West Tisbury votes down school budget protesting turf lawsuit

Pricey library HVAC repairs; voters say no to noise restriction.


Updated April 12

West Tisbury voters made it clear they have had enough of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) field lawsuit. 

The West Tisbury Town Meeting was held on Tuesday night at West Tisbury School.

Among the 49 warrant articles, voters approved an amendment to reduce West Tisbury’s share of funding the MVRHS school budget from $3.4 million to zero. 

West Tisbury select board member Skipper Manter, who is also a member of the MVRHS School Committee, was the one who made the motion. 

His amendment was made in response to Martha’s Vineyard Regional School District vs. the Town of Oak Bluffs Planning Board, an ongoing case in Massachusetts Land Court filed by school officials after the planning board rejected a synthetic turf field. 

The school committee has spent $30,000, and Oak Bluffs has spent $14,000, in legal costs. 

Manter said it takes four out of six towns to approve the school’s budget. However, if the school budget does not pass in four towns, a special town meeting could be needed to settle the issue. But according to town counsel Isabelle Lew, the state will intervene if the school’s budgetary issues are not settled by July. In this case, Lew said, the state will set a monthly budget until the school district and towns can reach an agreement. 

Oak Bluffs and Edgartown approved the budget on Tuesday night; the remaining three towns have yet to convene. 

The Oak Bluffs finance committee also expressed frustration recently over the lawsuit, and called for its conclusion. 

Martha’s Vineyard Public School Superintendent Richie Smith urged voters in West Tisbury to approve the high school’s budget, pointing out the difficulty in attaining a small increase in the budget at just over 2 percent. He also said there is a $40,000 line for legal fees in the school budget. 

Manter responded that the reduction was regarding the lawsuit, and it wasn’t against the entire high school budget. 

Ultimately voters agreed with Manter’s sentiment. 

“This is a pretty egregious breach of their shared responsibility to create a situation in which — with no town oversight and little committee oversight even — they can spend as much as they want on a legal appeal,” West Tisbury resident Doug Ruskin said of the five school committee members who recently voted in favor of the legal spending. Ruskin added that the amendment on town meeting floor was not a threat to education. 

West Tisbury resident Neila Decker said whether the field ends up being grass or artificial, this was the only chance to say “no” to the continued legal dispute. 

Kate DeVane, former chair of the all-Island school committee, said the lawsuit process was detrimental to students. “You cannot keep ramming this down the entire Island’s throats,” DeVane said. 

“We are setting an unbelievably bad example for our children by suing ourselves,” she said. “It is the most idiotic thing I’ve ever heard of … the financial waste is ridiculous.” 

When it came time to vote, green slips shot up into the air for the amendment, approving the budget without the high school funding. 


Other West Tisbury articles

West Tisbury had other big-ticket item to consider, like repairing and possibly replacing the West Tisbury library’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system. The town was asking voters whether it could appropriate up to $1.2 million for the project, which would also include “related repairs” to the library building and grounds, like paving and interior walls. 

Ruskin asked town officials why there was such a hefty price tag for HVAC repairs. “I am baffled,” he said. 

West Tisbury town administrator Jennifer Rand said there were fittings throughout the entire system that “failed entirely.” She said it was unclear whether they were properly fitted in the first place. 

“Even if they were … fit incorrectly, the fittings themselves have failed, the company itself is no longer in existence, we’re out of warranty, and the fittings are throughout the entire facility,” Rand said. She added that the town is working with Cape Light Compact, and she’s hopeful the project will end up costing less than $1.2 million. “It is frustrating to be sure, but here we are, and we need to fix it,” Rand said.

Marc Rosenbaum, founder of Energysmiths and an engineer who has been working with the town on this issue, said the HVAC system should have used a different connector. “This is public work in Massachusetts,” he said. “You’re paying for oversight, and you’re not getting it. But it’s not a failure of the fittings, if the fittings aren’t supposed to be there.”

West Tisbury town treasurer Katherine Logue said only what is needed will be borrowed. She also said that delaying the repairs could end up increasing HVAC repair costs, pointing to the Chilmark School’s near doubling in HVAC project costs

After further discussion, voters approved moving forward with the appropriation, with some dissenting votes.

Voters also approved several other town expenditures, such as appropriating a collective $235,000 for the Vineyard Preservation Trust’s effort to replace the Grange Hall roof, appropriating $208,995 for the principal and interest on the debt relating to the Scott’s Grove affordable housing project, and $35,858 to install two public electric vehicle charging stations at the West Tisbury School. 

