Authors Posts by Janet Hefler

Janet Hefler

Janet Hefler

by -

Long-serving Leo DeSorcy leveled a blast at Tisbury selectmen and DPW union employees on his way out the door.

The Tisbury Department of Public Works. – MV Times file photo

Tisbury Board of Public Works (BPW) Chairman Leo DeSorcy resigned at the start of the board’s regular meeting Monday. Mr. DeSorcy said a decision by voters at town meeting last week to put the department of public works (DPW) back under the control of selectmen, coupled with frustration over ongoing issues and complaints from union employees, led to his decision.

“Fifteen years; I’ve had enough,” Mr. DeSorcy, a well-respected contractor, said, after he handed Vice Chairman John Thayer his two-sentence resignation letter. “I thank you, gentlemen. I just can’t listen to it anymore. I really can’t.”

Commissioners George Balco, Jeff Kristal, and Denys Wortman joined Mr. Thayer in thanking Mr. DeSorcy for his time. Since 1989, when it was established through state legislation, the Tisbury BPW has operated as an independent, elected board that oversees the town’s department of public works (DPW).

All that is about to change. On April 14, town meeting voters approved an article put forth by the board of selectmen to place the DPW and its functions back under their control. The legislative process is estimated to take about 18 months.

The revamped DPW would include refuse and recycling services, municipal building maintenance, highway and sidewalk maintenance, parks and recreation, cemetery maintenance and operations, wastewater operations, and special projects, under the selectmen’s management and direction. In addition to restructuring the DPW’s management, the selectmen would replace the elected BPW with an advisory board that they would appoint.

Selectmen Jon Snyder and Tristan Israel voted to approve the DPW warrant article at a special meeting on Feb. 25, during school vacation week. Selectman Melinda Loberg participated in the meeting by speakerphone from Colorado but was unable to vote. DPW Director Glenn Mauk and BPW commissioners were not present at the meeting.

The special meeting was called following a previous meeting, at which town officials and community members harshly criticized the DPW’s snow-clearing efforts after a massive January snowstorm.

In a Letter to the Editor published April 8, selectmen Jon Snyder, Melinda Loberg, and Tristan Israel urged voters to endorse the warrant article to enable them and town administrator Jay Grande, who serves as personnel director and chief procurement officer, to oversee and coordinate the DPW’s functions and personnel.

At Tisbury town meeting, Mr. Grande provided a lengthy PowerPoint in support of the change. Mr. DeSorcy and Mr. Thayer told voters they learned about the article to restructure the DPW from a reporter, without any notification or discussion with the selectmen.

Mr. DeSorcy argued that the article was incomplete, in that the selectmen had not offered any details as to how the DPW would be restructured, or the costs involved. A motion was made to table the article, but failed to achieve a two-third majority. The article was approved 124-67.

Disgusted with selectmen

Revisiting the issue Monday, the BPW commissioners said they felt blindsided by the selectmen’s action.

“I’m disgusted by how easily the townspeople were led to make that vote,” Mr. DeSorcy said Monday. “I’m ashamed of our selectmen, for how they presented it, with no when, whys, hows — we still know nothing. As a taxpayer I still don’t know who’s doing it, who’s paying for it, who’s going to administrate it.”

“I was pretty disgusted at the meeting and the fact that the selectmen never came to talk to us, to say can we work together, is there anything we can do,” Mr. Wortman added.

“No; there is merit in trying to improve something, but there is no merit in introducing something at town meeting where seven percent of our population goes,” Mr. DeSorcy said. “It’s like training a puppy dog, and it’s completely reactionary, as always, as opposed to someone actually thinking about who’s going to do it.”

Mr. DeSorcy predicted that the selectmen would end up having to hire one, if not two, additional employees, at $80,000 to $100,000 each, to handle the DPW duties.

“We saved the town so much money with getting rid of trash collection, a prime example,” he said. “Hundreds of thousands of dollars, lots of problems keeping our personnel down, and what do they do? We need another tax override … and we’re going to hire an IT [information technology] person.”

“So you’re saying you saw the town meeting vote as a town vote of no confidence in the commissioners?” Mr. Thayer asked.

“One hundred percent,” Mr. DeSorcy responded. “It would be my recommendation we all just leave, but I can only speak for myself. If the selectmen are so smart and they know how to do everything so well, they should start tomorrow. I would love to see that happen.

“And how many people would they have to hire to deal with just a fraction of what we do?” he added.


Fire 99 percent

Before Mr. DeSorcy tendered his resignation, he called the board’s attention to two photos of a broken street sign on William Street, recently repaired by a DPW employee. The one-way street sign had been sloppily refastened to its post using two pieces of scrap wood and U-bolt brackets that jutted out from the sign’s front.

“And it’s not like it’s on some back street — that’s in our historic district,” Mr. DeSorcy pointed out.

Mr. Thayer said he received the photos in a text from a William Street homeowner and forwarded them to Mr. Mauk, who went out and removed the sign at 7 pm that night.

“I really think the union people have managed to dumb their work level down to an excruciatingly low threshold of what’s acceptable,” Mr. Thayer said. “There are half a dozen people here, drawing $50,000 to $70,000 a year, plus overtime, plus benefits, who think this is actually the level they should be operating at. To me, this is a straight-up termination level. Whoever did this, I want to find out who it is and invite him to leave the department.”

Mr. Thayer said he has witnessed a “parade of obstruction” by union employees against Mr. Mauk since he began as director of the DPW about a year and a half ago. As of February, union employees had filed 15 separate grievances alleging union contract violations.

“And the selectmen and the people who write the municipal employee union contracts over and over again — welcome to what you’ve created,” Mr. Thayer said. “We’ve tried to enforce it, and it’s been miserable and really excruciating in the last year and a half. I’m actually relieved that this part of my day is going to go away at a certain time.”

Mr. DeSorcy said the DPW has a few good employees, but too many bad apples.

“I’m disgusted with the amount of complaints and all those union grievances, most of which a grown man should be ashamed of himself to have any of that ever come up,” he said. “The nuts are running this Island now. If only we had the ability to fire them all — or at least 99 percent of them. If they hate it so much, they should quit.”


Move forward

Mr. DeSorcy left the meeting. Mr. Thayer asked the other commissioners for their reactions.

“I can understand why Leo’s doing what he’s doing,” Mr. Balco said. “But at the same point in time, this won’t really solve anything. We have to go forward from here. And I do think, and I’ve expressed this in the past, that communication between us and all the other parts of town should be increased, and it’s very important.”

Mr. Kristal, a former selectman, said Mr. DeSorcy’s decision to resign was understandable but unfortunate.

“With Leo goes a lot of experience, not only from sitting on this board but also a lot of hands-on, mechanical engineering experience he has that this board will be missing,” he said. “I honestly don’t know if this town will ever recover from what just happened at town meeting. I think there’s going to be a huge learning curve for whoever comes in for the appointed board, which will delay things getting done.”

Mr. Wortman said he was sorry to see Mr. DeSorcy leave, and had considered it himself.

“We’re all lame ducks now, as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “I certainly don’t want to be appointed, and I won’t accept a position to the appointed board. Because the selectmen will be asking for our advice, I would think, but are they going to take it?”

Mr. Wortman suggested that if the selectmen really want to take over the DPW, “take it over, but be the front line. Don’t put this buffer in between that has no power.”

Mr. Thayer concurred with Mr. Wortman about serving on an appointed board whose advice the selectmen could disregard.

“I’m not sitting on that; we were actually solving problems for the town of Tisbury’s infrastructure,” he said.

by -

Uniform learning standards level the playing field for all students.

Katherine Scheidler signed copies of her book, "Standards Matter," following her presentation about Common Core state education standards at the Vineyard Haven Public Library on April 4. – Photo by Janet Hefler

Common Core State Standards are getting an undeserved bad rap, Katherine (Kay) Scheidler, author of a new book, Standards Matter, said. Ms. Scheidler spoke out in support of the high-quality learning associated with the standards, and dispelled what she said are some of the misconceptions at a book talk and signing on April 4 at the Vineyard Haven Public Library.

