Last week we had two divergent stories about the same group of public officials. A school committee eager to spend money on an outside attorney to appeal the Oak Bluffs planning board’s decision not to allow a synthetic turf field over at the high school, and a school committee unwilling to increase the cost-of-living allowance for teachers who have just gone through the most difficult two-year stretch of their careers.
Something is wrong with this picture.
The MVRHS school committee voted 5-4 to make a deal with Mark Bobrowski to appeal the planning board’s decision. There’s little doubt that Bobrowski will invoke the Dover Amendment in his appeal of the decision. Dover gives educational facilities the ability to bypass some zoning restrictions in the name of education.
In a brief interview with The Times, Bobrowski said Dover would likely be part of his strategy. He has used it against the town of Marion in a dispute over artificial turf at Tabor Academy. He has also represented the New England Futbol Club in its efforts to get an artificial surface approved in Northborough. In both cases, he used Dover.
Much has changed since those fields were approved. Every day, it seems, we learn more about the harmful effects of PFAS. And, every day, it seems, we learn that we have a lot more to learn about PFAS and how it gets into our groundwater.
James Butterick, a member of the Oak Bluffs board of health, is right when he said this in support of a moratorium on synthetic turf fields: “The evidence has grown as we’ve studied this over the past six or nine months, the evidence continues to grow that PFAS is a problem. Sitting on a sole-source aquifer, we have to come down on the side of caution with this.”
Still, the committee is going forward, even in the face of a possible moratorium, and is willing to spend $375 per hour on Bobrowski on an appeal that’s expected to take 40 to 80 hours of his time. Do the math. That’s $30,000 at the high end of that estimate.
Meanwhile, the school committee nickel-and-dimes teachers in their contract negotiations.
If ever there was a time to give educators a boost, it’s now. Think back to the beginning of the pandemic, when school was being held via Zoom. Parents were quick to point out how much they appreciated what teachers had to go through in the classroom as they were called into action to help educate their children during the pandemic.
It’s great to say that teachers are appreciated. Now show them.
The three-year contract proposal by the Martha’s Vineyard Educators Association (MVEA) called for a 6 percent salary increase for year one, with 4 percent increases in years two and three.
We don’t find those demands to be outrageous, particularly with what the teachers did during the pandemic, but also because the cost of living on the Island is dramatically higher than anywhere else.
Martha’s Vineyard teachers do make more than the state average. According to statistics compiled by the Massachusetts Department of Education, the average teacher’s salary on the Island was $97,895, compared with the state average of $84,589.
But when you factor in the cost of living on the Island where the median house price now exceeds $1.3 million, it’s not enough. The cost-of-living index for the Island is nearly 150 percent, compared with 100 percent across the country, with housing and food being the biggest contributors to the gap.
As we’ve demonstrated over the past 18 months advocating for a Martha’s Vineyard housing bank, the need for affordable housing on the Island isn’t just for low-income individuals and families. We have highly educated professionals on the Island who are having difficulty trying to make ends meet.
The school committee’s “best and final offer” was significantly less than the union’s proposal — a 2 percent increase for the first year, followed by a 3 percent increase for years two and three.
The eagerness of some school committee members to pay a lawyer to wage a legal battle versus the unwillingness to meet the requests of Island teachers is a bad look.