The town also approved spending $25,000 to hire a professional to moderate a community visioning process. The idea is to hold a forum with town residents to determine what path West Tisbury should take for its future. The last time the town underwent a visioning process was 25 years ago.

The one warrant article that was rejected by voters was a bylaw proposal that would limit “non-public, outdoor construction and landscaping activity” on Sundays and holidays. There are some exceptions to this rule, such as homeowners working without heavy equipment, or with tools that don’t make “repetitive sound alerts.” 

This was the only article on the warrant submitted as a petition. Rosenbaum filed the article with the West Tisbury Select Board in August, but officials chose not to vote on the matter. Instead, they suggested it be brought to the annual town meeting via petition. 

Most people spoke against the bylaw, saying that it was overreaching. The West Tisbury finance committee recommended against the article in a 4-1 vote for this reason, according to committee chair Greg Orcutt. 

Other concerns included how complaints could drain resources from the West Tisbury Police Department, difficulty in actually enforcing the bylaw, and how it would limit working people’s abilities to improve their property. Personnel board member Leon Brathwaite called it a “slippery slope.” 

Meanwhile, a couple of warrant articles were postponed indefinitely on the meeting floor. West Tisbury planning board member Leah Smith asked for a vote on the proposed use table, which listed what type of events were allowed to take place in each of the town’s districts, to be postponed because it was deemed not ready. The concern that the proposed zoning bylaw amendment would not be ready was also brought up during a public hearing last month

Meanwhile, Manter asked for a funding request for a space needs study at West Tisbury School to be postponed. The up-Island school committee voted last month to table the study to see if funding may be available through the Massachusetts School Building Authority. 

Tuesday’s meeting kicked off with its traditional poem reading. West Tisbury poet laureate Tain Leonard Peck was sick, so former poet laureate Spencer Thurlow filled in to read Peck’s poem titled “Barnyard Emperor.” West Tisbury also held a moment of silence for town residents who passed away over the past year.

Voters still have some more decisions to make during the annual town election. The election will be held on Thursday, April 13, at the West Tisbury Public Safety Building, from 7 am to 8 pm. There are no contested races. However, there are two ballot questions asking for the use of a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion, one for the library’s HVAC repair and the other for the high school’s feasibility study.


  1. As unfortunate as it is to deny our schools of important funding , this action by West Tisbury taxpayers is in my opinion, is the only way to encourage our appointed representative to stop this lawsuit and move forward with the sustainable reconstruction of our MVRHS playing fields . I encourage my home town of Tisbury , and taxpayers in Chilmark and Aquinnah to protest and follow this exercise in Town Meeting democracy to support your MVRHS school committee members who oppose this lawsuit.
    With no end in site to end this legal action against the defense of water protection , the denial of funds may be the only way to send the message to the majority members of the MVRHS SC to move on from this lawsuit .
    In defense of our MVRH SC , there are many things that they do well. Members of our community are deeply and earnestly involved in helping our High School be the best it can be and support our students . The synthetic turf has divided us- it time to come together work together for a positive solution that aligns with global and local actions to reduce plastics, chemicals and pollutants from our environment. We reside on the ancestral land of the Wampanoag. Consider aligning your vote to support the dwindling natural resources this Island once provided .

    • Bring on the all natural GMO grass seed, fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides and fuel for the mowing machines.

  2. By law that have to pay it but if you are looking for a symbolic gesture than why not refuse to pay the outrageous MVC funds as well.

  3. So let me get this straight: the 1st argument, we don’t like plastic, didn’t stop the anti-turf coalition that started this hypocritical debate and the Field Fund was formed. They were given the opportunity to put grass in but they took their money and ran with no effort to negotiate, they felt that it was their money they could force terms not legally possible. 2nd was the money, with private funding that didn’t work getting it denied. 3rd was recycling, well we know it will be recycled at end of use, strike 3. 4th, injuries are higher on turf, not proven. 5. Maintenance, oops, turf is cheaper to maintain. 6. Let’s force the school to pay $50k in testing of materials, well those tests came back in favor of the turf and the anti-turf people again ignored the science. 7. PFAS, well they finally got it to an ally but now it looks like that may get overturned in land court. But instead of letting a judge decide the ally wants to go to trial and spend more money. Where is the ire towards him? So the last straw, threaten the kid’s education money to get your way. Nice job WT, next, are you going to take your ball and go home?

