbeck requested that Superintendent Matt D’Andrea be available at the meeting of board members and city administrators to answer questions.
“I’m looking forward to having something that brings us all together to have a big new building as soon as we can,” Houghton said.