Where are we going with the turf debate?


Voters on Martha’s Vineyard should be concerned about who is representing their interests on the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School School Committee.

Three town meetings on the Vineyard this spring voted very decisively against the construction of a synthetic turf field at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. They are nonbinding votes, but votes nonetheless, and all overwhelming.

Aquinnah, West Tisbury, and Chilmark all recently asked the MVRHS School Committee to maintain grass fields and not build synthetic turf. 

Tisbury supported a nonbinding request earlier in the spring that asked the school committee to stop using taxpayer money to fund a lawsuit against the town of Oak Bluffs for rejecting the turf field proposal. Voters in Tisbury said they were fed up with the committee taking an Island town to court.

Following the tumultuous town meetings, with their school budget in limbo, the school board voted to allocate no funding to the lawsuit in the next fiscal year budget, which begins in July. That was enough to appease voters in the three up-Island towns to move forward with a budget.

Seemingly, that would be it for the lawsuit. And maybe the beginning of the end of the turf debate.

But the school committee has continued to hold executive sessions. There’s been no indication the committee will withdraw. And there’s a hearing before a judge in three weeks. 

The most recent decision by the school committee — reached last week — is to sit down for a joint meeting with the planning and select boards in Oak Bluffs to discuss a possible outcome. 

It is a noble idea to communicate. It would be good if that meeting were held in public, as recommended by the committee. That will give voters a sense of how elected officials arrive at their decision. Maybe they can decide to split off a subcommittee, so there aren’t close to 20 people trying to build consensus around the issue, as was recommended by the Oak Bluffs planning board to a Times reporter. 

But there isn’t a lot of room to negotiate this lawsuit. The planning board rejected the school committee’s application for a turf field. They can’t take that decision back. Unless the application is changed, they can’t review the same project for another two years, per state law. Aside from moving the proposed turf field to a different area — a laughable proposal — what else could the two sides negotiate in a settlement?

But more to the point, one key item is missing in the committee’s proposed meeting: The committee hasn’t dropped the lawsuit. They are still suing the town they want to have an open dialogue with. That’s similar to extending an olive branch while also holding a sword. 

If the committee wanted to have an open, constructive dialogue, one way to extend the olive branch is to drop the lawsuit. But the only way to do that is by canning the synthetic-turf idea. The fact that the committee hasn’t yet done that raises questions of whether they intend to or not. Which raises further questions about how many rounds of litigation they’re willing to go.

Without funding in their budget for the next fiscal year, will they be accepting private donations to fund the lawsuit? We have serious reservations about outside groups funding a lawsuit against the town of Oak Bluffs. There are always strings attached to outside funding, and for a public school system, that is not a good idea.

Also, could the committee just reverse their vote, taken earlier this year, and take money from somewhere else in the budget to fund rounds of litigation?

The school committee does have two unknowns they can lean on. Oak Bluffs and Edgartown did not take votes similar to the other four Island towns. The town meetings in both those towns were held the same night as West Tisbury, when the budget disagreement and following drama first unfolded.

Because this issue has weighed so heavily in town politics and seemingly taken so much attention away from a focus on education, it would be a good idea for those two towns to hold a vote to get a sense of what their thoughts are. Maybe a nonbinding question at town meeting or at the ballot. However, judging by how the four other towns voted with requests before them, it isn’t looking good.

But regardless of Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, if the school committee continues to push forward with this litigation, it will be against the will of voters. The school’s budget would not have passed without the endorsement of the three up-Island towns or Tisbury. Part of their conditions for approving the school’s budget was to not fund this lawsuit. 

So, school committee, the ball is in your court. By dropping the lawsuit, you’re listening to the voters. Extend an olive branch and hear the concerns of Oak Bluffs. Craft a plan the community can get behind. The longer the debate rages on, the longer the fields remain a mess and the focus seemingly not on education.


  1. It seems odd that you would publish such a slanted editorial knowing that your readership has already been exposed to the full slate of facts in this matter. A few things that you seem to have omitted:

    *The towns that objected shoulder a fraction of the budget compared to the towns that approved of the project, this minority objection does not equate to votes not being heard.
    *You speak of the votes cast against the project in the up island meetings as being “overwhelming”, but you fail to mention the tiny number of overall votes involved.
    *Both of the High School committee members from Oak Bluffs voted in favor of appealing the decision of their own Planning Board. This is not a suit “against Oak Bluffs” as you have characterized it.
    *You point out that the High School committee has requested a public joint meeting with the OB Select Board and Planning Board, but you give the OB boards a pass on their reluctance to participate. Why?
    *The chair of the OB planning Board has abandoned any pretense of objectivity, and has repeatedly posted items on his own social media that evidence a personal bias against the project.
    *You characterize the current legal action as a lawsuit – that may be technically accurate, but it is also deliberately misleading. All the committee has done is to appeal a questionable decision of the OB Planning Board to the next level of authority. That’s the only avenue of redress available to a governmental unit against perceived abuses of authority by another governmental unit. It’s the way things are supposed to be handled. For you to suggest that the crusade against this project by the chair of the OB Planning Board is unassailable does not speak well of your editorial standards.
    *The hearing in mid July is regarding a summary judgment motion that may well end this entire process. This is our system of governance in action. Why would we not want to see what the land court has to say on the matter? It’s already paid for.
    *Why are you deriding the movement of the turf field portion of the project as a “laughable proposal” when it hasn’t even been proposed? There looks to be enough area that the turf portion could be removed from the WRPOD if the project were to be reconfigured. You seem to be trying to strangle that idea in the crib.

