West Tisbury residents at town meeting last week voted to reject the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s proposed budget.
The vote — which was overwhelming — was in protest of the MVRHS School Committee’s lawsuit fighting the rejection of a turf field at the high school.
The town sends a strong message to the school committee that residents are tired of the lawsuit, and it’s one we think that both sides of the turf debate should heed: The Oak Bluffs planning board and the school committee need to come together and settle this issue before it gets costlier and uglier.
For now, the West Tisbury vote is largely symbolic. Just four of six towns on the Island must approve the high school budget before it starts paying the bills in the next fiscal year. Oak Bluffs and Edgartown — meeting the same night as West Tisbury — already said yes. And Aquinnah, Chilmark, and Tisbury will meet in the coming weeks.
If the budget is rejected, the schools would have to come back with a new proposal prior to July 1, before the state would step in to approve spending on a month-to-month basis.
So, symbolic for now, but potentially very consequential. Calling a special town meeting in six towns has its problems, and it’s even more challenging to do so in three months. It was hard enough for Edgartown to meet a quorum during its annual town meeting, never mind a special meeting for one item.
Still, the budget vote is really the only authoritative move West Tisbury could have taken to tell the school committee they’ve had enough. The town’s only member on the committee is Skip Manter, who started the motion on the town meeting floor to reject the school budget. That’s among eight other committee members.
West Tisbury isn’t the only town frustrated. Days before the town meeting vote, the Oak Bluffs finance committee almost voted to recommend the school committee and planning board “cease and desist” with the legal costs, and to encourage an out-of-court resolution. We understand that Oak Bluffs has spent about $14,000 defending the planning board’s decision, while the high school committee has spent about $30,000.
One argument raised by a school committee member at that meeting was about legal precedent. MVRHS committee member Michael Watts emphasized that the lawsuit is less about the material of the proposed athletic field, and more about the Dover Amendment — legislation that allows properties with an educational component to bypass certain zoning bylaws. As if taxpayer dollars in Oak Bluffs and across the Vineyard should be used to debate a legal precedent. That’s outrageous.
There are merits to both slides of this debate. PFAS associated with the turf field could be problematic, dangerous even. The federal government seems to believe that these forever chemicals, at least in drinking water, are more and more dangerous after each study they perform. And those are the chemicals they choose to study. To the arguments that there is already PFAS in the high school soils, so what does a little more matter — that’s like saying there’s already pollution in Cape Cod Bay, what’s the harm in allowing Pilgrim to dump more polluted water into the bay?
On the other side, there are serious problems with the high school fields. We’ve heard reports from older athletes who say they are lucky to escape a season without a serious injury because of the poor quality of the field. Bad fields are certainly not a morale boost for students.
But this debate is no longer about the dangers of PFAS or the ability for athletes to compete safely. It’s about sides. Similar to Republican and Democrat, or Red Sox and Yankees. And sadly, it’s nearly impossible to change minds at this point.
Progress, an improved playing field, even students are on the sidelines.
But a settlement at this point could allow the sides to save face. Maybe it’s a new grass field that would be changed over to synthetic if it doesn’t meet expectations after five years; maybe it’s research into a field that doesn’t have plastic or PFAS; maybe it’s funding a high school program for building stadium-quality natural turf fields; maybe we fund the field maintenance department better.
There are options. But a committee overzealous with proving the merits of the Dover Amendment and a planning board charged with keeping the fields PFAS-free, those combined could mean rounds of litigation and a lot more than $45,000. Never mind the energy focused on a field rather than educating future generations.
Right now, the ball is in the school committee’s court. It’s not looking good with the All-Island School Committee failing to meet a quorum a day after the West Tisbury vote. And Superintendent Richie Smith is understandably upset at school committee members for missing the meeting, and also — as he says — for being blindsided by the West Tisbury vote.
He’s calling for unity, and we couldn’t agree more. The best way to move forward is to meet outside the courts, get down to business, and come up with a solution.
One last word as possible foreshadowing: It’s impossible to know the minds of every voter in Edgartown, but it’s hard to overlook that a member of the MVRHS committee — who voted in favor of extending the turf lawsuit earlier this month — was just voted off the Edgartown School Committee.
It seems like combining mounting scientific evidence, the vote to remove Ms. Kirk and the WT town meeting vote to defund the school budget the MVRHS Committee should withdraw their lawsuit.
I just read your editorial “Settle before it gets Worse”, and have a few questions.
