Setback on high school track

The MVRHS school committee met to discuss the current state of the track.

The MVRHS school committee voted Thursday to speed up track repairs. _ Stacey Rupolo

Parents and students expressed displeasure with the lack of progress on repairing the track at the MVRHS school committee meeting Monday. The funding for the track has been delayed while school officials seek legislative permission to sign a guarantee that the schools will only use grass fields.

The track was scheduled to be complete by the beginning of the 2019 track and field season. Community members insisted that school officials work harder to renovate the track field to make ready for the 2018 track season.

“I know you have been working on this a long time, but you have lost your Tom Brady laser focus on the track, and I’m here to help you find your way back to the shore,” said John Packer, the husband of school committee member Janet Packer and the parent of a track athlete, who called for a request for public comment on the track.

At the moment, the track has been deemed not safe for students in the high school and elementary schools, Matt D’Andrea, school superintendent, said.

Due to the quality of the track, track and field athletes had no home meets last season. “These guys travel twice as much as any team, they miss twice as much school, have twice as many classes to make up, and have twice the amount of late-night homework,” said Mr. Packer.

Typically, when traveling off-Island for games, students will leave the school around noon to board the boat. Students will arrive back home around 8 pm, leaving little time for homework. With this schedule, athletes miss at least the last period of school. “Track is unlike other sports. Kids are on the field for maybe three minutes, and then they are done. It’s cost-prohibitive to ask parents to go off-Island to see their kids play,” said Ms. Packer.

MVRHS has been seeking a solution to renovating the track, along with the surrounding athletic fields, for the past two years, school committee chairwoman Kris O’Brien said. The track, along with the other fields, are set to be funded by a donor group known as the Field Fund. This group was founded by Mollie Doyle, Dardanella Slavin, and Rebekah Thomson in an effort to encourage the school to use natural grass instead of synthetic turf. This week, the Field Fund announced it has been awarded an $8,500 grant from the Toxic Use Reduction Institute, run by UMass Lowell, to fund an aerator for the school department’s grass fields.

However, the Field Fund has required that the school sign a legally binding guarantee that only grass will be used in the renovations. The school committee is not empowered to give this signature without a legislative signoff, causing the delay to the repairs to the track and fields. “Our goal has been to build a state-of-the-art, beautiful track and field for our students, and we still want to make that happen,” Mr. D’Andrea said.

With this delay, the track will not be fixed in time for this season without action from the school. School officials have begun to discuss alternative options for funding the track. “We’re all really committed to making this work, and I think the constant debate we always have is balancing short-term and long-term benefits. I’m not saying it is going to go either way, but I want everyone to be aware. Are we pulling $300,000 away from money we could use in lights and bleachers?” said Sara Dingledy, principal of MVRHS.

These discussions will take time, and repairing the track before the start of the 2018 track and field season will be no small feat, said school committee officials. “We need to be able to sit at the table and have very respectful and intelligent conversations … This is an issue where everyone wants to get behind and everyone wants to support the kids. To the extent that we can get rid of the anger and divisiveness, I think, at the end of the day, we all want to be at the same place,” said Amy Houghton, member of the MVRHS school committee.

Parents and students have remained adamant that the track be fixed this year. “It has nothing to do with money, it has to do with experiences and memories. If it is $300,000, that’s really nothing compared to what the kids would lose … this is a chance for us as parents, adults, and teachers, to say we value you, your experience here, and we’ll get it done,” said Ann Bresnick, parent of children at MVRHS.

At this time, a facilities subcommittee meeting has been set for Oct. 18 at 5 pm, where ideas on how to fix the track will be presented. After the solutions have been vetted, another meeting will be held on Oct. 26 to discuss the ideas further and come to a decision. Both of these meetings are public, and will be held in the library conference room at the high school. “We spend money on a lot of things, but if these guys miss a season, I don’t get it back, and these guys don’t get it back. So no, 2019 is not the best scenario. 2018 is the only scenario,” said Mr. Packer.

In other business, the high school has expanded its special education program, adding a co-teacher initiative, in which a special education and regular teacher teach alongside each other so support can be properly given to everyone in the class. Additionally, an agreement has been reached by MVRHS and the bus drivers for the schools. Drivers who work over 20 hours on a regular basis will now be eligible for health insurance. In the past, very few drivers have taken health insurance.