State education leaders and governors in 48 states worked together to develop the Common Core, a set of standards, not curriculum, in English language arts and literacy and mathematics. Ms. Scheidler’s book focuses on “the why and what of Common Core State Standards in reading and writing.”

The standards spell out the reading and math skills students should acquire, grade by grade, as they progress from kindergarten through high school. Common Core standards were designed as a set of uniform benchmarks to ensure that high school graduates from any state will learn the same skills and be ready to begin college without needing to take remedial classes.

Although state adoption of the standards is not mandatory, currently 43 states have voluntarily adopted them and are working to implement them. The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted the Common Core standards in July 2010, and they became part of the state curriculum in 2011.

Leveling the playing field

The idea that common learning standards for all children are key to educational equity and fairness took root early in Ms. Scheidler’s teaching career. She said that tracking, the practice of grouping students by achievement level, was the norm when she started her first job as a student teacher at Hope High School in Providence in 1969. It was then she realized that having different standards for students of different levels was detrimental to those who weren’t at the top.

“The inequity of the top-track kids getting the best of education and the kids in the lower levels not getting the same quality of education has an awful lot to do with what Common Core standards are,” Ms. Scheidler said. “It’s a matter of taking the top-level kind of expectations and trying to get all kids to move to that level for equity and fairness.”

She takes issue with critics who argue that Common Core standards may “dumb down” learning for top-level students.

“The goal is really to take high-level standards and help kids grow to that level,” Ms. Scheidler said. “Instead of teaching and then giving a test that some kids pass and some kids don’t pass, it’s the idea of setting out and making it clear to kids what you want them to learn and trying to bring them up to that level.”

Ms. Scheidler discussed examples of high-level English projects she has observed and the Common Core standards that students learned, which included expository/argumentative writing; reading nonfiction text for information; evaluating visuals and text; reading complex text proficiently; producing clear and coherent writing; and engaging in peer review, revisions, and research. Common Core standards require that students use online and print sources, and document them, she added.

How Common Core evolved

Ms. Scheidler said that the move to establish education standards started in 1983, following a report from a national commission that cited “a rising tide of mediocrity” in its study of American schools. It came as a wake-up call to state governors and state commissioners of education, which led to a pledge by the governors in 1989 to establish standards and assessment tests in common.

In 2002, President George Bush signed the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act into law. It garnered criticism from many educators and lawmakers, who deemed the law’s requirement that all students be proficient in reading and math by 2014 as unrealistic.

Changes in testing

Massachusetts is also in the middle of a two-year trial of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics, under consideration as a replacement for Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) exams.

Last spring Edgartown School, Tisbury School, West Tisbury School, and Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School took part in field tests of the new PARCC tests online. Oak Bluffs School and the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School used paper tests.

“When I first looked at MCAS tests, and saw what was expected in 10th grade, which was that every student was supposed to be able to take a piece of literature they read and write a literary analysis paper on it, I thought, Oh, wouldn’t it be wonderful if every student could do that?” Ms. Scheidler said. “We didn’t quite get every student to proficient, which was the goal under No Child Left Behind by 2014, but we’ve moved kids along tremendously, just by having these standards and the vision. With Common Core, the standards are a bit more stringent and the tests a bit harder, but basically it’s the same idea.”

Common Core and PARCC protests

Common Core standards recently have become a hot-button topic in the looming 2016 presidential race, Ms. Scheidler noted. Some critics on the political right are denouncing Common Core as representing a federal takeover of school curriculum, which she said is false, because the state-led initiative leaves curriculum decisions under state and local control.

The standards are, however, technically tied to federal money. A competitive grant program for schools, the Race to the Top Fund (RTTF), was funded by the U.S. Department of Education through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. President Barack Obama linked RTTF grant money to states’ adoption of higher academic standards, without naming Common Core specifically.

As one of 12 winning states in the RTTF program, Massachusetts received a grant of $250 million to promote reform in the K-12 education system’s standards and assessment, teachers, and leaders, school improvement, and data systems. Island school districts in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury, as well as the high school and Up-Island regional districts, applied for and received RTFF allocations totaling $118,129 over four years.

In the backdrop of political debate over Common Core are widespread protests in several states, which started in March, against the standards-aligned tests created by the PARCC consortium.

“The PARCC tests that are happening right now in the Vineyard schools are really assessments,” Ms. Scheidler said. “They’re not standardized tests like the old IQ tests or Iowa tests, where a test comes in from nowhere just to sort of peg a kid. They’re called criterion-reference tests, and you set a standard, and let the public know, the kids know, and the teachers know that, and what you’re teaching it for. It’s a way to assess where kids are, and to use that information to bring them along.”

Unfortunately, that difference has not been well-publicized, Ms. Scheidler said. Over the past few months, a huge opt-out movement against the tests has been promoted in several states on social media and on websites such as the Common Core Forum in Massachusetts.

“I haven’t gone to the website, because in a way, I don’t want to see it, because it hurts me enough to see negative things about the wonderful expectations and visionary Common Core standards and the assessments to help kids move along,” Ms. Scheidler said.

She concluded her presentation by answering questions from the small audience, which included several teachers, followed by a book signing.

As an adjunct instructor at Framingham State University, Ms. Scheidler teaches about understanding Common Core standards and their integration into curriculum and instruction. In addition to teaching at the high school and college level, her background includes 15 years as Massachusetts assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction, and assessment, and also professional development, in Hopkinton and Canton.She holds a Ph.D. from Boston University’s School of Education, a graduate degree from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, a masters of arts in teaching English from Brown University, and a B.A. in English and International Relations from The American University. Ms. Scheidler and her husband Peter are residents of Providence, R.I., and Vineyard Haven.

Standards Matter: The Why and What of Common Core Standards in Reading and Writing is available for $12.95 from the publisher, NewSouth Books, and Amazon.

by -

The rising cost of operating the undersize wastewater treatment plant falls on a limited number of users.

Tisbury Main Street businesses can expect to see their wastewater fees increase.

More than a decade ago, and following years of often heated debate, Tisbury built the town’s first municipal sewer system. Reacting to concerns that the new system would spur development and growth, Tisbury purposely built a wastewater treatment plant with limited capacity.

The decision to hobble the town’s capacity to treat wastewater meant that the cost would be spread among a limited number of users.

Now users complain that fees — up 95 percent in two years — place an unfair burden on a limited number of businesses and organizations, and that the cost of operating in Tisbury will impact the town’s commercial base and efforts to develop affordable housing.

The Department of Public Works (DPW) fiscal year 2016 (FY16) sewer enterprise-fund budget, approved as part of the department’s budget at town meeting, included a 30 percent increase in sewer use fees — from 3 cents per gallon to 3.9 cents per gallon in the next fiscal year.

That follows an increase from 2 cents per gallon in FY14 to three cents in FY15, a 50 percent increase. In total, the FY16 increase represents a 95 percent hike since FY14.

Killing numbers

For the Mansion House, an anchor hotel at the foot of Main Street, the increase translates into more than $50,000.

“So in real numbers, it takes our sewer bill and jumps it from $48,000 to over $102,000 a year,”Joshua Goldstein, a manager in his family’s business, told voters at town meeting last week.

“How can we justify such a huge expense?” he added. “It’s killing the businesses in the town.”

Mr. Goldstein warned that the proposed sewer user fee increase already was impacting decisions by business owners about whether to stay in Tisbury, or move to Oak Bluffs or Edgartown, where rates are lower. He said one of the Mansion House’s business tenants plans to move out next year because of the continuing increases.

“What can we do to lower our costs so our town can remain vibrant?” Mr. Goldstein asked. “Because with the costs that are in this budget, our town cannot continue to thrive, my family’s business cannot continue to thrive, and I would ask you to make changes so that we can continue to make Vineyard Haven vibrant year-round.”