    I don’t see why anyone would suggest that the appeal be withdrawn weeks before the decision on the summary judgment motion is issued – unless they have little confidence in the merits of their legal position. I think the island community needs the court to weigh in on this matter at this point. Too much disinformation has been spread, and the matter will never be settled via other means. Let the system work, and let’s all agree to abide by the decision. You will write an editorial calling for that if the Planning Board decision is overturned, won’t you?

    • Thank you Bert for accurately depicting the various issues associated with this whole “debate”. Your clarity is so welcoming. I just wish those who are so vocal against the field plan would just look at the facts as you have so clearly presented them. No, 200 up-island people don’t speak for the whole island. No, the town isn’t being sued, a board decision is rightly being appealed as there is plenty of evidence the board’s decision was bias and they didn’t stay within their lane. Thank you for pointing out that the editorial was written with a one sided bias. Why does the editor not get all the facts straight before writing these pieces? There are plenty of people whom they could contact that are pro field plan who would gladly set the record straight based on facts presented, not personal opinion. I will say again Mr./Miss Editor, why have you not vilified the Town of OB leadership for not responding to the said settlement offer presented to them from the school? Why do you let them skate? It’s the vocal minority who wish to see this end but you choose to ignore the fact that the town has been silent and you say only the school can end this, that is not true, the town can end this as well. Another example of your bias showing.

  2. Where are we going?? Where have you been?
    This has already been debated and approved. An over zealous town board chair derailed this approved project based on his own personal agenda. He sadly got someone to agree with him and the vote was 2-2. Why wouldn’t the Newspaper interview the user groups (field Hockey, lacrosse, unified) and ask them what they think of this awesome privately funded project and it’s affects on their HS athletic Careers? Please MV Times get out of the political swamp on this and report on the children and what they want!!!!

    • John, a legal vote was taken by the officials in the town where this piece of plastic was proposed to go. They voted against it.
      Get over it.
      I got over it in 2000 and 2016 when the “rules” overrode the popular presidential vote.
      You can get over it that the rules allowed for vote which went away from the turf.
      Time to move on.
      As for the children– You are making an assumption about what they want. What is that based on what ? I can’t even convince the adults that the “children’s” injury rates will be higher- imagine trying to convince an “invincible” 16 yr old that they are less likely to be injured on a turf field.
      High school students want to have classes start later ( I agree) they want to have their cell phones on them at all times, they want to be able to smoke or vape on school property, have no homework, fewer tests, shorter hours and have those lame teachers leave them alone when they are acting out.
      As for what the adults on the island want– it seems pretty clear that they don’t want a plastic field.
      If we really want to resolve this, we should just put it up for an island wide vote.
      Turf / no turf. Up / Down
      Easy peasy.
      I will be happy to shut up and see the turf field in place if the majority of adults who bother to vote say they want a turf field.
      I won’t whine about it — How about you ?

  3. Yes, let’s have a vote!
    First, let’s ask each side to make their best arguments for why plastic or organic grass is better.
    Let each side get a full page in both papers, pages facing each other.
    All claims will be fact checked and edited before publication, and there must be links to back up information.
    After publication, let there be a month of open community discussions.
    Let voting be available for that whole month – online or email, with verification of Vineyard residency.
    With open access to well organized information from both sides, Vineyarders will finally be able to compare pros and cons of each option, and will therefore be able to make an informed choice between plastic or organic grass.
    There is an immense difference between these two options.
    Which option seems likely to pose the least risk for our youth, our waters and our economy?
    Let’s behave like a democracy – let the People decide.

    • See you’ve already shown why this isn’t an option. Just by your description of the process you’ve created a bias toward your preference, Organic grass, which is not what it will be, or plastic, it’s not plastic it’s listed as synthetic. Next “Which option seems likely to pose the least risk for our youth, our waters and our economy?” why not, what is the best option for our athletes? Lastly, your solution is a pipe dream, a whole island binding vote isn’t possible with the island politics as they are. I would welcome the idea but why not open it to all tax payers? Why just those who live here? If you’re going to put it out there, non resident tax payers should have a say. Oh wait, non resident tax payers likely have synthetic turf(s) at their schools and love them, you wouldn’t want that now would you?

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