A long overdue renovation of the regional high school got kicked further down the road this week by Oak Bluffs voters, who refused to fund a share of a study to figure out what should be done to a facility that is fast becoming a hazard to students and faculty.

The proposed $1.4 million project, to conduct a feasibility study and schematic design work, needed approval from all six Island towns to move forward. Voters in Edgartown, West Tisbury and Tisbury spent some time debating the issue, but the funding article in those three towns passed easily on town meeting floor. It remains on the warrants for the upcoming Chilmark and Aquinnah town meetings.

In their resounding defeat of the article, Oak Bluffs voters seemed to be protesting their assessed share of the costs, which are based on enrollment numbers — and there is some merit to the point. Other Island towns accrue benefits from the high school, including use of the Performing Arts Center, that go beyond the number of students from each town that attend.

The problem is that the formula is set by a regional school agreement that would need approval from the state legislature to amend.

Kris O'Brien was one of two members of the Oak Bluffs school committee who urged voters to send a message, arguing that their repeated efforts to protest the funding formula had fallen on deaf ears.

"A no vote tonight would give me leverage sitting in that meeting,"  she said.

If it was a harsh way to get attention, at least it was done at the beginning of what will be a long process ending in a much larger pill for voters to swallow. The whole point of the feasibility study is to explore options for upgrading the high school, which suffers from deferred maintenance and hasn't had a major renovation for decades. The final cost is sure to be high.

School costs account for some 43 per cent of municipal budgets, and certainly deserve scrutiny by voters who are concerned about ever-rising tax bills. But the axe seems to fall disproportionately on school buildings, which are as necessary in their way to the education of our youth as teachers and supplies.

There was some good news in Tisbury with the unanimous approval of a $400,000 study to start fresh on a renovation plan for the Tisbury School. A proposal last year for a new $47 million school supported in part by state funds was defeated at the ballot amid friction between the selectmen and the school committee over support for the plan.

This year, the selectmen and the school committee presented a united front on the new school study proposal, perhaps signaling a lesson has been learned about ironing out disagreements early in the process.

School administrators are hopeful that they can find other sources of funding for the high school study, which could mitigate the costs to individual towns and perhaps persuade Oak Bluffs to agree to participate.

But if concerns about the funding formula derailed a $1.4 million feasibility study, it is not hard to imagine how Oak Bluffs voters will react to a renovation plan, sure to run into the tens of millions of dollars. Taking a fresh look at the funding formula will be a long and arduous process, but perhaps it is time to start.