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.