Chilmark voters pass high school budget

Marijuana delivery also received the greenlight..

Chilmark voters assembled at the town's community center Monday night for its special town meeting. —Abigail Rosen

Residents at the Chilmark Special Town Meeting overwhelmingly voted in support of the proposed Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School budget on Monday, cementing the fiscal year 2024 budget after a contentious town meeting season on the Island.

MVRHS school committee chair and Chilmark resident Robert Lionette urged voters to support the budget Monday night, after encouraging a negative vote when town meeting convened in April.

Lionette said that the school committee had taken measures to make sure that none of the funding in the FY24 budget would go to the lawsuit against the town of Oak Bluffs and the Oak Bluffs planning board for rejecting a synthetic turf field.

So far, including legal fees for its land court appeals, the school committee has spent upwards of $500,000 on field-related initiatives. This involves funding a project design for the field and its proposed accompanying track, along with consultants brought in when the project was under review by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission nearly two years ago. 

The budget process requires voter approval in four of six Island towns to move forward. Aquinnah, West Tisbury, and Chilmark had rejected the budget at town meetings earlier this year, in protest of the committee’s ongoing litigation with Oak Bluffs.

The school committee — after facing rejections at three town meetings — voted to cap spending on the field lawsuit in May. This led to Lionette stating he was now “comfortable” with the proposed budget. 

On the Chilmark Town Meeting floor Monday, longtime former select board member Warren Doty, who had been an advocate of passing the warrant article in April, called it a “huge mistake” to have turned down the high school budget at the previous town meeting.

“Put the school administration to ease so they can get on with a good program,” Doty urged voters. 

The $993,112 budget — the school district’s FY24 assessment for the town of Chilmark — passed overwhelmingly, with a scattering of nays.

So did two field-related citizens’ petitions. 

One called for a nonbinding agreement that asks that the school committee “commit to an all-grass campus with no plastic fields.”

A handful of voters spoke on why the town ought to push against plastic athletic fields, and instead advocate for all grass fields.

Petitioner Sheila Muldaur cited the risks that artificial turf fields containing PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) pose; specifically potential effects on human health and the environment. 

“We’re risking the possibility of contaminating our water when we know how hard it is to mitigate,” she said to her fellow voters. “PFAS chemicals are called forever chemicals for a reason — they don’t break down,” she said. 

“Scientists are discovering more and more ill health effects daily in people. My question is, Why, with all this new information coming out, are we considering putting a plastic field on our Island?”

“Over time, [PFAS] will still leach into the land,” Muldaur said. “There’s no controlling how the leach particles travel. We don’t know how it will affect our water over time. Do we really want to find out?” 

“Do we want our children, our grandchildren, and even ourselves to have to add this to the list of things we need to avoid — drinking our own water?” she added. “No, we don’t.” 

The other citizens’ petition asked that the high school not accept any anonymous donations over $5,000 “for legal action, experts, project design and permitting related to any and all plastic fields” on the MVRHS campus.

Resident Mollie Doyle shared her concerns about accepting anonymous donations on the town meeting floor. 

Although “so much good comes out of our community in the form of unnamed generosity,” she said, “I’m concerned about anonymous donors driving our educational priorities and decisions, especially when they relate to our environment and water.”

“We cannot forget that there is a fast-growing, multibillion-dollar plastic industry behind this project,” Doyle continued. “I honestly think that’s why we are still here talking about this.”

If a turf field is approved on the Vineyard, it would be “a feather in the cap” of the turf industry, she said. Furthermore, “we deserve to know who the high-dollar donors behind the effort to sue Oak Bluffs and to get a plastic field permitted here are, and what their interests might be.” 

Voters approved the article, as amended on town meeting floor by resident Jake Davis, who recommended removing the word “plastic” from the item’s language. 

Davis said the purpose of the proposed amendment was to increase transparency, and prevent high-dollar, unknown donors from dictating the school’s future.

Voters passed all 10 special town meeting articles on the warrant. That included approval of $225,000 for a new ambulance, and $40,000 toward a new Chilmark building inspector position.

A citizens’ petition aimed at allowing medical and adult-use marijuana products to be delivered within town boundaries was also approved. 

In response to a few concerns raised — mainly regarding how to prevent marijuana products from ending up in the wrong hands — Geoff Rose of Island marijuana dispensary Patient Centric explained to voters that all cannabis products are highly regulated and tracked by the Cannabis Control Commission.


  1. Great news. I loved what Mr. Doty said, it WAS a huge mistake to vote down the budget in the first place. It sets a very bad precedent. BTW Chilmark, WT, and Aquinnah, by law, you can not restrict the use of public lands. Meaning, your all grass resolution would not be legal. This was determined when the Field Fund tried to force that issue before they reneged on their promise to do an all grass campus. And why they wanted that restriction in the first place is baffling to me, if they were so adamant that an all grass field would work, why the need for that stipulation?

    I also have a problem with your request to make donations public. If the donor wishes to remain anonymous, they should be allowed to remain that way. My question is, why do you want this? There is a history here of the opposition publicly chastising those who choose to support the project. Dr. Green and Kim Kirk are prime examples. Dr. Green just gave here expert opinion on the project based on the scientific facts presented to her. Are you trying to deter people from donating as another means to try to make the project fail? Is it your intent to do the same to the donors that was done to Dr. Green and Ms. Kirk? Bad form, but thanks for finally supporting our teachers and students.

  2. ” My question is, why do you want this? ”

    There is no place for dark money in a public school project.
    For quite obvious reasons.

    “There is a history here of the opposition publicly chastising those who choose to support the project.”

    Both sides have been “publicly chastened.”

    That is part of the give and take of politics and open debate.

    In fact, it is my impression that advocates of all-natural grass have been the recipients of more public excoriation than proponents of plastic turf.

    The latter have regularly accused the former of not caring about kids.

    • Katherine, the school gets anonymous donations all the time. It’s not dark money, not that I know what that even means.

      Both sides may have chastised but there is not petition in place to get information about those who oppose this project like the up-islands now have done in a public request.

      I am sorry but if you defund a school system, how is that caring for the kids? Taking their money away just so you can get your way is using the kids as a political pawn. I don’t see that as caring for the kids, that is a temper tantrum.

      Not that I have to answer this question, but I want the field because it is absolutely the right and best thing for our athletes and youth sport community, no question about it.

  3. darn right it set a bad precedent, a precedent that cannot be undone. now every year we have the treat that the budget will be zeroed out by a minority of financial stake holders, this is an unacceptable way of running a school, despite what the Mr Lionette says and does. the only way to forever make sure this precedent is not repeated is to reorganized the high school charter. so that never again can the minority control the majority.
    Ms Scott when you use the school budget and thus the children as pawns to fulfill your agenda, you deserve too be told you don’t care about kids, OWN IT.

  4. Just a qiick note there is 1.5 million parts per trillion put into the ground water per year per island septic system. Another way of stating these numbers is it would take a turf field
    1.5 million years to put into the aquifer what one septic system does in one year.

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