The trap in the formula
To the Editor:
In response to Nis Kildegaard's Soundings [Jan. 17], "arcane" is not a word I would use to describe the "statutory formula" used to determine the distribution of the Regional High School budget among the Island's member towns.
The formula itself makes sense: every school district in the Commonwealth is required by statute (the Education Reform Act of 1993) to expend a state-wide foundation level for each and every student who resides in that district. It is explicitly enrollment based. Its ultimate goal is to assure that level of financial commitment in every school district, from its local wealth base where that is sufficient and, where it is not, by additional state support.
Because property values on the Island provide a sufficient local wealth base in all of the Island towns to meet this foundation level for all high school students, the statutory formula excludes any wealth base consideration in determining how assessment for the foundation level would be distributed among the Island towns.
This rationale for the "statutory formula," with some refinements based on different categories of students, is totally consistent with the Regional High School agreement as amended in 1989. That amendment was also based on the assumption that every member town, based on its property tax revenues, can afford to pay for its fair share of the high school budget, based on use, on the number of students who attend from each town. Ability to pay was not an issue then, and, from the point of view of the state, it still is not today.
The statutory formula does not apply to any costs budgeted beyond the foundation level. That portion of the budget is assessed, even today, among the member towns of the high school district in accordance with the 1989 regional agreement formula.
The rub came in the application of the statutory formula (which came about in 2006, for reasons which appear to be based on the normal pace of state bureaucracy). Some districts discovered a huge burden if the increase in the level of spending required to meet their statutory foundation level for FY2007 had to be raised all at once. In response to their concern, the reform act was amended to introduce a transition period, to allow those districts so burdened to spread out the increased cost of full compliance over a number of years. Unfortunately, this amendment did not exempt any school districts that were already exceeding the foundation level from this transition period. For this lack of foresight, our state legislators should be held fully accountable.
I think we need to be very clear that the problem created by the state for us on the Island, which gave Oak Bluffs a $435,000 release from its regional agreement obligation (passed on in large part to Tisbury) is not the statutory formula. If the total cost of education spending in these two towns in 2007 had been used to determine the proportion of each town's contribution to the high school FY2008 budget, the distribution by the statutory formula and the regional agreement formula would have been nearly the same.
The problem is that the transition formula assumed that the distribution of all education costs among the Island towns stayed in the same proportion from 1993 to 2007. That is blatantly false. In terms of the high school enrollment (on which the Reg. Agreement distribution is based) Tisbury had 146 students (31.06 percent) in 1994. Oak Bluffs had 106 (22.55 percent). By 2007, Tisbury had 197 students (23.23 percent) compared to 221 (26.06 percent) from Oak Bluffs. Add in the elementary schools, and the disparity between 1994 and 2007 is even wider. In 1994,Tisbury had more than 100 more students, 500, to Oak Bluffs's 392 students. In 2007, Tisbury had 100 less, 535 students to Oak Bluffs's 636 students.
The difference between the apportionment of the FY 2008 budget between Oak Bluffs and Tisbury by the transition formula came out to be $241,000 more for Tisbury and $435,000 less for Oak Bluffs than apportioned by the regional agreement. This difference is primarily based on this substantial difference between the proportion of student populations in these two towns in 1994 and in 2007.
The sad part in all of this story is not the statutory formula. It is rather that its transitional component was not made public early enough on the Island and to the regional high school committee in the FY2008 budget process for its implications and their resolution to be addressed in a more appropriate and constructive context at that time.
To the Editor:
Over the past few months, Thad Harshbarger and Peter Palches have written several letters to the editor advocating a new way of allocating the cost of the regional high school to the six towns of Martha's Vineyard. This allocation method is not new to the Island; it is used by the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC), the county, and the refuse district. Messrs Harshbarger and Palches propose that the costs of the regional high school be allocated to the towns based on the equalized valuation of the real estate in that town. In this way, financing the high school would affect the tax rate of all six towns in exactly the same way. This, they argue, is a fairer way of allocating costs than by the method followed in the current regional agreement, namely student population.
