There has been a spotlight on the MVRHS School Committee the past several months. Many voters have shared their frustration over the committee’s ongoing lawsuit in support of a synthetic turf field; some have shown their support.
A sideshow to the issue is an argument over the general makeup of the committee itself, which is worthy of review.
The MVRHS committee is quasi-appointed, quasi-elected. It is made up of members of the four Island school district committees: Edgartown, Tisbury, Oak Bluffs, and Up-Island school committees. Members of the four committees — who are all elected — appoint their representatives from their own committee to the MVRHS committee.
The most recent debate over membership comes down to whether a member of the MVRHS committee should remain on the committee after they’ve been voted off one of those four school district committees during an election.
Case in point: In April, Kimberly Kirk lost her re-election bid to the Edgartown School Committee. Voters elected Kelly Scott, so Kirk is no longer a member of the Edgartown committee.
But instead of losing her appointment to the MVRHS committee, Kirk still has the rest of May to serve on the MVRHS committee, even though she’s no longer an Edgartown School Committee member.
According to the school superintendent and the school’s legal interpretation, she is in the right to serve the remainder of her one-year term.
Some voters and elected officials have pointed out that there is some ambiguity in the rules surrounding the MVRHS committee membership. They say that an MVRHS member can be replaced when an appointee is “lawfully removed,” which they argue could be interpreted as an election; or they at least argue that there is a lack of clarity over that interpretation.
Even if the writing of the membership language was crystal-clear, there is precedent for a MVRHS committee member to effectively step aside after an election loss. When a select board member loses an election, their term is over. They don’t continue to serve on key committees or boards as a representative to the town. The voters have spoken.
There is likely politics at play with the calls for Kirk to step aside, with the synthetic turf debate having gotten so contentious. Kirk has favored the turf field during her term.
We think that even if an anti-turf advocate had lost their election, there likely would have been similar calls from the other side.
But even beyond this issue of the day, the membership of the MVRHS committee in general could use a review.
The past few months have shown that voters are limited in how they can keep the committee in check.
Some voters in Chilmark and West Tisbury argued that holding the school’s budget hostage at town meeting is one of the only tools available to keep the MVRHS committee accountable. That system leads to dysfunction.
So for a committee that likely has more power in Vineyard politics than individual school committees, the MVRHS membership should consider a better form of checks and balances. Maybe members should be elected to the committee by the public; consider a membership with some members directly voted in, and some appointed by the four smaller school committees; or maybe some members are elected to represent the entire Island, and not just their respective school committees.
In any case, there is room for review, with the most recent showdown at town meetings as a salient — and unfortunate — example.