DPW Director Glenn Mauk said an oversight of $25,000 that should have been included in the FY16 sewer enterprise-fund budget was discovered following a Board of Public Works (BPW) public hearing on April 6. Based on the new budget total, Mr. Mauk said, “We’ll probably seek to lower the increase after this town meeting, by way of public hearing, to 3.75 cents.”

Nonetheless, he added, “From last year to this year, we have $100,000 less in free cash from money that was built into the fund to operate the plant, and I think what’s happening here is that for many years the plant was underfunded.”


Tisbury’s sewer district includes all of the downtown Vineyard Haven area, from Main Street, starting around the former Le Grenier Restaurant, to the Lagoon Pond drawbridge. The wastewater collection system and treatment facility is located at the DPW facility on High Point Lane. It was designed to serve a mix of about 135 commercial and residential properties, former DPW director Fred LaPiana previously told The Times. He said about 60 to 70 percent of those are businesses.

“The system we built was cobbled together on town meeting floor more than a dozen years ago to satisfy people who didn’t want to build it at all,” BPW Commissioner George Balco told The Times in a phone call last week. “I remember commenting as FinCom chairman that it was too small. We made the smallest, most expensive system we could make, and now people are saying, My God, this is the smallest, most expensive system. No one listened to our opinion.”

Voters subsequently agreed to split the construction costs of the “growth neutral” sewer system 50/50 between the town and users. The state approved $6.4 million of zero-interest revolving-fund financing in October 2000.

Property owners who wanted to hook up to the system applied to the town sewer-flow review board, which assigned sewage-flow rates. Sewer betterment fees were assessed to Vineyard Haven businesses beginning in November 2008.

User fees are calculated on the number of gallons of water used, not on the actual volume of flow that goes into the wastewater treatment plant.

The Steamship Authority (SSA) recently built a new pump-out facility for its ferries that is tied into the town sewer system in Vineyard Haven. Mr. Balco said the SSA paid for its infrastructure, and does not have a betterment fee, but does pay user fees.

Feeling the pinch

On April 6, one week prior to town meeting, the BPW held a public hearing to discuss the proposed DPW budget and new sewer user rates. The system’s 110 users received notices by mail.

Mansion House co-owners Sherman and Susan Goldstein sent out a letter of their own to other Vineyard Haven business owners, urging them to attend the hearing. Twelve people, including Mr. and Mrs. Goldstein and their son Joshua, attended the hearing, along with BPW Commissioners George Balco, John Thayer and Denys Wortman. BPW Chairman Leo DeSorcy and Commissioner Jeff Kristal were absent.

“My question to the commissioners was, What are you going to do about it; who’s going to lead the change that’s going to be required?” Ms. Goldstein said in a phone conversation with The Times two days later. “Each of them said the plant is too small, and it will get more and more expensive to operate.”

J.B. Blau leases space in the Mansion House, where he operates the popular Copper Wok restaurant, one of Main Street’s only year-round restaurants. He also owns and operates the Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Co. and Sharky’s restaurants in Oak Bluffs, and Sharky’s in Edgartown. Mr. Blau said he pays two to three times more for sewer services in Tisbury than in the other two Island towns.

“It is an extreme difference, and with a near 33 percent increase about to go through, plus inevitable future increases, it is an amount that would prevent us from being able to consider anything in town in the future, unfortunately,” Mr. Blau wrote in an email to The Times. “And as our lease ends, we would need to seriously consider the expense when deciding to stay or leave.”

Mr. Blau said Tisbury’s exorbitant sewer fees, coupled with its limited beer and wine licenses, make Edgartown and Oak Bluffs, which offer lower fees and full liquor licenses, more attractive at this time, especially for a company trying to maintain year-round operations.

“We have loved our short time in Vineyard Haven, but the more we learn about these out-of-whack expenses and their pending increases, the less likely we would be able to remain in town in the future,” he said. “Or, as an alternative, we would have to look for a location that is not hooked up to the town sewer.”

High sewering costs also affect the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, Executive Director David Vigneault pointed out at the hearing. He told the BPW that the ancillary impacts of the sewer user-fee increase on services such as affordable housing were significant, and at cross-purposes with other town goals.

“For example, the proposed rate increases — a 95 percent total increase when coupled with last fall’s — would double to $6,000 our sewer fees for four apartments on Lagoon Pond,” Mr. Vigneault said in an email to The Times. “That equals our full budgeted amount for all utilities at that property, with no recourse to raising rents due to original funding restrictions. That means that other affordable rental properties in town and elsewhere will have to subsidize those units.”

No economy of scale

In separate phone conversations with The Times last week, Mr. Balco, Mr. Thayer, and Mr. Wortman all said one of the biggest drawbacks with Tisbury’s 110,000-gallon wastewater treatment plant is that it cannot achieve the economies of scale that Oak Bluffs, which operates a 400,000-gallon plant, and Edgartown, with a 750,000-gallon plant, can.

“The trouble is, the wastewater stream that’s running through there has been flat, basically,” Mr. Balco said.

And since the plant has to operate 24/7; it can’t just be shut down at times when the flows are lower than they are in the summer.

“If we could get more flow through the system, we wouldn’t have to increase the number of employees; basically, that would just help lower the rate,” Mr. Wortman said.

Also, if the sewer system is expanded, adding more users would spread the operating costs over a larger base, Mr. Balco said.

At town meeting two years ago, voters approved borrowing $990,000 to install a new wastewater leaching system and make upgrades to increase capacity at the wastewater treatment plant. The purpose was to allow for B-2 business properties to hook up to the system, provided they install a pipe for the connection, to reduce the nitrogen level in Lake Tashmoo. The new system is not in use yet.

Voters at town meeting last week, however, shot down an article that would have authorized funding for design and engineering services to extend the sewer system from 82 Main Street to Greenwood Avenue. The extension was intended to address a failing septic system at the Vineyard Haven Public Library and to allow the tie-in of a boat pumpout facility at Owen Park.

Selectmen Tristan Israel and Melinda Loberg, however, argued in favor of waiting and doing more planning.

The BPW is hamstrung in that it cannot set regulations or policy, Mr. Thayer said. “The business owners have to understand there’s nothing I can do — I’m balancing a budget operated by an enterprise fund,” he added.

Mr. Balco and Mr. Wortman both said they believe it might be time for the town to consider funding some of the wastewater treatment plant’s operating expenses with taxpayer money.

“We really like to keep it as cheap as we can for the users, but it’s an enterprise system, so it has to pay for itself,” Mr. Wortman said. “If we wanted to change it over and put some on the tax rate, we could lower the cost to each user. But then people who don’t use it would be paying for it. Let’s say you put $50,000 of that on the tax rate. That would help the users, but would the general public really want that?”

In the meantime, Mr. Wortman said, the BPW will continue to look for possible ways to save money in operating the wastewater plant.


by -

Results from the April competition pushed Willow Wunsch and Tim Roberts into first place overall.

Maddy Moore, left, and Zach Bresnick weigh fruit on their scale. – Photo by Maria Thibodeau

The “final four” tipped the scales in the engineering challenge at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) on April 9. It was the final competition in which the cumulative scores would determine the grand winners of the yearlong competition.

Four teams, 10 students in all, pitted their wits and problem-solving skills in an intense 45-minute mental marathon to see who could build the most accurate produce scale.

Freshman Elizabeth O’Brien and sophomore David Packer took first place in the April challenge. Willow Wunsch and Tim Roberts, both seniors, triumphed as the female and male grand winners for the year, based on cumulative points earned in the monthly competitions held since last fall. Tim did not participate in last week’s challenge.

Elizabeth O'Brien and David Packer won the April challenge by creating the most accurate produce scale. – Photo by Maria Thibodeau
Elizabeth O’Brien and David Packer won the April challenge by creating the most accurate produce scale. – Photo by Maria Thibodeau

In addition to Elizabeth and David, the other teams included senior Maddy Moore and juniors Connor Downing and Zach Bresnick; and juniors Chris Aring and Jared Livingston. Willow teamed up with seniors Kevin Montambault and Andrew Ruimerman.

