An unusual proposal to cover $131 million in school expenses through a tax on Steamship Authority tickets from Woods Hole to the Vineyard has been making the rounds before Island selectmen.

Chuck Hodgkinson, a member of the West Tisbury finance committee and the conservation agent and zoning board assistant in Chilmark, has visited the selectmen in four towns to float the proposal, which he said could in theory pay for a major high school renovation and satisfy the Island school system’s obligations for other post-employment benefits (OPEB).

Renovations at the high school are badly needed but still in the preliminary discussion phase. OPEB liability has been a significant concern for towns and other government entities around the country.

Early estimates put the cost of the high school project at $55 to $94 million. The school has applied to join the Massachusetts School Building Authority grant program, which opens a path to substantial state reimbursement, but so far has not been accepted.

In addition, the Island’s five elementary schools and high school are on the string for about $81 million in OPEB liabilities.

Mr. Hodgkinson envisions a public-private partnership with the Steamship Authority that would allow for the collection of a toll that could bring in more than $131 million over 25 years. The toll would apply to all vehicle and passenger trips from Woods Hole to the Vineyard, with the toll for vehicles starting at $5 and gradually decreasing to zero over 18 years. The passenger toll would start at $1.50 and drop to $1.25 for the final four years.

Mr. Hodgkinson said the goal for now is to get all six towns on board and then meet with the Cape and Islands legislative delegation. The proposal would depend on an act of state legislature — a major obstacle.

“Its just an idea,” he told the Oak Bluffs selectmen on Tuesday. “If we did move forward with the town’s support, and we did get to the state house and we were able to crack the code on it, I’m sure it would change dramatically.”

“The odds are very low that we can get there,” he added. “I’m willing to give it a shot because you’ve got to think outside the box on these things.”

But so far, only the Chilmark selectmen have agreed to endorse the plan by sending a letter to superintendent of schools Matt D’Andrea, who came before the selectmen two weeks ago.

Other reactions have been mixed but largely skeptical.

The Edgartown selectmen this week neither supported nor discouraged the idea, but noted the efforts by Mr. Hodkinson and assistant superintendent Richie Smith, who also spoke about the plan.

“What’s important is you guys have a concept,” chairman Art Smadbeck said.“There’s nothing jumping out to discourage you.”

Selectman Michael Donaroma also stopped short of an endorsement. “I think you’re not asking for a big commitment,” he said. “I see no immediate need to put the brakes on.”

The West Tisbury selectmen had stronger reservations.

“I don’t care what you call it, it’s a tax,” said selectman Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter 3rd at a meeting last week. He contrasted the proposal with traditional real estate taxes that tend to spread the burden more equitably, with those who have more expensive homes paying a higher rate. “Doing it this way, if I own a $10 million home or $20 million home and never go on the Steamship Authority, I’m not paying anything toward the high school,” Mr. Manter said.

Selectman Kent Healy wondered why non-community members should be asked to pay for the education of Island children. And selectman Cynthia Mitchell said she doubted the idea had the selling power to make it through the state legislature. 

The discussion came up again on Wednesday this week, with the board deciding not to vote on the proposal, but encouraging Mr. Hodgkinson to explore other options.

“I think it needs a little more formality and structure and input, and they need to cast their net a little wider than just the Steamship Authority as the source of funding,” Ms. Mitchell said. “So I am not in a position at all to agree to support that particular proposal.”

The Oak Bluffs selectmen said they appreciated the hard work, but they too held the proposal at arm’s length. “It’s very aggressive,” Michael Santoro said. “I don’t know how it would work.” He recalled the town business community at one time inquiring about raising an existing embarkation fee by 50 cents and being fiercely opposed by the Steamship Authority. “They said absolutely not and if you take it to the legislature, we will fight it tooth and nail,” he said.

Selectman Gail Barmakian shared those concerns and pointed out that the school district would likely receive significant funding from the state for any renovation. “It’s not that I don’t support a cause to find a creative way, but why put energy in something that could be a loser?” she said. “By doing that, it may be taking focus or energy [away from] another more feasible solution.”

Other selectmen had reservations as well.

“We couldn’t get a shorter end of the stick as far as Oak Bluffs is concerned,” selectman Brian Packish said, noting longstanding concerns that his town pays more than its fair share for regional services. He said most of the money collected would come from Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven. But he added: “We have to continue the conversation and come up with solutions.”

Chloe Reichel, Heather Hamacek and Steve Myrick contributed reporting.