School committee withholds legal opinion

The opinion was about the acceptance and use of anonymous donations. 

Questions remain regarding MVRHS' acceptance and use of anonymous donations. —MV Times

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s (MVRHS) decided against releasing a letter from their legal representatives on the committee’s earlier decision to accept anonymous donations. 

During the MVRHS School Committee meeting on Monday, Martha’s Vineyard Superintendent Richie Smith shared what he learned about the acceptance and use of anonymous donations for legal expenses from legal counsel Murphy, Lamere, and Murphy. 

Smith said the legal opinion from the law firm was “consistent with what we have spoken about in our school committees.” 

“Essentially, Massachusetts law allows for the use of anonymous donations for the payment of legal fees and any other lawful expenditure,” Smith said. 

Anonymous donations were raised as an issue because of the contentious MVRHS athletics field project and an ongoing lawsuit. The Oak Bluffs planning board denied a special permit for the field out of PFAS concerns, and the school committee appealed. Short on funds, they used private donations to fund the lawsuit. When facing questions from the public, the committee voted to pursue a written legal opinion about the acceptance and use of anonymous donations during a meeting early last month. 

The committee debated whether to release the letter to the public, which they eventually decided against in a 5-3 vote.

There was some disagreement among committee members on the legal opinion. 

Committee member Robert Lionette said the opinion did not acknowledge “anonymous gifts” or an “anonymous function,” adding that his read of the opinion was that the donor had to be identified, and that there was a criterion for this in the letter. 

“That’s not anonymous,” Lionette said. “Anonymous to the public, but not anonymous in process.” 

Additionally, Lionette said, the firm’s opinion seemed to require that the committee develop a policy about accepting anonymous donations. Lionette said it would be in the committee’s “best interest” to understand the anonymous donations process for the project, which has a “hefty, multimillion-dollar price tag.” 

Lionette also pointed out that Murphy, Lamere, and Murphy had been “inherently risk-averse” when advising the school committee, and felt a representative should come in to explain their reasoning. 

Committee chair Kathryn Shertzer said since the letter was not released to the public, she felt further clarifications about the letter should be referred to counsel. 

Committee member Skipper Manter moved to release the letter to the public, since this was a matter of interest to many Vineyarders. 

Meanwhile, committee member Michael Watts pointed out that while it was within the committee’s rights to share the legal opinion, there could be “implications” if it were done. 

“It’s also the public’s right to know,” Manter said. 

“The public can read the exact same Mass General Laws,” Watts replied.

Watts continued that he had a different read on the letter than “what was presented here,” although he did not expand upon this. Watts also asked why the committee was seeking legal counsel if it was not going to listen to the advice given. 

Additionally, Watts said it did not matter if the opinion was released, because people “read words differently.” He said it won’t change peoples’ opinions. 

“Despite what we’ve said, the criticism in public is extremely strong, saying we’re acting illegally, we’re taking drug money, we’re criminals,” he said.

Shertzer said she also reached out to the law firm to ask what it means to release legal opinions meant for the school committee and the potential implications, which she said she shared with the other committee members. “I don’t know how anyone on Earth could feel comfortable possibly releasing this,” Shertzer said, although she did not share what these implications were. 

Smith acknowledged that there is strong public criticism, but said it would benefit the people who believe in the school committee if the legal opinion were released. “When we start talking about this track and field project, I know every single one of you is here for kids,” he said. “There’s a project that needs to happen.” 

Manter’s motion was shot down. 

Some committee members discussed the possibility of bringing in legal counsel in an executive session to discuss the letter. 

Shertzer pointed out that the school committee has gone against the wishes of some towns not to spend more legal funds on the field project by asking for the legal opinion. “And here we are doing it again,” she said. 

Lionette emphasized that the committee will need to think about how it accepts anonymous donations to avoid potential future legal issues. Shertzer said the committee accepts private anonymous donations “all the time.” Committee member Louis Paciello said if the attorney were being brought in to discuss anonymous donations, it would need to cover all anonymous donations, not just ones that pertain to the field project. 