The engineering challenge program, now in its third year, is the brainchild of chemistry teacher and science department head Natalie Munn. Its goal is to give students an opportunity to experience the work process of an engineering design challenge and to collaborate with one another to get the job done well.


On your mark, get set, think

The April challenge was to build a produce scale using two aluminum pie pans, string, and a six-inch spring hung from a ring stand clamped to a table, and to create a system of measurement, using a ruler and a file folder that could be cut up to create a grid to indicate different weights.

In order to calibrate their homemade scales, students weighed canned goods of assorted weights and sizes with an electronic scale. The students had 45 minutes to complete their scales, which would then be tested by weighing a bag of four apples and a bag of four oranges. Their measurements would be compared with those done using the electronic scale, to see whose homemade scale was the most accurate.

Ms. Munn kicked off the competition at 2:20 pm in her classroom science lab. The students sprang into action, and had their scales built in about 20 minutes. All of the teams used a paper grid behind the spring to mark different weights, but each took a somewhat different approach.

One team used the top of the spring as the reference point for marking various weights, while other teams fashioned a paper tab to attach to the spring, similar to the arrow seen on produce scales that points at the weight.

Ms. Munn suggested that the more items the students weighed, the better off they might be in calibrating their scales. As it turned out, however, Elizabeth and David weighed the fewest items, yet their scale took first place with a total weight difference of only 11 grams, compared with the electronic scale weights. Chris and Jared, who weighed more items than any of the teams to calibrate their scale, came in second with a total difference of 24 grams.

Asked by The Times what she enjoys about the engineering challenge, Elizabeth said, “It’s fun.”

Her teammate David agreed. “Yes, and it’s a good group of kids.”

Although there is some overlap in challenge participants with members of the school’s engineering club, Ms. Munn said, it attracts students with a variety of interests. Jared, for example, missed a few challenges because he had a role in the school play. He and his partner Chris had worked together on several past challenges.

“It can be a bit stressful, but it gives us a chance to be creative,” Jared said. “Because if you look at the projects, none of them are the same. Last time, we had to make brooms out of hay bales. It was really messy because there was hay everywhere, but it was really fun because of the challenge of it.”

Willow has been a regular participant and winner of past challenges since her sophomore year. Although science is not her favorite subject, she said, she kept coming back for the engineering challenge for the same reason as her fellow students: “It’s just something fun to do.”

Kevin Montambault, center, and Willow Wunsch work together to calibrate their scale. Maddy Moore, left, and Zach Bresnick weigh fruit on their scale. – Photo by Maria Thibodeau
Kevin Montambault, center, and Willow Wunsch work together to calibrate their scale.


A mental sport of sorts

The engineering challenge program is classified under school clubs as an extracurricular activity. “There’s no grade; anybody that comes, it’s just because they enjoy it,” Ms. Munn said. “Clubs also fill a niche for some kids who may not be active in sports.”

Another plus of the challenge program, Ms. Munn said, is that it offers students the opportunity for a different type of science-oriented competition from the yearly science fair.

“I like the science fair, but I love that the engineering challenge is thinking on your feet, which is a different skill than planning a project,” she said.

Ms. Munn said she thinks students enjoy that the challenges require no advance preparation. They can just show up and jump in, without fear of the outcome.

“Trying something and being OK with it not working, I love that,” she said. “Whereas a lot of the classroom projects tend to be a little more heavily planned, you can let them find their own way.”

Ms. Munn said the engineering challenge program also has fostered great professional collaboration with several other teachers.

“Seeing the different approaches teams take has been so interesting to me,” science teacher Anna Cotton said. “We do the challenge as an afterschool activity, and it’s a club and it’s fun, but then I think about how it could work in school, too. I get a lot of ideas that I’ve used in my chemistry class.”


Choosing the challenges

When asked where she gets her ideas for the challenges, Ms. Munn said, “Usually I just kind of pick something that’s an everyday object. We try not to do premade lab types of projects, but find something that feels authentic.”

Projects have included making a flashlight during hurricane season, a confetti launcher before New Year’s Eve, noise-reducing headphones, a broom, and a shovel.

“You want something students can do within the time period, and you want something that’s easily measurable, like sound or light output,” Ms. Munn said. “I don’t tend to do a lot of things that I find online because they don’t fit the time slot, or you have to provide too much guidance.”

“The materials are really simple, the concepts are very clear, and the students can mix it up in a lot of different ways to find their own authentic solutions,” computer technology Chris Connors noted.


Year-end results

The competition wrapped up in an hour, and Ms. Munn quickly tallied up the final results. In addition to Willow and Tim, winners (in order by number of total points) included Eli Hanschka and Elizabeth O’Brien, second place; Christopher Aring, Zachary Bresnick, Connor Downing, Russell Shapiro, Maddy Moore, and Ellie Reagan, third place; and Kevin Montambault and Emily Moore, honorable mention.


by -

Voters said yes to several big ticket items that included two building purchases.

Tisbury town moderator Deborah Medders, shown Tuesday night, returned to the podium Wednesday for the conclusion of annual town meeting. Photo by Michael Cummo.

Updated 3 pm, Monday

Tisbury voters worked determinedly through 34 articles to finish up the second night of annual town meeting on April 15. Town meeting moderator Deborah Medders kept a firm grip on the proceedings, cutting commenters short — but politely — when they strayed off topic. Nonetheless, the meeting lasted four hours.

Attendance dropped from 222 on Tuesday night to 146 on Wednesday night, a decrease from about 7 percent to 4.6 percent of the town’s 3,156 registered voters.

Over the course of the night, voters approved some big-ticket spending articles tied to overrides, which included debt exclusions to fund Tisbury’s share of the Dukes County purchase of the former VNA building for $1.6 million, for use by the Center for Living, and construction of a new Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools (MVPS) administration building at an estimated cost of $3.9 million.

The plan for Dukes County to buy the former VNA building off State Road generated the evening’s lengthiest debate. Although the article was strictly about whether or not to buy the building as a permanent home for CFL, the discussion elicited many emotional testimonies from family members about its Supportive Day Program, which provides socialization and supervised activities for their loved ones in their struggles with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other disabilities.

Outgoing Selectman Jonathan Snyder said he thought the town “absolutely should” support the purchase. “Let’s not let the perfect ideal be the enemy of the pretty darn good,” Mr. Snyder said.

Tisbury’s finance and advisory committee (FinCom), however, did not recommend the purchase, which will cost the town $301,000, plus interest, for up to 15 years.

“There is no financial plan spelling out anticipated costs, or plans for growth associated with buying this building, and we were uncomfortable approving such a large expenditure without one,” the FinCom stated.

The article passed, but voters will be asked to approve a ballot question to exempt the purchase from Proposition 2.5 (Prop. 2.5) at the April 28 town election.

Voters approved a request to borrow up to $900,000 to purchase one, or possibly two, parcels at the corner of Main Street and Greenwood Avenue for parking for Vineyard Haven Public Library patrons and other public uses. They also said yes to the Tisbury Water Works (TWW) request to borrow $1 million to construct a garage facility on property at 275 Spring Street, across the street from where it now operates.

Capital appropriations and new equipment requests totaling $163,500 were approved, which included $60,000 to replace windows in the Tisbury Police Station; $30,000 to repair and upgrade the Owen Park gazebo and electrical system; and $18,000 to purchase firefighter protective clothing and equipment.

$24.2 million budget

The FY16 operating budget article came up late in the meeting, drawn as number 27 under Tisbury’s lottery system. Voters approved the $24,286,835 budget, up 4.7 percent over last year.

The budget includes a $208,929 increase in Tisbury School’s operating budget. Municipal finance director Tim McLean explained that the total increase in Tisbury School’s budget came to 6.4 percent, of which the town could pay 3 percent with available funds. The remainder requires a Prop. 2.5 override ballot question.

