Tisbury Tilting at Windmills

The decision by the town of Tisbury to challenge the state school funding formula in court is a wasteful expenditure of public money and a near-certain recipe for deepening the rift among the six Island towns over how they divide their payments for the high school budget — precisely at a time when a regional approach and mindset are needed.

The odds are long that Tisbury will prevail in its case against the state commissioner of education. The state funding formula has been in existence for more than thirteen years and already has been well tested and upheld in the courts; indeed, existing case law shows that the courts have consistently given deference to the education commissioner’s broad powers of discretion.

Worse, the town is not suing just the state board of education but also the regional high school committee and the town of Oak Bluffs. Voters in that town triggered the debate over the school funding formula last year when they decided to opt for the state formula, saving Oak Bluffs nearly four hundred thousand dollars and forcing Tisbury to pay about two hundred thousand dollars more for its share of the regional high school budget.

It is a well-settled fact that regional accord is harder to find on Vineyard than farm-fresh produce in January. But the regional high school agreement, forged in the nineteen fifties, stands out as the exception to the rule.

Selectmen and school leaders in the six Island towns had agreed to come to the table this year to discuss the problem and try to find some consensus. The towns have the power to override the state formula — but only if they can reach unanimous agreement.

And there is the rub.

In that light it is especially sad to see the town of Tisbury take up legal swords against its own high school and its neighboring town. “We may be tilting at windmills,” Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel admitted.

He is right. And with this lawsuit Tisbury has thrown a grenade into what should — and could — be a thoughtful, reasonable discussion among the towns about how to divide their payments for the regional high school, with give and take on all sides.

And that is too bad.