After further discussion, the committee unanimously voted to submit legal questions to Shertzer, who would in turn send them to the attorney. 

Meanwhile, the status conference for the field litigation appeal was set for Nov. 17 at 9 am, per the request of Oak Bluffs, on Zoom.


  1. I have no interest in any of this BUT it smells bad to me. Why are some donors so interested in having the turf field that they are donating and doing so anonymously? What do they expect to get out of this expensive, wasteful, legal wrangling?

  2. The turf field will never be built. Let it go and move on to more important things like education. Oh ya, education, that thing you were elected to oversee. Wouldn’t it be nice to spend some time on that subject.

    • Yes, Since the building doesn’t open everyday and teachers and kids sit at home doing nothing because the school committee is only focusing on a needed track replacement. Why is it an all or nothing in these comments? The building does open daily and the lights come on and maintenance occurs. Grass gets mowed. Busses come and go. Teachers teach, kids take exams. All budgeted for by the school committee and administration contrary to the general comments. Run a large business and you have to take care of all of it. Thank you school committee!

  3. Chair Shertzer – I live on Earth and I would like to read the ruling for myself . This is a democracy not a dictatorship. Please release the ruling . Mr. Watts, you are my representative and I can only assume by your statement that the implications of this ruling will be shameful. Regardless – the public has been asking for this for 3 months. To the public – please consider running for school commitee . The people who show up = run things . This outdated project for 1 turf field is an embarrassment to our school and our Island . Even if the laws allow 2 acres of a petroleum based product ( plastic) to be installed on our aquifer or anywhere else on an island with no other direct source of drinking water, is it the right thing to do?
    Our school system has so many other concerns, please Admin – speak out for the taxpayer , the conservationist, the scientist, the teachers, but mostly for the students who still have no upgrades sports facility . What kind of example are we setting for our planet and the community ? As wars rage around the world – this project continues to divide us. Mediation is the job of the Administration- it’s time .

    • Section 53A. An officer or department of any city or town, or of any regional school or other district, may accept grants or gifts of funds from the federal government and from a charitable foundation, a private corporation, or an individual, or from the commonwealth, a county or municipality or an agency thereof, and in the case of any grant or gift given for educational purposes may expend said funds for the purposes of such grant or gift with the approval of the school committee, and in the case of any other grant or gift may expend such funds for the purposes of such grant or gift in cities having a Plan D or Plan E form of government with the approval of the city manager and city council, in all other cities with the approval of the mayor and city council, in towns with the approval of the board of selectmen, and in districts with the approval of the prudential committee, ……..

      Let’s recap. An employee of the school was handed cash by an individual. According to the meeting where this was accepted, this was the current finance person. Section 53 outlines that an individual may be a donor. And in this case the person asked to be anonymous. Please tell me in the words of the legislature above how you conclude this is an illegal activity. It doesn’t say the officer must obtain the name of the donor. Those words don’t exist. So much hate over very simple words. So many interpretations. Those are the words. Read for yourselves and don’t be lemmings jumping off a cliff following words that are not there. There is no secrecy or mystery or sinister behavior. Only a project that some don’t like and want to scare off supporters. Threats of defunding. Threats of darkness. Threats that your elected officials acted against the law. Read it again! All those narratives are just false. Too bad those peddling false narratives are not held accountable.

      • Patti–I won’t bother copying your whole comment
        But I will note the part about abbot accepting anonymous
        “with the approval of the city manager and city council,
        in all other cities with the approval of the mayor
        and city council, in towns with the approval
        of the board of selectmen…”
        Ok— so the letter of the law approves of anonymous
        bribes if the town managers approve of it.
        You might have noticed, the town managers of
        Oak Bluffs have not approved this one.
        And really, not to get too far off topic,
        but some people have been peddling a false narrative
        on a national scale for about 3 years without any
        accountability. it seems about 1/2 of the people in
        the United States couldn’t care less about accountability
        or the truth.
        I feel uncomfortable with the fact that my local school
        board chooses to hide things from the people they are
        supposed to be serving. You are free to spout your opinion
        that the opinions of others are “just false”.

        i can do the same–
        but if we live in society that is cloaked
        in secrecy, how would we ever know what is false and what
        is true?