Tisbury School principal John Custer said the 6.4 percent increase breaks down into three components: 1.39 percent is the school’s portion of the superintendent’s shared-services budget; 4.45 percent is for the school’s contractual obligations and salaries; and 0.56 percent is for the school’s operating budget.

Asked what would happen if the override doesn’t pass, Mr. McLean said there are three options: The school would have to cut $208,929 out of its budget; the town would have to call another election to reconsider it; or the town would have to try to come up with another funding source and put it before voters at a special town meeting.

Just say no

At the end of the discussion, Rachel Orr said she was worried about the budget as a whole.

“We have the highest tax rate on the Island,” she said. “I had a hard time coming up with the money for our taxes this year — I’m sure I will next year. I’m not sure how we as a town or as a town meeting can even go about making any adjustments, but I’m really worried about it.” Ms. Orr asked for advice from the town’s financial advisors.

“We don’t pick and choose what we feel is financially good for the town,” Larry Gomez responded. “You have control of your taxes, not us. Each individual does. So just say no.”

And voters did just that, a few times, anyway. They tabled the selectmen’s request that the town borrow $192,500 to partially fund the design and engineering for an underground utility system for Beach Road. The article corresponds to a Prop. 2.5 override debt-exclusion ballot question.

Voters rejected an article that would authorize funding for design and engineering services to extend the sewer system from 82 Main Street to Greenwood Avenue, which would include the Vineyard Haven Public Library and Owen Park.

George Balco, a DPW commissioner and longtime member of the sewer flow review board, said the extension was intended to address a failing septic system at the Vineyard Haven Public Library. The extension would also allow the tie-in of a boat pumpout facility being built at Owen Park, which would save the cost of hauling the septage away. Selectmen Tristan Israel and Melinda Loberg, however, argued in favor of waiting to do more extensive sewer planning. The borrowing measure failed to achieve a two-thirds majority, with 30 for and 59 against.

Voters passed on a request to spend $25,000 to purchase conservation mooring tackle, to allow for more research on location and type.

Voters also rejected a request to spend $25,000 to repair and maintain the Owen Park and Lake Street docks, after hearing that the money would only be a stopgap measure.

Embarkation-fee largesse

Voters approved 10 items for funding from the passenger ferry embarkation-fee receipts, a total of $240,000 for FY 2015. The state-legislature-imposed 50-cent surcharge on one-way ferry passenger tickets is intended to mitigate the impacts of ferry service on port towns such as Tisbury, by providing harbor services, public safety protection, emergency services, or infrastructure improvements within or around the harbor.

While most of the items passed unanimously, voters were divided on a request from the police department for $20,000 to purchase and install cameras and equipment to record vehicle and pedestrian traffic at the Steamship Authority traffic circle, Water Street, Beach Street, and Beach Road in the area of Five Corners.

Police Chief Dan Hanavan said the cameras would be helpful in cases of pedestrian and motor vehicle accidents that occur at those intersections, as well as providing data for traffic monitoring, and crowd surveillance, such as during Tisbury’s annual Street Fair, for security reasons.

Tony Peak asked what the policy would be for maintaining the recordings: how they would be accessed, archived, and stored; who would have access to them; and how long they would be held.

“The policy is to hold those for a month; then they’d be gone,” Chief Hanavan said.

The article narrowly passed in a standing vote, 45 to 40.

Other items approved included wages for summer traffic officers, a radio repeater system and equipment for the fire, police and EMS departments, new portable radios for the ambulance department, improvements to the park and ride lot, harbor dredging funds, and beautification improvements in downtown Vineyard Haven.

Milestone for Tim McLean

The meeting ended, as always, with an article to transfer and appropriate money from the unreserved fund balance to reduce the tax rate, to meet the limitations of Prop. 2.5.

“Mr. McLean, you want to fill in the blank?” Ms. Medders asked.

“For the last time, Tim McLean,” Fire Chief John Schilling called out from his seat in the bleachers, in acknowledgement of Mr. McLean’s upcoming retirement this year.

Mr. McLean’s answer, “$950,000,” was drowned out by the audience’s applause, which turned into a standing ovation, for a well-respected and long-serving municipal employee.


by -

The $24.2 million budget is up by 4.7 percent over last year.

Tisbury voters, shown in this 2013 photo, will return to the Tisbury School gymnasium Tuesday to take action on special and annual town meeting warrants. – File photo by Ralph Stewart

Veteran Tisbury meeting goers predict it will take at least two nights for voters to wade through a total of 54 articles on the special and annual town meetings warrants. Voters will be asked to take action on a range of issues that include putting the department of public works under the selectmen’s control, adding new town positions, and a $24,286,835 operating budget for fiscal year 2016 (FY16), an increase of about 4.7 percent over last year.

Voters begin work at 7 pm Tuesday in the Tisbury School gym. Town elections will be held on Tuesday, April 28, with contested races for the planning board and board of selectmen.

Voters also will be asked to approve a general Proposition 2.5 (Prop. 2.5) override and four debt-exclusion Prop. 2.5 overrides, which correspond to warrant articles.

The debt exclusions involve bonds to fund Tisbury’s share of Dukes County government’s purchase of the former VNA building for use by the Center for Living; the design, engineering and costs to install underground utilities on Beach Road; the purchase of two parcels at the corner of Main Street and Greenwood Avenue for a library parking lot; and construction of a new Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools (MVPS) administration building.



The big ticket item voters will confront is the FY16 budget, which begins on July 1. The total is up by $1,098,640 over the $23,188,195 appropriated in FY15.

Prop. 2.5 limits property tax increases by municipalities to 2.5 percent annually. Overrides to increase the tax levy require a two-thirds majority vote of approval.

The general override being sought for additional Tisbury School operating budget funds involves a permanent change to the tax levy, municipal finance director Tim McLean explained to The Times in a phone conversation on Tuesday. The debt exclusion overrides are limited to the life of a debt.

Tisbury’s FY15 residential tax rate is $8.92 and the commercial rate $8.34 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. Based on FY15 property values, if voters approve all of the funding requests on the warrant and the FY16 budget, Mr. McLean estimates that the tax rates would go up by about 30 cents over the current rates.

To put that into perspective for taxpayers, he said, “Taxes on a half-million property would go up $150 and a million-dollar property would go up $300.”

Mr. McLean had warned the selectmen several months in advance of town meeting last year that Tisbury would face a budget deficit, requiring a general override. Voters subsequently approved the town’s first general override since 1987.

Mr. McLean said he still has the same concerns this year about budget deficits.

“We’re spending more than we’re generating in additional revenue — frightfully so,” he said. “I don’t see how that’s going to change unless we do something dramatically different, and I don’t know what that is, to be honest with you.”

Mr. McLean said the town could have sought a bigger override. “If we didn’t have a little extra money in the health insurance budget and a couple of other things, instead of just the school budget being an override, we could have conceivably had another half-million-dollar override.

“We had some other offsetting pluses that save us from that this year, but I think next year there could be another override,” he said.

He added, “Plus, you have all these other demands from outside agencies that are asking for town funds. The pressure on the budget is huge — and on the taxpayer.”

Nonetheless, based on votes at many town meetings past, Mr. Mclean agreed that Tisbury voters are prone to say yes to most spending requests.

“I think they are, because when you think about the things they’re talking about, such as the elderly or the schools, it’s hard to say no,” he said. “And then they get their tax bills and they’re in sticker shock. It’s a real dilemma.”


Dividing up the dollars

About 41.7 percent of the operating budget, $10,126,659, pays for education. That amount includes Tisbury School’s operating budget and the town’s share of the regional high school’s budget. It does not include expenses such as school debt, Dukes County retirement, health insurance costs for teachers, and the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School, which cost Tisbury about $600,000 in FY15.

Tisbury School has a budget of $5,353,326, an increase of $307,943, or about 6 percent, over FY15. A ballot question will ask voters to allow the town to assess an additional $208,929 to fund the school’s operating budget, starting on July 1.