1. Why didn’t Mr Manter post the discussion about the lawsuit in the meetings agenda. Is it possible that if the West Tisbury residents who support the project knew about the vote the final discission might have been different.
Please remember , a few years ago, West Tisbury held a special town meeting asking about the expenditure of E & D funds by the MVRHS school board on the project and approved the use of the funds.
2. I noticed you mentioned a piece of evidence I sent to one of your reporters, Ms Abigail Rosen, that testing reported by Weston & Sampson on 10/28/22 showed that the current soil has more PFAS than found in all of the proposed project materials. Your comment was adding PFAS in the track materials compounds the problem. What bothers me is you ignored the second testing report I sent to Ms. Rosen dated 2/1/26, attached below.
Based on our review and the current regulatory standards for PFAS in Massachusetts, there are no significant risks associated with the discharge of PFAS from the synthetic turf field into groundwater.
3. My final issue is your conclusion that Ms. Kirk’s loss in the Edgartown School Committee election last week was based on her support for the Turf Field.
Did you do any exit polling or just decide this fit your editorial position.
Being seventy -three years old, I remember when facts mattered to reporters, it has been difficult to see this deteriorate in the recent years. It was a truly wonderful moment when I read an article in the Vineyard Gazette this week written, by Ethan Genter, that was impartial and fact based. I am attaching the web address below hoping it may be useful for you and your reporters as a teaching moment.
Bravo Ms Donahue!
And editor – your presentation of this issue is so obviously slanted it’s clear which “side” you are on. Picking and choosing which science to mention and which to ignore is not helpful. Neither is your analogy about throwing more trash in the ocean – this is a silly and flip way to characterize this issue, but it’s to be expected from the “side” you are on.
My son was 10 years old when this project began gathering steam and support from thousands of island parents, athletes and organizations, he will be graduating college soon so on one point you are correct – it’s time to stop the delays and get this project done.
Oh, and in case you missed it the MARTHAS VINEYARD COMMISSION reviewed this project extensively – including its possible environmental impact and approved it! There is only one reason for this wasteful legal battle and that is the OB Planning Board Chairman and his crusade for “your side.”
Put grass in first and if it fails then turf goes in? That, and would have been even better 8 years ago, is a very well thought out and amicable solution. I have tried to have an even keeled view on this topic as we had children that were going to be impacted by the decision at the time it came up.
Now, our children have moved on from the school and the argument still continues. I truly feel sad when such a tight knit, cohesive, giving and involved community cannot come to a consensus on something so impactful to our kids evolution. On both sides, to be clear.
How many generations of us have to go through the system before something changes?
Thanks Brian. The Field Fund was given that exact opportunity you are referring to 6 or so years ago, to put in grass fields. Their proposal got a proposal from MV@Play denied by the school committee, a charge led by the WT and Chimark school committeeand the school committee, the same committee who is now under fire, gave the project to them to put in grass fields, and they did nothing. They did however, put unreasonable conditions on their “donation”, conditions that they actually could have not had put in place, conditions that the school, by law, couldn’t agree to as a municipal facility. The wanted the school to guarantee grass fields for a 10 year period. What puzzled me was, if they felt the grass fields could hold up, and they could maintain them to hold up against the wear and tear of the needs of high school athletes, why did they need that condition? My feeling was, that they knew that the likelihood of the grass holding up was not guaranteed so they wanted an out that would hold the school responsible when the grass failed, as all of the research and testimony as said it will. So the school was willing, but when the Field Fund pulled out, the school then went with what the experts were telling them was the best field for what their needs were. This was long before PFAS was even a thing, so it has never really been about PFAS, PFAS is just another excuse, this is the proof, it has been the anti-plastic coalition who has been leading the fight against the school using a turf field. Period.
While I’m not qualified to comment on the science involved, and moreover have no children who would be affected one way or the other by this issue, as a bystander I remain curious as to why the affects of artificial turf on the athletes actually playing on it are not more front and center in any discussion of what’s best for our high school athletes. Please note the following article, in which a great number of professional football players are strongly urging that existing turf fields be converted to grass because of the injury toll: https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/36243906/nflpa-new-injury-data-shows-grass-significantly-safer-turf
Certainly there are likely two sides to this aspect of the situation, and different studies supporting both, but when the professionals whose livelihood depends on playing on the safest surface possible weigh in so strongly about the safety of grass vs. turf, wouldn’t this question be all the more critical for teenagers whose bodies are not as fit, or as developed, as a pro athlete’s?
Just sayin’, as they say…
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