      • Has the school committee acknowledged that they know the identity of the individual who is the purported donor of these funds? If I read Mr. Lionette’s comments accurately, they have not. The law you cited stated that these donated funds are required to come from a charitable foundation, a private corporation or an individual donor, and there is no way to confirm that requirement has been satisfied if you can’t specifically identify the donor.

    • In the world of athletics, the fact that this hasn’t been approved is an embarrassment. This has been a disservice to our athletes so you can pretend to be an environmentalist.

      The school did try to mediate but your friend in the planning board refused to sit down to even discuss the settlement offer the school provided him. Which is likely another illegal act on his part. Why did he ask the court for a delay in the latest ruling? These are the questions that should be answered by a town elected official publicly and not behind closed doors. He has never held a public forum to discuss this litigation against his board. The school committee has held several. If anyone is acting like a dictator it is the chair of the planning board. It’s been proven he’s acting outside of the law. At least the school committee has gotten a legal opinion and is following it, unlike what the PB chair did.

  4. They seem to have plenty to hide.
    Pull the curtain back and reveal the wizard.
    It worked out quite well for Dorothy, the Tin man,
    the lion and the scarecrow.
    Go get em’ Toto…

  5. Now whenever I read oh-so-passionate statements of concern and caring from liberals who judge all good and evil and gray areas according to their hypocrisy, denied-but-obvious prejudices, and lack of self-awareness…you know, about things like the importance of the right thing to do, the need to reveal truths, and how peddlers of false narratives need to be held accountable, I have to laugh. But not because it’s funny.

    I am not speaking about anyone in particular, but if you think I am talking about you, I am.

  6. There is an old adage that if something has to be kept secret you shouldn’t be doing it. Does that not apply here??

  7. Imagine if everyone believed that all donations, even anonymous ones, were bribes. I didn’t realize it, but I guess I’ve been bribing island organizations for years, not wanting my name to appear in programs or be publicly acknowledged. I simply don’t like every Tom, Dick and island moocher hitting me up for bribes…. donations, I mean.
    One thing’s for sure. I won’t be bribing any more political parties with my donations to enhance liberal antisemitism, especially the kind espoused so acceptably by Obama. At least the “Jews will not replace us” idiots are upfront about it, if you catch my drift.

    The passion to be this stupidly focused reminds me of the roundabout brouhaha. 10 years from now a lot of us will be dead from cancer anyway. Environmental toxins will kill your children too, no matter grass, turf, or mud. Get over yourselves, you ridiculous liberals.

    • Wow, Jackie, I would never have thought you would
      turn out to be a trump supporter.
      But I guess when you get focused on one issue
      and everything is seen through the prism
      of that one issue, anything can happen.
      I will take your fate as a precautionary
      warning, as I think about my ridiculous
      liberal views that are filtered through the
      prism of wanting human beings to have some
      compassion for each other.
      I agree, that is a ridiculous idea.
      Better to kill ’em all and let the various
      gods sort it all out later, I guess.
      And who cares about the changing climate ?
      We’re all gonna die at some point anyway.
      We might as well take all those other living
      things with us. Like the whales–They’re so stupid
      they don’t know to get out of the way of cargo
      ships. Yup, the MAGA group has it all down.
      Kill, hate, wanton reckless environmental
      destruction, lie, cheat, mock and demonize others
      and no one calls them ridiculous or tells them to get
      over themselves.
      The MAGAverse sure does have its advantages.
      But actually, the “Jews will not replace us” idiots
      are not all that up front about it. They wrap themselves
      in the cloak of “they are out to get me” and it’s “fake news”.
      Even proud members of the KKK will tell you to your face
      that they are not racist– they just want to have
      America be a nice white Christian country again.
      Just the way god intended. Their god, that is.
      Not yours.
      Good luck with your newfound hatred of liberals.
      Rush Limbaugh is smiling down on you .