But fairness is measured not only by one's ability to pay but also by what one receives for one's money. It is difficult to measure what each town receives from its assessment by the MVC, the county, and the refuse district. It is very clear what each town receives from its assessment by the high school - a quality education for their children.
Under the current formula all towns pay the same amount, $14,138, for each pupil they send to the high school. Under the Harshbarger/Palches proposal, Oak Bluffs would pay $8,451 per pupil, Tisbury $9,346, West Tisbury $10,142, Aquinnah $13,164, Edgartown $20,417 and Chilmark $71,424. Clearly, such a disparity in the cost to educate one child is also not fair.
I believe that there is a middle way, one which recognizes that a greater share of the high school costs should be borne by the wealthier towns but also recognizes that what one receives for one's dollar is also an important factor in establishing fairness. That way, which is used by many regional school districts across the country, is a combination of property values and student population. Arriving at an equitable distribution of the costs between property values and student population will not be easy, but it is worth striving for.
Let me add three postscripts. The high school budget is made up of two separate pieces. The foundation budget, a concept of the state, is based partly on equalized valuation, while the other piece is based on student population.
While no one complains about the use of equalized valuation for the MVC, the county and the refuse district, you have to remember that these agencies are younger than the high school, and that equalized valuation is the only assessment method they have ever used. On the other hand, the high school has based its assessment on student population since its founding. Change is never easy. To abandon the student population method and move to a totally new method of assessment in one fell swoop will not happen.
Finally, I should point out that the value of one's property is not the sole measure of a person's or a town's wealth. There are other assets. There is one's income. If one wanted to be very, very fair with regard to allocating cost based on wealth, other assets and income should also be placed on the scales to determine fairness and equality. But, then, we are talking about a very different country.
Not all night
To the Editor:
I am writing this letter to my airport neighbors. It is 3:50 am Monday, and I have been awakened by the airport strobe lights yet again. They flash every half second to identify the end of runway six on the southwest side of the airport. For more than 50 years, I have lived about two miles southwest of the airport. I have moved my bedroom to the south side of my house, the opposite direction of the lights, but still, even with my eyes closed, the flickering strobes come through. In the past, airport officials have told me that each strobe flashes with the power of a million candles. Clear nights are not so bad when the lights are flashing, unless I'm trying to do astronomy photography. The worst is in the dark of the moon with low overcast and especially if there is snow on the ground.
When the two strobe lights were first installed on the southwest side of the airport a couple of decades ago, they were on all night. With the help of neighbors, in what turned out to be quite a battle, we finally got the lights changed to radio control by the pilot. At one point, I got the attention of the airport by calling Otis Control at 2 am, to tell them their strobe lights were covered with cans. I gave them my number in case they wanted the cans off for somebody flying in at that time of night. I never really put the cans on the strobes, but it would certainly have been a next step. Strobe lights, along with loud noises and sleep depravation, are recommended by the CIA to "soften" up prisoners for interrogation.
I am a pilot, and I certainly appreciate navigational aides when I need them. But in these days of carbon footprints, I see no need to have the lights on most of the night, unless we think there is a chance that Amelia Earhart might break through the overcast for a landing.
So, airport neighbors, do people want strobes flashing at two million candlepower every half second throughout the night? And what about the wildlife?
Kenneth Malcolm Jones
Change at Ice House
To the Editor:
I am 50-year-old Island native and I live near the Lambert's Cove Inn. I have for the past 3.5 years walked the woods in the area with my two small dogs, and alone. Many times I went to lce House Pond, it was a favorite area as it was peaceful and undisturbed even in the summertime. I never saw more than one kayak at a time on the water, never saw a swimmer and only occasionally saw another walker with or without dogs.
