School committee pursuing settlement talks with Oak Bluffs

Unlimited spending for field litigation also axed. 

The Martha's Vineyard Regional High School Committee plans to enter into settlement talks with the Oak Bluffs Planning Board. — Lucas Thors

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional School Committee announced they will be entering into settlement talks with the Oak Bluffs Planning Board regarding the athletic field litigation. 

“The committee has resolved and directed the school’s attorney to engage in settlement discussions with the attorney of the the Town of Oak Bluffs, with the Oak Bluffs Planning Board, for the purposes of resolving the pending appeal,” Committee member Kris O’Brien read a statement after the committee returned from an executive session Friday.

Martha’s Vineyard Regional School District vs. the town of Oak Bluffs Planning Board is an ongoing case in Massachusetts Land Court filed by school officials over the planning board’s rejection of a proposed synthetic turf field. 

The board cited concerns over per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Earlier this month, the school committee announced hopes to resolve the legal battle with the planning board although there was not a lot of information 

On Friday,  May 5, the committee voted 8-1 to enter into the executive session to discuss the lawsuit alongside MVRHS principal Sara Dingledy, Martha’s Vineyard superintendent Richie Smith, the school’s attorney Brian Winner and landscape architect Chris Huntress, whose firm was hired as the track and field designer in 2019. Manter was the sole dissenting vote, who wanted to keep the discussion public. The committee returned to the public session after over an hour of discussion. 

After the executive session, the committee also passed a couple of decisions.

After rescinding an April vote that allowed unlimited funding for the field litigation, the committee unanimously voted to restrict spending related to this lawsuit to the fiscal year 2023 budget. According to MVRHS finance director Suzanne Cioffi, there is around $25,000 remaining in the fiscal year 2023 legal line. Committee member Michael Watts said there will also be regular check-ins on this spending. 

Additionally, no money from the fiscal year 2024 budget will be used for the field litigation. Although not all committee members agreed with this idea, the motion passed 5-4. 

Still, the approval of this budget remains to be seen. Four out of the six Island towns still need to approve the budget, but voters from West Tisbury and Chilmark zeroed out their share of the high school budget in protest against the field lawsuit. Aquinnah, whose annual town meeting is this upcoming Tuesday and the last of this season, will be making the decisive vote on whether the high school budget gets approved. 

The committee also voted Watts as the liaison with their attorney. Watts abstained from this vote. 

The committee will also have executive sessions twice a week, followed by public sessions, to discuss the litigation until the end of the fiscal year 2023. These hybrid meetings will be advertised and the chair, Robert Lionette, will be able to cancel them if it is deemed there isn’t “anything meaningful” to discuss that evening. Fiscal year 2023 ends on June 30. 

These meetings will be held on top of those held by other school committees. 

The school committee is scheduled to meet again on Monday at 6 pm in executive session followed by a public session.


  1. Glad to see the School committee willing to pursue a settlement. Lets hope Oak Bluffs works this out

  2. There seems to be too much going on in executive session. I applaud Skip Manter for bringing up transparency. This is such a big, important decision and taxpayer money is being spent.
    Today it was said that donations are allowed, some anonymous, to fund the MVRHS fight against Oak Bluffs. I’ve asked for those donations and donors to be made public. Who’s influencing this fight that we don’t know about?
    We, island residents and taxpayers deserve transparency. It is my hope that Aquinnah will keep the pressure on MVRHS and zero fund the school budget. The school committee should drop the lawsuit, save further spending and stop delaying athletes from getting new fields.

    • Susan, your request to defund the high school serves no one except those who oppose the field. This is just another way for the opposition of the project, like yourself, to force people to do what they want. This is exactly what the Field Fund did, they forced the school to give them control over the project, and they did, and then what happened, oh yeah, they thought they got the turf squashed so they took their money and ran. Never to negotiate or offer to do the fields in grass. They just funded the anti-PFAS coalition. Where is their transparency? Has the Field Fund released the materials used at the OB school field? The field that now has higher levels of PFAS than the high school field? Transparency.

      To defund the high school budget only hurts the students, teachers, and staff. What happens when the Dover Amendment is upheld and the judge says the town can’t deny the field? Will you then support the town of OB to appeal that decision and spend even more money to get your way, because this is a two way street?

    • I am deeply disappointed that anyone is continuing to call for zero funds for the high school budget. Despite what we all feel about the dysfunction of the school committee, the turf or grass field or the Dover Amendment, the high school’s operating budget should not be held hostage. The proposed budget is very lean and the implications of this on the education of children are dire. Staff will need to be cut and a month to month plan for spending coordinated with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). I am a high school science teacher and I can assure you this will be very bad for students going into next year. In addition, the adults in charge right now are setting a horrible tone for how we can civilly disagree and work to come to solutions despite our disagreements. There is such bad blood on many sides of this issue. I hope we can now embrace that as Fr. Richard Rohr says “the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.” Let’s do better.

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