School committee ‘mangling’ town meeting fallout


To the Editor:

The regional high school committee seems a bit on edge. This week they held two, long, secret meetings (executive sessions). The sole cause of the committee’s disquiet is its illogical lawsuit against the taxpayers of Oak Bluffs regarding the athletic field, and the flak it’s fueled. (Which has created the surreal fact that Oak Bluffs’ taxpayers have the joy of paying taxes to sue themselves!)

But thanks to the brave citizens of West Tisbury and Chilmark (who voted against the 2024 high school budget in protest of this silly suit) and Tisbury, the 2024 high school budget is on the brink of rejection. If it were rejected, it would be a nightmare for the high school, students, teachers, parents, and everyone else who believes it is our duty as responsible adults to educate our children. All that is needed to annihilate the 2024 high school budget is for the town of Aquinnah to do the same as West Tisbury and Chilmark.

So what was the purpose of these secret meetings, and what did the high school committee accomplish?

The main purpose was pure public relations. The committee is desperate, and therefore not necessarily sincere, to convince the voters in Aquinnah that the committee has heard (Did they?), and is responding (Are they?), to the protest votes taken by West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Tisbury. In other words, no need for Aquinnah to vote against the 2024 budget; the committee is reformed (Is it?).

At the end of their first secret meeting, the tight-lipped committee released a statement that said they had “directed their attorney to engage in discussions … for the purpose of resolving the pending [athletic field] litigation.” Then the committee went mute.

Which means what? What’s on the negotiating table? Are they offering to only have artificial turf on half of the field?! Or maybe the committee has offered to stop the suit if the O.B. planning board relents?! Who knows? It’s secret.

When a concerned citizen asked if the legal budget for suing Oak Bluffs was “unfettered,” rather than get an answer, the public got a lecture from the committee on the definition of “unfettered” — which is bad — versus “uncapped” — which is OK! By the way, unfettered means: without restraint, whereas uncapped means: with no limit. I guess you could find a difference between the two words if you had an electron microscope handy.

The second secret meeting was held on Friday, May 5. Again the committee released a terse statement regarding settling the suit, but added that the budget for the suit would be capped by the 2023 legal budget amount. An astute citizen asked if that meant funds from 2024 could not be used. The committee responded by reading the statement again. The citizen reiterated the question. The trenchant statement was read again! Finally, Mr. Skip Manter proposed that no funds from 2024 be used for the field litigation, and the committee barely passed it, with a 5-4 vote. I guess that answered the question.

Perhaps that will mollify the voters of Aquinnah. A public relations success!?

But surely the voters of Aquinnah know that this committee could easily rescind that vote immediately after the Aquinnah town meeting.

The high school committee has badly mangled its job. When the public comes to watch, they’ve gone into hiding. With their secret meetings, they are acting like an adjunct of the CIA, and the public is their enemy. Personally, I hope that Aquinnah supports the budget. But if they don’t, I will understand why. Will the committee?

Brian Hughes

Oak Bluffs