“Due to dwindling School Choice funds, the FY16 budget does not include the use of any School Choice funds to offset the general budget,” Tisbury School principal John Custer said in an email in response to questions emailed from The Times. “The most significant increases to the FY16 operating budget are $12,376 to fund a School Resource Officer position, and increasing the building maintenance line by $20,000.”

Special to annual

In keeping with general practice, the special town meeting warrant includes only nonspending articles, totaling 16.

Among them are the selectmen’s request that voters approve a home-rule petition to allow them to ask state lawmakers to place the Department of Public Works (DPW) and its functions under the selectmen’s control. The selectmen also want to replace the elected Board of Public Works with an advisory board that they would appoint.

Selectmen want to bring the DPW into the town’s management structure to coordinate aspects of management that are currently handled by different parts of the town’s organization. For example, as personnel director, town administrator Jay Grande handles the DPW’s personnel issues, while the DPW’s board oversees the department’s operations.

Voters also will be asked to divvy up $240,000 from the passenger-ferry embarkation fee receipts. The state-legislature-imposed 50-cent surcharge on one-way ferry passenger tickets is intended to mitigate the impacts of ferry service on port towns such as Tisbury by providing harbor services, public safety protection, emergency services, or infrastructure improvements within or around the harbor.

Community Preservation funds

Voters will be asked to consider 20 projects under article 20 on which to spend Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds, which come from a 3 percent surtax on property taxes and matching funds from the state.

In addition to local projects, voters will also be asked to contribute CPA funds toward regional projects, including $57,540 to relocate the Gay Head Lighthouse; $35,000 to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum’s renovations of the Marine Hospital building on Lagoon Pond Road; and $57,510 as Tisbury’s share of the cost to replace the track at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

Only one project, a request for $150,000 from the Island Housing Trust to fund the first half of costs to build an affordable apartment building on Water Street, did not receive Tisbury’s finance and advisory committee’s (FinCom) recommendation. Chairman Larry Gomez said the FinCom’s consensus was that the project is not in a good location and would not be money well spent.

Other FinCom rejects

Mr. Gomez said the FinCom also voted not to recommend two articles that correspond to ballot questions. Article 24 asks the town to pay $306,720 as its share of the $1.6 million cost of the Dukes County government’s proposed purchase of the former VNA building at Breakdown Lane for use by the Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living and its senior day-care program.

Although the FinCom is supportive of the program, Mr. Gomez said, the committee’s concern is that the purchase price is just the tip of the iceberg and doesn’t include renovations and other related expenses, such as the need for increased staffing if the program expands.

The FinCom also voted against article 26, which proposes that the town spend $900,000, to purchase two properties at the corner of Main and Greenwood for library parking. “We didn’t think it was a good idea, No. 1, because of the location in a residential area, and No. 2, the purchase price doesn’t include the cost to improve the lot,” Mr. Gomez said.

The FinCom also did not recommend Article 10, which asks the town to pay $15,042 as its share of the Healthy Aging Task Force program to provide information for seniors, caregivers, families, and service providers through a referral website and phone-based service. Mr. Gomez said the committee agreed that “we already have senior centers that are supposed to do that.”

Mr. Gomez said he shares Mr. McLean’s concerns about budget deficits.

“We have to take a closer look at what we spend our money on, and start making some tough choices, as well as saying no to some requests,” he said. “It’s all good today, but in five years when we’re still paying for it, people are going to forget what we’re paying for.”

by -

The recent addition of steel beams is a harbinger of spring as work progresses, despite winter woes.

Workers are forging ahead after a tough winter. – Michael Cummo

Construction on the new, permanent Lagoon Pond drawbridge made good progress over the winter, despite multiple snowstorms and harsh conditions, Melinda Loberg, chairman of the Lagoon Pond drawbridge committee (LPDC), told The Times in a phone call Monday.

“They keep telling me they’re on schedule,” Ms. Loberg said of the contractor, Middlesex Corp. of Littleton. “The bridge is supposed to open by the end of 2015.”

The drawbridge project is funded and managed by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), which selected Parsons Corp. as the design firm.

Ms. Loberg said although the construction crew had to take some days off due to dangerously cold temperatures and high winds, as well as snowstorms, those types of situations were anticipated in the scheduling.

“I bet they can’t wait for the weather to be decent again, because it has been grueling for them,” she said.

The work completed over the winter consisted of bridge substructure construction, MassDOT deputy press secretary Amanda Richard said in an email response to questions from The Times.

“While the on-site work was subject to the winter elements, the contractor was able to continue on schedule with only minor delays associated with the winter storms,” she said. “Off-site work proceeded on the bridge control system, bridge machinery, and the steel as it was preformed in manufacturing facilities and thus not affected by the winter weather.”

The progress is evident, Ms. Loberg said.

“You can see the approach roads are beginning to take shape,” she said. “They’ve been working on the retaining walls, the riprap, and the seawall on the Tisbury side, part of which they had to rebuild.”

Regarding the next phase of construction, Ms. Loberg said, “I think what happens now is stuff that’s really visible, that people can go, ‘Aha,’ because all the rest of it was foundational and hidden, and preparatory work.”

A significant addition visible this week is steel beams laid on the approach from Oak Bluffs, Ms. Loberg said yesterday. The beams stop short of the center so that an opening remains, in alignment with the section of the temporary bridge that opens to allow boat traffic in and out of Lagoon Pond over the summer.

The recent addition of steel beams to the new permanent drawbridge, at right, provides more readily visible evidence of progress in its ongoing construction, despite winter's harsh challenges.
The recent addition of steel beams to the new permanent drawbridge, at right, provides more readily visible evidence of progress in its ongoing construction, despite winter’s harsh challenges.

Ms. Loberg said she has found it especially interesting to watch the bridge tender’s house emerge from the water.

“They’ve taken out the walls around it so the water is actually surrounding it now, and they’re going to start building that up,” she said. “And you’re going to see something pretty interesting, because I think that is probably one of the main features people picture when they think about the bridge.”

Over the next two weeks, Ms. Richard said the contractor will be working on the approach retaining walls and completion of the bascule pier to the machinery room floor elevation.The next bascule steel to be installed on the project should begin in the next three to four week. MassDOT is currently on schedule for meeting the total project’s completion date, which is the summer of 2016, Ms. Richard said.

Next phase

With the permanent bridge’s construction on track for completion by the end of the year, Ms. Loberg said the contractor is requesting permission for crews to work double shifts starting in October.

“One of the things they anticipate is that in October they will get to the point where they’re ready to put in the final span and then open the new bridge,” Ms. Loberg explained. “But the problem is that they can’t build the final span while the current bridge we’re using goes up and down for boats. So for the final part they have to build, they need the bridge closed, not to automobile traffic, just to big-boat traffic.”

The center span of the new bridge will be left open until next fall, to allow for summer boat traffic in and out of Lagoon Pond.
The center span of the new bridge will be left open until next fall, to allow for summer boat traffic in and out of Lagoon Pond.

Small boats would still be able to travel in and out of Lagoon Pond through the side channels.

The temporary bridge would have to remain in the closed position starting Oct. 1, and work on the new bridge would have to be completed, in order to dismantle the temporary bridge by a deadline of Jan. 31, 2016, Ms. Loberg said. That leaves a lot to do in a short time, she pointed out, further complicated by state department of marine fisheries regulations. Work that would impede or disturb the flow of water in the construction area is restricted from Jan. 15 through May 31 to protect the spawning and juvenile development of winter flounder and shellfish.

“They have to build the final two spans, and then they have to test the bridge and open it so that traffic can go on it, and then they have to tear down the bridge we’re driving on now,” she said. “So that’s why they’ve asked for double shifts during that period, October through mid-January.”

Ms. Loberg said although the decision to allow double shifts is up to MassDOT, the contractor has always been courteous in asking the bridge committee their opinions as issues arise.

“The bridge committee is meeting next week to discuss all these things, with the right authorities, to give them our yes or no,” Ms. Loberg said. “But it seems reasonable, because the last thing we want, frankly, as an Island, is to have this delayed to the next year. We don’t want that to happen.”

