MVRHS principal urges cooperation

Committee also debated whether the demolition permit was the correct move. 

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The field litigation was a part of several portions of the MVRHS Committee held at the high school library. —Eunki Seonwoo

Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) Principal Sara Dingledy urged the high school committee to find a resolution with the Oak Bluffs planning board in the lawsuit over the athletic field surface, so that resources could be put toward the overhaul of the school building. 

Dingledy took time during the Monday evening meeting to read from a written statement and share the concerns of school staff. 

She started by saying the ongoing litigation between the school committee and the planning board is increasingly affecting the morale of the high school. 

“Students still don’t see meaningful progress, and staff in the building are voicing some frustration that the battle is happening with little input from or engagement with them on what they would like to see, and what cause they would like to champion,” Dingledy said. 

Dingledy also said school administration has been distant from the process, pointing to the recent athletics field demolition filing as an example.

“Neither I nor members of my leadership team were informed prior to the filing,” she said, adding that this is partly because she tried to separate her leadership of the school from the politics surrounding the field surface: “It does me no good as a leader to align myself in the struggle that is divisive on the Island.” 

The principal urged the committee to shift the school’s “core priorities” from issues surrounding the field litigation toward the “golden ticket” of a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to have a complete facilities overhaul subsidized by the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), which the high school had been making progress on. 

“This should be the centerpiece of our collective attention,” Dingledy said, underscoring that the Island towns’ leaders collaborated and compromised to devise a funding formula that got the school into the MSBA process. “We owe it to them and to the generations of Island students to protect the opportunity. We can’t mess it up.” 

Dingledy also said the field issue had “polarized our operating budget,” referencing how up-Island towns had shot down the high school budget last year in protest against the field litigation between the school committee and the planning board.

“Enduring another season of town meetings in which the school leadership have to shadowbox an argument that has nothing to do with the general operation of the school is not something that I look forward to,” Dingledy said, clarifying that while she is unsure this will happen again, she felt the issue needed to be addressed. She said that if the budget were affected again, it would have real consequences for the high school. 

A field project without years of litigation is possible, and Huntress Associates’ layout design can be used, Dingledy said. 

“I am truly agnostic about the surface. Many at the high school are,” Dingledy said, adding that the litigation is just delaying the process. 

Dingledy urged the committee to directly engage with the students and staff in the high school, not just the voters and officials of the towns. “I would assert we are your most important constituency,” she said, inviting committee members to attend high school staff meetings and to hear the priorities of students. 

The principal also pushed the committee to certify the “lean budget” for fiscal year 2025, and to be a unified voice when presenting it to voters this spring. 

In her statement, Dingledy again called for the building project, which was years in the making, to become the focus of the committee. “We can have both projects, but only if the Island is willing to support us the whole way,” she said. “We can only build it if we have the Island’s support, and for that to happen, both sides need to truly compromise.” 

Martha’s Vineyard schools Superintendent Richie Smith commended Dingledy for her efforts to support the high school’s staff and address their concerns. “I appreciate when our administrators — in this case, when Sara comes out — in support and expressing the concerns of staff,” he said. 

Whether submitting the demolition request was the right decision did spark debate on Monday.

Committee member Robert Lionette said the filing was premature, since it did not come before the committee. “Everybody, every member, has the right to understand the actions of the committee,” he said. 

Lionette said he was under the impression that the committee would have been hearing about next steps forward from Smith, after having a conversation with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. The project will need to go back before the MVC before moving forward. Lionette said the application should be rescinded until school officials and administrators were more ready. 

Committee member Kris O’Brien suggested forming a working group, open to the public and with meeting minutes, to keep people, including Dingledy, aware of what is happening with the project. “Clearly there’s a major communications breakdown,” O’Brien said, adding that having an online resource could help alleviate this. 

Dingledy said whatever decisions were made, school officials would need to be “strategic,” since it was uncertain who on the Island considered the issue resolved, or still in litigation. She was also concerned more vetting might be needed, particularly for decisions that would be made in the name of the school. Again, Dingledy asked for the school staff to remain informed and to be included as a part of the conversation by the committee. 

Smith said the school committee meetings were an appropriate venue to clarify information to the public. 

Committee member Mike Watts pointed out that the committee had been told in September by John Fuller, a builder at Cape and Island Tennis & Track, that the track itself had around two years of usability remaining, so proactive steps were needed. He said the committee needed to get to the stage where an owner’s project manager can be hired for the project, and funds can be raised; a substantial amount is needed before work can actually be done, even if the demolition permit is granted. 

“The permit is a clock-starter,” Watts said. He acknowledged that while imperfect, this was a way to keep things moving. 

Watts also said that there has been a “misinformation campaign” and a “misuse of information” by members of the public regarding the field project that made it very difficult. “We’ve toed a very clean line on how we handle this information, but we’ve struggled mightily from a misinformation campaign in the public,” Watts said, adding that the committee could publish the committee’s intentions, but he would want “corrections to misinformation.” 

Watts also said the data are all available, but “people just don’t read it,” misinterpreted the information, or are misinformed about the data.

“I get you might not like this surface or that surface, but you’re not telling the truth,” he said. 

Some committee members expressed concern about the unclear path forward for the project, considering the lack of funds, whether it is the actual execution or a redesign, and the time constraints.

“I don’t know what to do here. We’re at a standstill,” committee member Jennifer Cutrer said. 

Committee member Skipper Manter said whatever comes next, money needs to be raised, and a group outside the committee could help with the “serious fundraising.”

“We need several hundred thousand dollars just to start with, and I think we need that sooner than later,” he said. 

Meanwhile, there was no new information regarding the appeal made by the planning board against the Massachusetts Land Court ruling that favored the school committee. Attorney Brian Winner said the Land Court’s judgment remains valid “unless and until” the Massachusetts Appeals Court finds reason to change that designation. “The appeal will proceed with due course through the appeals court whether we actively defend, whether we defend on a more neutral posture, or otherwise,” he said. 

2 COMMENTS

  1. Congratulations to Principal Dingledy for speaking up. Students and staff have been treated as not involved. Challenging the Dover Amendment by the OB Planning Board makes absolutely no sense. It will succeed only in wasting a lot more public and private money on the legal costs. I’ve seen a lot of disputes on this Island in the last 25-years, but this one makes the least sense.

  2. Interesting that you’d approve of a town entity acting illegally. The appeal helped define the role of the planning board because it’s clear that the chair believes he’s above the law. He was informed on two occasions not to pursue the denial by the town’s attorney. When this process began the coaches and students were asked and they overwhelmingly wanted this project. I don’t know where it’s believed they weren’t included. Several testified at both the MVC and planning board in support of the project. The school committee is just working to get what they’ve asked to get.

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