Voters at Chilmark Town Meeting rejected the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School budget Monday night, becoming the second town this month to protest the ongoing lawsuit over a synthetic turf field proposed for the high school.
The vote in Chilmark was 114-71 in favor of turning down the school budget, mirroring the decision made by West Tisbury voters at their town meeting earlier this month.
This is in response to Martha’s Vineyard Regional School District vs. the Town of Oak Bluffs Planning Board, an ongoing case in Massachusetts Land Court, which had been filed by school officials after the planning board rejected a proposal to install a synthetic turf field, citing concerns over per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
The school committee has since spent $30,000 in legal fees, and recently voted to continue the appeal in court, without a specific cap on cost.
Robert Lionette, Chilmark’s representative to the regional high school committee, was first to make the motion on town meeting floor to amend the town’s share of the high school budget from $1.06 million to zero dollars.
“The school committee’s recent actions will allow it to drive the legal line into the red and still continue to incur additional legal costs by simply moving funds elsewhere in the budget,” he said on town meeting floor. “At no time during this process are the towns to be informed, nor do they have any other recourse.”
Other proponents of the symbolic vote shared similar sentiments.
“We’d be remiss of our duty” to the town, to be in support of the lawsuit, finance committee chair Susan Murphy said.
“We should not support a blank check,” added resident Rick Shweder.
Despite the vote, there was considerable opposition to the idea. Longtime select board member Warren Doty called denying the high school budget a “drastic proposal” and a “mistake.”
Top school officials Superintendent Richie Smith and high school Principal Sara Dingledy both urged voters to support the school’s budget, emphasizing that there could be consequences that have the potential to impact school programming operations.
Chilmark board of health member Matt Poole asked voters not to “take a flamethrower to the high school budget … Chilmark is better than that.”
The Chilmark finance and advisory committee also voted last week to recommend rejecting the high school budget at town meeting floor, citing a concern that the school committee had not set a cap for how much money they would spend on the lawsuit. That decision passed last week in a 5-1 vote, with finance committee member Don Leopold as the sole opposer.
At Monday’s town meeting, Leopold said he “doesn’t disagree with the idea of sending a message to the school committee,” but he’s concerned that voting against the school’s operating budget “puts the school, and our kids, and our teachers, parents, and administrators in the middle of a fight that they don’t have anything to do with.”
“I think that’s a big mistake on our part,” he said.
The MVRHS School Committee was scheduled to meet for executive session Monday afternoon, prior to the Chilmark Town Meeting, but chair Robert Lionette decided to cancel the meeting.
Meanwhile, voters approved the rest of the $13.5 million budget, along with the 27 warrant articles, with few amendments, and only one other exception.
A citizen’s petition proposing that Chilmark restaurants be allowed to sell liquor was quickly nixed when Jenna Petersiel, owner of Chilmark Tavern, and one of the initiators of the proposal, announced her intention to postpone the article ‘indefinitely.”