The LPDC will meet at 10 am on April 8 at the MVC offices. Ms. Loberg said the committee also will be discussing some design issues, such as choosing the type of metal cladding to use on the side of the bridge that faces Lagoon Pond. Landscaping will be completed in spring 2016.

The two-bridge process

MassDOT announced plans in 2003 to replace the failing Lagoon Pond drawbridge in two phases, starting with the temporary bridge that opened in January 2010, built at a cost of $9.3 million. The original construction schedule called for the permanent bridge to open in 2014, but the project was delayed by a lengthy review process.

MassDOT gave two basic reasons for its two-phase plan. Building a temporary bridge allowed vehicular traffic to be rerouted during the construction of the permanent bridge, and also allowed the drawbridge to continue to accommodate boat traffic, especially for emergency refuge in Lagoon Pond for boats in the harbor. And engineers believed there was considerable risk that even with repairs, the existing bridge would fail before a permanent new bridge could be built.

According to MassDOT, the initial construction estimate for the permanent drawbridge was $37.9 million, but the value of the contract awarded was $43.7 million. Its construction began in November 2013.

The permanent bridge is under construction adjacent to the existing, temporary bridge, which will continue in use until the new bridge and approach roadways are realigned and able to accept traffic. The temporary bridge will then be disassembled and used on another project, according to MassDOT.

The area presently occupied by the temporary bridge and the former site of a house will be turned into a park area with a pathway that goes under the bridge on the Tisbury side and around to a small landscaped area with picnic tables and benches. There will also be an access road to that area on the Lagoon Pond side.

Long-serving drawbridge committee

The LPDC was created in 2005, before the temporary bridge’s construction, to provide a conduit for local comments to MassDOT. In addition to Ms. Loberg, a Tisbury selectman, other members include Oak Bluffs Shellfish Constable Dave Grunden, Tisbury Harbormaster Jay Wilbur, former Tisbury Planning Board co-chairman Henry Stephenson, and Tisbury Selectman Tristan Israel.

The Oak Bluffs and Tisbury selectmen appoint the committee’s members. Martha’s Vineyard Commission Executive Director Mark London and senior planner Bill Veno also participate as nonvoting members on the committee, and the commission’s staff provides assistance and organizes the meetings.

As the committee’s chairman, Ms. Loberg has attended weekly meetings regarding the permanent bridge’s construction since 2013 with representatives from the state’s bridge project team from the MassDOT District 5 office and Leslie Haines, Parson Corp.’s chief project engineer. Ms. Loberg said it has been a big plus that one of Middlesex Corp.’s employees has been living on the Island, to ensure good communication between the contractor and MassDOT.

With the end in sight for the bridge project, which has occupied so many hours of her time over several years, Ms. Loberg noted with a laugh, “I will have to find another hobby.”

Those interested in watching the bridge construction progress can view webcam footage from MassDOT on the town of Tisbury’s web site at

by -

Graham Lewis’s 433-gram pasta bridge stood up to 1,170 pounds of weight.

Miles Albert and Miles Jordi, right, watch their linguini bridge shatter under the weight of 150 pounds.



Graham Lewis toppled his competitors at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s 18th annual Linguini Bridge Contest Monday morning. His winning entry achieved what seemed like the im-pasta-ble and withstood 1,170 pounds of weight.

Graham Lewis adds more weights assisted by Ben de Bettencourt, right.
Graham Lewis adds more weights assisted by Ben de Bettencourt, right.

Graham laughed when he recalled a major setback in the construction of his winning bridge, which almost turned it into a casserole.

“I did one leg, and my dad put it in the oven to dry – and my mom turned the oven on,” he said. “So we had to restart. But that leg by itself held 200 pounds, so I was hoping for at least 400 to 500 pounds.”

The competition began at 7:45 am in the Performing Arts Center with 85 bridges. Nine survived rounds one and two, withstanding 100 pounds and then an additional 200 pounds, to qualify for the “go-for-broke” third round, where weights were added until a bridge failed. The competition continued with snaps, crackles and crashes, and ended about 10:30.

Math teachers Ken DeBettencourt and Melissa Braillard emceed the event. About 150 of their students participated in the competition as a required freshman math project. Mr. DeBettencourt created the contest and has organized and run it every year.

The contest rules are simple: bridges must be constructed using only Prince-brand linguini held together with regular Elmer’s glue, weigh less than one pound, and be able to support a minimum of 25 pounds.

The contest rules are simple: bridges must be constructed using only Prince-brand linguini held together with regular Elmer’s glue, weigh less than one pound, and be able to support a minimum of 25 pounds.
The contest rules are simple: bridges must be constructed using only Prince-brand linguini held together with regular Elmer’s glue, weigh less than one pound, and be able to support a minimum of 25 pounds.

Students compete individually or in teams of two. They are allowed to get help from parents or other knowledgeable sources. Graham said his dad, Lorne Lewis, who works in construction, proved a very helpful and valuable resource. They used an empty iPhone 5 box as a form in which to build the bridge’s legs, which helped in alignment and keeping the angles straight, Graham said.

His friend, sophomore Ben deBettencourt, who assisted him onstage with placing weights on his bridge, happened to be last year’s contest winner. Ben’s bridge held 1,500 pounds.


by -

With measles cases on the rise, Dr. Vandana Madhavan urges parents to get their children vaccinated.

Martha's Vineyard surgeon Dr. Pieter Pil demonstrates laparoscopic surgical techniques to Robert Cornelius at the Martha's Vineyard Hospital health fair Saturday. Photo by Heidi Wild Photography

The re-emergence of measles presents a compelling case study for why immunizations are so important, Dr. Vandana Madhavan told an audience of mostly health care professionals in a public presentation, part of the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital’s Health Fair on Saturday.

A nationwide inoculation campaign with the highly effective measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine made measles cases rare in the U.S., and the disease was considered eradicated in 2000, Dr. Madhavan said.

But measles is not a disease of the past. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported 173 cases in 17 states and the District of Columbia, Dr. Madhavan said. Most of the cases were linked to a December 2014 outbreak in Disneyland, but there also have been three unrelated outbreaks since that, in Illinois, Washington, and Nevada.

Dr. Madhavan, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Massachusetts General Hospital for Children, said the spike in measles corresponds with a growing percentage of nonimmunized children. Unfortunately, the decrease in immunizations has impacted “herd immunity” in the general population, she explained.

That term refers to a form of indirect immunity that occurs when a large percentage of the population is immune to an infectious disease, which provides a measure of protection for those who aren’t immune. A greater number of immune people lessens the chance for a nonimmune person to come into contact with someone infected with a disease.

In recent years, some parents have chosen to delay or opt out of recommended vaccine schedules for their children, which puts others in their community at risk by decreasing herd immunity.

A pocket of concern

From 1994 to 2013, the national percentage of MMR vaccinations overall was great, Dr. Madhavan said, and in Massachusetts, overall vaccination rates are excellent. Massachusetts law requires vaccinations against 14 communicable diseases, including the MMR vaccine, as a condition of enrollment in public schools. In addition to medical exemptions, Massachusetts allows exemptions on religious grounds.

“We’re generally almost always first in the country for our state’s overall rate; however, there are pockets of nonimmunized children,” she added.

Dr. Madhavan said the most recent statewide immunization survey, organized by school, city, and county, shows an enormous amount of variability, with Martha’s Vineyard’s rate of nonimmunized children among the highest.

“There is a school exemption rate of over 20 percent here on the Vineyard, with an MMR vaccination rate for kindergartners at 77 percent, which is far below what we need for herd immunity,” Dr. Madhavan said.

The results of the state vaccination survey also reveal that families who choose not to immunize their children tend to cluster geographically and seek out the same pediatricians and schools, particularly private schools that are known to be more accepting of vaccine exemptions.

“Those nonimmunized pockets are what concerns me and those concerned with the potential resurgence of certain infections,” she said.