  8. “my ridiculous
    liberal views that are filtered through the
    prism of wanting human beings to have some
    compassion for each other.”

    Do you even bother to consider the stuff you’ve posted here before bragging about your morality? You said we should let unvaxxed kids—many of them only five years old—DIE because their deaths would “improve” the gene pool.

    A true pillar of compassion.

    • Katie
      You are misconstruing and taking my comment about
      unvaxxed children out of context.
      Here is the entire comment :

      You can educate people but you can’t
      fix stupid. I am all for the rights of
      people to refuse treatment for their children
      for religious reasons. If they choose to pray
      and god calls them home, well that’s what
      she wanted. Who are we to question god ?
      But I know a number of idiots who believe the
      conspiracy theories and have no actual religious
      beliefs. Liars at best. So let the idiots improve
      the genetic pool and let their kids die.
      Sad for the kids, but no parent will ever get a drop
      of sympathy from me if their kids die from an easily
      preventable disease when they choose to take the risk.
      But, by not getting their kids vaccinated they
      are endangering kids who can’t get vaccinated
      for various reasons.
      And we know that the vaccination protection is
      not 100% — This is reckless, uncaring, and a
      danger to our entire community.
      Please re- think it .

      You may notice that I am saying that idiots
      have the right to let their kids be at risk.
      I am opposed to them spreading that risk.
      Is that a liberal or conservative opinion ?
      The key pronoun here is “WE”. Which I did not use.
      It’s a tough issue. Quite off topic here,
      but if parents refuse to vaccinate their children
      and they die, am I supposed to feel something ?
      Compassion is as compassion does.
      How much compassion do you have for the
      nearly 5,000 children who have been blown
      apart and /or crushed under rubble in Gaza
      in the last month ? Do you think their parents
      bear any responsibility for their deaths ?

  9. Was I supposed to read your rant, Don? I stopped when you told one of your many untruths you use these pages for: I am not a Trump supporter, lol. Your mind reading skills are as advanced as your gaslighting skills.

    Did you want to accuse me again of supporting a “genocide” in Gaza? Or again say I don’t care about ALL innocents? Maybe you did say it, I don’t know because I don’t read angry white guy rants. Did you know gaslighters lash out and accuse others of what they are guilty of? As far as I can tell, you’d be ok if Israel picked up and went home and waited for the terrorists to come back as they’ve sworn they would. You and most of the world would be fine with no more Israel. Doesn’t matter that Hamas military operations are under Gaza’s hospitals. You’re listening to and believing the bad guys, the ones who teach their children to kill Jews. Has nothing to do with trump, lol. You’re ignoring what the IDF is doing for their enemy combatants’ innocent civilians because that doesn’t fit the robotic knee jerk liberal agenda. Why is it so hard for a liberal to say FREE PALESTINE FROM HAMAS?

    You also were untruthful when you said last week Israel is indiscriminately bombing Gaza. Where are you getting that from, Don? As if I don’t know. Variations on the ancient blood libel narrative is vile. Jews do not indiscriminately murder non Jewish babies, contrary to every antisemite’s view that the Hamas spokesmen are feeding. Blame the Jews, not the monsters who put their own babies between bombs and themselves. Why is THAT not a crime against humanity? Why are people unable to understand that Hamas has their civilians’ blood on their hands, using their own most vulnerable innocents to gain their goal of a genocide against Israel and all Jews? Sounds to me like you’re okay with that scenario, Don. That scenario is working, in case you haven’t noticed. Thanks to people like you, Don. Your views, taking the word of monsters who tortured a pregnant Jewish woman by cutting open her stomach and taking out her baby, cutting off the baby’s head, then cutting off the woman’s breasts, while she was still alive, before finally putting her out of her misery, is why I find liberals to be ridiculous. Every antisemite should be forced to look at those Hamas videos from October 7, just like German civilians were forced to view Nazi work.

