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.