Fraudulent claim

Adisproven research paper written by former British surgeon and researcher Andrew Wakefield that linked vaccinations to autism has continued to fuel many parents’ fears since its publication in the medical journal Lancet in 1998.

Dr. Madhavan said that Mr. Wakefield’s paper was retracted in 2010 after his claims were proven to be based on fraudulent research and altered facts about the 12 children in the study. He moved to the U.S. after being stripped of the right to practice medicine in the United Kingdom.

Despite many subsequent studies based on medical evidence showing there is no link between vaccinations and autism, celebrity supporters such as actress Jenny McCarthy continued to perpetuate Mr. Wakefield’s findings, and incidences of measles have increased since his paper was published.

How bad can it be?

Although some people think of measles as a fairly benign childhood disease, Dr. Madhavan ran down a sobering list of possible complications that include ear infections, pneumonia, and croup, as well as acute encephalitis, which may occur in one in every 1,000 cases.

As a poignant example, Dr. Madhavan read an excerpt from an essay about the danger of measles by children’s author Roald Dahl, whose 7-year-old daughter Olivia died of measles-related encephalitis in 1962.

Mr. Dahl urged all parents to have their children immunized, which he said he was unable to do for Olivia because a safe, reliable measles vaccine was not available when she was born.

“In my opinion, parents who now refuse to have their children immunized are putting the lives of those children at risk,” Mr. Dahl wrote. “It really is almost a crime to allow your child to go unimmunized.”

Dr. Madhavan said the effects of measles also can linger and have long-term devastating consequences. Survivors may suffer subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, a fatal disease of the central nervous system, seven to 10 years after acute measles.

There is only one type of measles. Its incubation period could potentially be as long as three weeks, Dr. Madhavan said. Symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes, mouth lesions, and a rash. Measles is one of the most highly contagious diseases. A child exposed to measles may be transmitting the virus to other people while still mildly ill. Patients are contagious four days before a rash appears, and up to four days after.

The virus is spread mainly by direct contact with airborne respiratory droplets, created when someone who is infected coughs or sneezes, that can remain infectious for up to two hours. Dr. Madhavan noted that there is much less fear about measles than other diseases, even though the transmission risk is so much greater and the potential for morbidity and mortality can still be so high.

“People are so worried about Ebola; Ebola has a much higher death rate, but measles is one of the most easily transmittable infections out there,” Dr. Madhavan said. “Someone with measles could be in this room, the health fair could be finished, and someone unimmunized that came in here could catch measles, without being in the same physical proximity as that person at all.”

Rates and trends

According to measles statistics from 1944 to 2007, the annual number of cases in the U.S. peaked in the late 1950s at nearly 800,000, and the number of deaths at 2,400.

There was a marked decrease in cases with the introduction of a vaccine in the 1960s. In the late 1980s, however, the number of cases spiked again, leading health professionals to recommend a second dose of the MMR vaccine. The MMR vaccine is now administered to children in 2 doses, one at 12 to 15 months and a second at 4 to 6 years.

At her presentation’s conclusion Dr. Madhavan took a few questions from the dozen or so people, most of them health professionals, in the audience. No parents present asked about or commented on the antivaccine viewpoint.

by -

Rural communities face the biggest risks, Dr. Vandana Madhavan says.

The rural isolation of Martha’s Vineyard and its attraction for tourists from around the world, coupled with the Island’s higher-than-average number of unvaccinated children, heighten the risk of a disease outbreak within the general population. Dr. Vandana Madhavan, a pediatric infectious-disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), will describe the importance of childhood immunizations in a presentation that begins at 10 am Saturday in the mural conference room off the main lobby, in conjunction with the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital Health Fair.

Dr. Vandana Madhavan. –Photo courtesy of Mass. General Hospital
Dr. Vandana Madhavan. –Photo courtesy of Mass. General Hospital

Dr. Madhavan works in the MGH inpatient consultation service and outpatient clinic, and serves as a pediatric hospitalist and primary care physician. Her presentation on vaccines and immunizations comes against the backdrop of a recent measles outbreak linked to visits to Disneyland last December, following years in which the disease appeared to be disappearing.

Cases had become rare in the U.S. after almost 15 years of universal inoculation with the highly effective measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine. In recent years, however, some parents have chosen to delay or opt out of state-recommended vaccine schedules, based on a disproven study that linked vaccinations to autism.

“On Saturday, I will be focusing on measles — the disease itself, vaccine protection/herd immunity concepts, the current outbreak — and then a more general discussion about the importance of timely and complete immunizations in children, as well as adults,” Dr. Madhavan said in an email to The Times.

Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, which meant it was no longer native to the United States but continued to be brought in by international travelers.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that since 2001, the number of cases had topped 100 only five times, and there were more than 200 cases in 2011. However, the number spiked to 644 cases in 2014.

In January of this year, 102 people in 14 states were reported to have contracted measles, and most of those cases were connected to a large, ongoing multistate outbreak linked to Disneyland.

Most of those cases occurred in California, and involved nonvaccinated people, according to a Reuters report published March 4. All states allow medical exemptions with strict and clear standards, such as for health conditions that would preclude vaccinations. Some, including California, also allow philosophical and religious exemptions. Mississippi and West Virginia are the only states that allow exemptions for medical reasons only.

In all, 10 of the 17 states with reported measles cases allowed parents to opt out of vaccines on philosophical grounds, creating a far easier way out of immunizations than states that only exempt families with extensively documented religious objections or health conditions.

Massachusetts law requires vaccinations against 14 communicable diseases, including the MMR vaccine, as a condition of enrollment in public schools. In addition to medical exemptions, Massachusetts allows exemptions on religious grounds.

On Martha’s Vineyard, approximately nine percent of parents seek and receive exemptions from vaccinations for their children, six times the state average for students entering kindergarten. The Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools granted 12 medical exemptions and 191 religious exemptions, according to statistics compiled for October 2013.

With regard to her practice, Dr. Madhavan said she has not observed a significant increase in the number of parents who choose not to have their children immunized over the past several years.

“Parents choosing not to vaccinate tend to cluster, and choose certain providers who are previously known to be more amenable to taking care of unvaccinated children or those on alternate schedules,” she said.

“With my infectious disease background, and due to my working in a hospital-based practice, I personally have not seen this trend.”

Dr. Madhavan added, “However, I would say that there is an increase in parents asking about delaying and/or spreading out vaccinations, rather than declining them outright.”

For more isolated or rural communities such as Martha’s Vineyard, there are risks to the general population associated with parents’ choices regarding their children’s immunizations, Dr. Madhavan said.

“As under- and unvaccinated children and their families tend to cluster, communities with lower rates of immunization are more likely to experience an outbreak if there is exposure to a particular infectious disease that they are not protected against,” she said.

While an outbreak could be more easily contained in an isolated area, Dr. Madhavan said, access to necessary medical care and specialists might be lacking.

“Martha’s Vineyard has the added complication of being isolated as an island but also being quite open; travelers from all over the U.S. and the world might be at risk of exposing the population to disease,” she said.

Since the Disneyland measles outbreak, six of the 10 affected states with easy-opt-out laws have proposed new legislation. Oregon is considering banning most nonmedical immunization exemptions, and Washington, California, and Vermont are considering similar bills that remove personal, religious, and/or philosophical exemptions, according to news reports.

“I am not aware of any specific Massachusetts legislation to this effect, though it is certainly an important issue to address,” Dr. Madhavan said.

In addition to her pediatric clinical duties at MGH, Dr. Madhavan said, she is very involved in residency education. She also is one of two pediatric clinical leaders helping in the hospital’s transition to a new electronic medical record system next year, and works in quality and safety for the infectious disease division.

Dr. Madhavan received an A.B. from Harvard University and an M.D. from the University of Virginia School of Medicine in 2002. She completed her pediatric residency and chief residency at MGH for Children, followed by a pediatric infectious-diseases fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital. She also concurrently completed a Harvard Pediatric Health Services Research fellowship, and earned a master’s of public health degree from the Harvard School of Public Health.