    Hamas apologists aren’t interested, but even Biden can’t avoid the old blood libel view. As far as I can tell, his statement today put a nail in the democrats’ coffin. I’ve always been a registered unenrolled voter, but 99% of the time I voted D. From now on, like my paranoid parents did, I’ll be voting for the person least like to accept antisemitism. That’s what it’s like to be a Jew today, with Jewish children and grandchildren.

    Dehumanizing Jews, or anyone, is not a good look, Don, no matter where it’s coming from.

    I have no doubt that time will show the “liberal” dons to be on the wrong side of history. I may not live to see it, but I know my grandchildren will. Good overcomes this kind of evil. History repeats itself. There will be peace. But to everything there is a season. I understand that supporting Israel’s right to exist is just not something the world can get behind. Don is not alone. Jews mostly are.

    Heaven spare all innocents from this suffering.

    • Jackie–

      not hard for me to say that at all.
      How many times do I have to say Hamas
      is a ruthless bunch of terrorist that should be
      eradicated ?
      Here—–one more time
      but of course, Palestine is not a state
      never has been.
      So how about this ?
      or this:
      But I guess I am just gaslighting
      when I say that.
      If you are going to be so hell bent on
      portraying me as a frothing anti semite,
      show me what I said to back that up.
      Show me where I condoned the actions
      of radical terrorist on Oct 7
      Show me where I call for the destruction of
      Show me where I have said anything
      derogatory about the Jewish people.
      Or any particular person who is Jewish.
      Yeah, ok– let’s let crazy show itself and
      make a case that since I didn’t like
      Allen D defending the nut case ideas
      of our former president, (gaslighting alert)
      who I could not care less if he is Jewish or not
      that I am a radical hateful anti semite.

      “Blood libel ” ?
      come on — What is that about ?
      And excuse me for being a white
      non Jew.

  10. Keller your fanciful rant against Jackie is glaring in its spurious claims. Jackie on this one is principled and consistent. Your broad brush accusations against her while she supports many of your positions except this one is cruel and unfair and lacks the compassion you would like to project.

    • andy- do you think Jackie’s most recent
      comment to me is principled and consistent ?
      perhaps it is– She has pretty consistently
      claimed that anyone who has any problem with
      anything the state of Israel is antisemitic.
      She obviously hates Muslims at least as
      much as trump does.
      I have repeatedly said I support the right of
      the state of Israel to exist and defend itself
      against radical terrorist. It has the right to
      go after Hamas– it is a despicable terrorist
      organization. BUT– I don’t approve
      of cutting off water, electricity, communications
      fuel and food to a population of over a million
      people and relentlessly bombing civilian
      So because of that, in her mind , I am a
      radical anti semitic, wife beating, pot smoking
      Jew hating racist that wants Israel eradicated and
      wants Hamas and other radical
      terrorist organizations to control the entire
      Wow !
      It seems she is in favor of anything Netanyahu
      does in Gaza. I am not.
      What broad brush was I painting her with ?
      Supporting trump , perhaps ?
      By her logic, if I don’t support
      all the policies and actions of the
      Israeli government then I am anti semitic.
      So, by her logic, if she hates Arabs as much
      as trump does, she is definitely in the MAGA

    • Much love to you, Jackie. 🥹
      I know it’s beyond draining to see such callousness across the internet, but there are folks who understand the importance of your message.

      You’re not alone. ❤️

  11. Thank you also to the Times moderator for giving me so much off-topic leeway. I appreciate it more than I can say during this awful, awful time for so many. I have written privately to Don, expressing more forcefully why his comments on this topic are so out of the realm of decency.

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