    Baffling that you think you’re in the right after every means you’ve tried to stop this has failed, costing taxpayers tens of thousands at every turn. But now the SC uses a completely valid means, appeal, and they are in the wrong. Appeals are a regular means to insure your rights are not violated by government. The Dover Amendment was written exactly for this, to protect schools. When it is ignored, you’ve got to find out if it was legal.

    If the appeal fails, ok, put in grass that will likely fail too. But I’ll support it. Then in 5 years when the school asks for more money to replace the grass you better pay up and put your money where your mouth is.

  4. How is it that your coverage of the WT town meeting approval of a 20% salary raise for 75% of town employees wasn’t mentioned? There was a lot of discussion about and a split vote. It was sold as only a 10% increase, but a closer look shows it’s really 20%. Is that responsible governance?

  5. Thank you Patrick for pointing out that what is being proposed is to “threaten the kids education money”. Interesting how far this goes even those in SAC at the high school are making such suggestions for their town. Regardless of how you feel about this project, DEFUNDING the high school budget hurts KIDS. Perhaps if that is the goal everyone who holds positions in “support of kids” but want to take this action should step down off their committees. This is bigger than turf/grass. So regardless of which side you are on this question is playing out just as it should through our court systems as Patrick Clearly stated in above post, this has been a process. I suggest we stop using our KIDS as pawns. DEFUNDING the high school budget is doing just that.

    • Hi Tina- I resigned from my seat in SAC in December due to this current conflict as an environmental activist speaking out for the protection of our public water supply and the global campaign against unnecessary plastics.
      I enjoyed my time as part of the many volunteers who work with our school system to help build bridges with parents , create an inclusive place of learning and provide specialized wellness initiatives for our Island children who face a variety of challenges .
      I’m sorry if this commitee information was not been updated for the public . I will make sure it is.

      • Thank you for the clarification, Rebekah. I can see you are endeavoring to do what you think is right but please consider the ramifications of holding our schools hostage to make your point. Besides I wonder what the MSBA thinks about defunding MVRHS or perhaps that also doesn’t really matter.

    • Ms Bean: “DEFUNDING the high school budget hurts KIDS” is inflammatory and entirely inaccurate (see MGL link below). In fact, the same town meeting voted nearly unanimously for the feasibility study to upgrade the school. The state mandates education and will not allow localities to prevent it. Town rejection of a school budget has been done before. The School committee can revise the budget which then goes back to the towns for a vote (yes, Special Town meetings). If that fails, state law requires use of the prior years’ budget until agreement is reached. If there is no agreement by December 1st , the state effectively takes over: “In the event a budget is not adopted by December first in any year, the department shall assume operation of the district… “ https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXII/Chapter71/Section16B

      • Hi Mr. Ruskin
        I watched the town meeting and I specifically heard superintendent Dr. Richie Smith say the action West Tisbury was taking could harm programming at the high school, which I believe in turn could be harmful to students. I was also listened closely to you. You basically say, I’m paraphrasing here, have no fear WT , because if this can’t be resolve the way we want….the MVRHS will resort to last years budget. I’m sorry but with all the trimming they did this year, to my mind, it appears being regulated to last years budget, WILL mean staff layoffs and Programming cuts. I am not sure what else but for sure harmful to students . So yes, not funding the budget of MVRHS, hurts kids. If nothing else it creates an unknown stress and that’s the last thing anyone needs coming out of the Covid years.
        Have a great spring day

    • Were you at the West Tisbury town meeting? It was made clear that this move to zero-fund the high school budget would not decrease MVRHS funding in the long term. Think of it instead as an attempt to slam the brakes on the school committee’s suit against the OB planning board — which many believe is using up funds that could be better applied elsewhere. Litigation is certainly an option, but it’s also an expensive one and best employed when all other methods have failed. It does seem that in this case the school committee stopped listening, and instead it’s using litigation to get its way. That’s not a great example to set before the students, or the larger community either, is it?

  6. Thank you West Tisbury. Thank you for taking action to call attention to the 5 MVRHS committee members who are attempting to bully others into endangering our kids, our water our entire community. Cutting the money they are spending on an egregious lawsuit is the only thing they might hear!

Comments are closed.