The Up-Island Regional School District is considering changes to its enrollment policy that would limit or suspend the admission of students from down-Island towns.

The regional school committee voted unanimously Monday to continue in the Vineyard’s school choice program, but not accept any out-of-district students until it has clarified its policy at a future meeting.

Committee members had concerns about the costs of having out-of-district students in the schools, as well as the program’s effects with the district under a space crunch.

“I think we take in more school choice kids than all the other districts added together,” up-Island school committee member Skipper Manter said at Monday night’s committee meeting in West Tisbury.

“We must have a wonderful place here…but there’s a cost to that,” Mr. Manter said, adding that the district receives $5,000 per school choice student but spends tens of thousands more to educate them.

“That money comes out of the up-Island taxpayers,” he said.

Committee member Robert Lionette said he, too, is worried about the cost of educating out-of-district children, in light of upcoming heavy expenses to replace ventilation and electrical equipment at the Chilmark and West Tisbury schools.

“[T]ens of millions of dollars … That burden falls on the district,” Mr. Lionette said.

Committee member Roxanne Ackerman said she didn’t support a policy change because the two school principals have final say over school choice acceptances.

“They’ve managed beautifully,” Ms. Ackerman said. “There haven’t been any slip-ups for our concern.”

West Tisbury principal Donna Lowell-Bettencourt said she’s already very selective about accepting students from other districts, even if they have a parent on the school’s staff.

In 2019, the school received 36 applications and only accepted nine students.

All nine are still attending the school, Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt said, but she has been accepting fewer students every year since 2019 due to classroom space concerns.

“We’ve been very limited over the past few years,” she said, adding that she supports the Vineyard’s school choice program.

“I think school choice for the whole Island is very beneficial,” Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt said.

Monday’s discussion arose after Island superintendent of schools Dr. Richard (Richie) Smith asked the district to continue in the school choice program, which begins advertisements April 1 with an application deadline of June 15.

“This Island affords this very unique opportunity,” Mr. Smith said, noting that most Vineyard schools are within a 10 to 15 minute drive of one another.

“We have been for many years part of the school choice program allowing parents and children .. to seek the school that fits best with their learning,” he said.

Participating in the program does not require a school to accept students from other towns, Mr. Smith added.
“The practice within the policy can be that there are limitations … being sensitive to what’s happening with building projects and so forth,” Mr. Smith said.

Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt urged the committee to act on its policy before June 15, the school choice application deadline.