The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Committee will seek to resolve its legal dispute with the Oak Bluffs planning board, committee chair Robert Lionette announced Monday evening.

The school has been attempting to overhaul its athletic fields and track for years and sued the planning board in 2022 after the board denied the school’s plans for a new artificial turf field. On Monday, the school committee met in an executive session to discuss the ongoing lawsuit.

“The committee has resolved and directed our attorney to engage in discussions with Oak Bluffs … for the purposes of resolving the pending appeal,” Mr. Lionette said after the committee’s 90-minute closed-door session with lawyer Brian Winner.

The high school committee will also strive to meet at least once before Aquinnah holds its annual town meeting on May 9, Mr. Lionette said, holding out the potential that a resolution may be reached before town voters decide whether or not to fund the school’s budget for the coming fiscal year.

The budget has become a flashpoint for some towns, with Chilmark and West Tisbury both voting down their portions of the high school budget in protest of continued legal spending on the artificial turf lawsuit.

Under the regional agreement for operating the high school, at least four towns must agree on the budget for it to pass. If three towns vote against the budget, the school committee would have to come up with a new one.

While Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Tisbury have passed it, Tisbury voters added a non-binding request to stop funding the legal fight with Oak Bluffs.

More than 100 people attended Monday's hybrid school committee meeting. — Louisa Hufstader

If Aquinnah votes with the other up-Island towns, school officials say they will be unable to extend contracts on June 1 to teachers and other employees — not only at the high school, but with the Island’s shared services programs for students with special needs.

“What we would have to do is not send contracts out … to any folks that support kids with high needs,” superintendent Richie Smith said Monday.

Monday’s hybrid committee meeting drew about 10 members of the public to the high school library and over 100 people online.

Attending remotely, Mr. Winner updated the progress of the school’s request to the state land court for a judgment before the Oak Bluffs appeal goes to a full trial.

Both sides in the case completed their required briefings in mid-March and are waiting for the court’s decision on the school’s motion, Mr. Winner said.

A favorable ruling in the overall case for the high school would end the current legal conflict, but it won’t ward off a rematch if Oak Bluffs appeals, he cautioned committee members.

“We’re at the trial court level, and at the trial court level all decisions are appealable,” Mr. Winner said.

Some attendees spoke out against the legal challenge and spending at Monday’s meeting.

West Tisbury resident Doug Ruskin, a former member of the town’s finance committee, expressed concern that the school’s legal budget for the Oak Bluffs appeal continues without a cap, despite the negative town meeting votes.

“Does the committee have a response for the three towns’ position about unfettered spending on this lawsuit?” Mr. Ruskin asked, drawing a brief “No” from Mr. Lionette and a sharp response from committee member Mike Watts.

“Uncapped is different than unfettered,” Mr. Watts said. “Please, we’re not idiots, right? Uncapped means it’s not capped. Unfettered means you can go and do whatever the hell you want. This committee has no intention of doing that.”

The Oak Bluffs planning board denied the field project in 2022, citing concerns about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as PFAS, from the turf negatively affecting the area’s water quality.

The school argued that provisions in state law exempt the district from certain zoning regulations, and has claimed that the school didn’t even need a special permit from the board.

Other speakers Monday raised environmental concerns as they opposed continued litigation.

“The aquifer is located right under your field here [and] there’s nothing more important than our drinking water,” said Oak Bluffs resident Richard Toole.

“I applaud our Oak Bluffs planning board for sticking their necks out. They had the nerve to do the right thing,” Mr. Toole said. “I’m paying legal fees on both sides of this issue and it’s just ridiculous … You are damaging your chances of getting the high school [building] project approved if you continue your silly little litigation.”

Including schematic design work and a project manager, the school has spent about $520,000 on the controversial athletic field overhaul, school officials said.

The turf field is one element of the plan along with renovated grass fields, lighting, a press box and other improvements.