I understand that there has been a lot going on in regards to Ice House Pond, over the last year I have seen changes in the landscape in the area. First, there were sticks and logs put over paths that were used by me and others to walk in the area (also used by horses, dirt bikes and ATVs), then logs. Myself, others and the horses were still able to traverse the land. The motorized vehicles were not, somewhat understandably. Then on the roads themselves trees started to appear, then clearings, then a parking lot.
I have walked the perimeter of this pond in as many sections as possible and have never seen it as disturbed as it seems now. I can no longer easily get to the pond, at least the way I know (or remember) from home. It was a favorite place for me to go and meditate, and it is the place my spiritual awakening took place. I loved following deer tracks, seeing the hawks, ospreys, and other birds - a very ethereal place in a snowstorm.
I read some of the info that was published in regards to the controversy and really did not understand why such a fuss was being made. Yes as a public swimming hole, it is not a healthy thing for the pond, but other than nighttime trespass skinny dipping, and the little done by the owners of surrounding homes, I do not believe that all that much was done, nor was it harmful. Why could it not stay as it was? I bet runoff, fertilizing and septic systems did a lot more damage than us "nature buffs" ever did.
I admit I am politically ignorant, and that I guess is my mistake. All I know is that I can no longer comfortably walk my dogs nor my spirit. Also I bet no one can, as I did when a child, walk in the woods to find a Christmas tree, ride a minibike, have a small bonfire at South Beach or Edgartown Great Pond and hangout without trespassing or having the police called. Not all is progress.
Jessica A. Oliver
Really, several thoughts
To the Editor:
I had a thought: How about we tackle the food waste problem first and revisit the whole paying-farmers-to-not-grow-things logic twister, disassemble the whole fertilizer/pesticide lie once and for all, think about restoring some elements of earthian humanity back into our cyberlives, firmly address the whole obesity-epidemic thing, and then see if we even need to, you know, do something as extraordinary as clone meat animals and genetically modify plants to make sure we have enough individually wrapped food items on the supermarket shelves.
A cherished place
To the Editor:
I am a lifelong resident of Martha's Vineyard. My family settled here in 1920. I am also a member of the Alliance to save Nantucket Sound. My father and uncle are both commercial fishermen in the local waters here, and my grandfather was a commercial fisherman and whaling captain in these waters. It would truly and honestly be a disastrous mistake to proceed in giving mineral management services and Cape Wind permits and other go-aheads to invade our precious waters with their proposed wind farm project.
Let me firmly state that we, as an alliance, are not against alternative wind power or any other forms of alternative energy by any means, but actually all for it. We do however stand strongly against the construction of this wind farm in its proposed location.
There are far too many risk factors involved with this project that could spur disastrous results. All of our points and research are clearly stated on our web site (www.saveoursound.org), and I will not get into all of them now. The biggest risk factors are, however, major traveling routes in the sound that serve as major shipping lanes for oil tankers and cargo vessels. When combined with high winter winds such vessels could so easily be thrown off course smashing into one of the massive wind turbines. And if that happened, then what? We would all have an enormous ecological disaster on our hands.
Second, the fishing industry and marine wildlife. The potential loss of industrial shellfish and marine wildlife from the incredible dredging and drilling and installation of the wind turbines would be immeasurable if MMS and Cape Wind are permitted to build them. Once the natural ocean floor's habitat is disrupted from all of the operation, the wildlife will be driven out for good, and they would never re-inhabit Horseshoe Shoal again. That in itself would destroy an entire industry that produces huge revenues around the Cape and Islands and take away thousands of middle class working men's livelihoods.
It is for all of these major reasons that I implore all of you state officials to reexamine this immensely detrimental, proposed project in our natural, harmonious environment. To allow MMS and Cape Wind to go ahead with this project would be a major mistake in so many ways and for a multitude of reasons. And if you have never been down to this area of the state to see and appreciate the raw, natural beauty of our surrounding waters and habitat, I invite you to just travel down to the Cape and Islands for a day to observe that natural beauty that so many thousands of Cape and Islands residents have come to cherish and call home for ourselves.
Thank you for taking the time to listen to our cries for an end to this proposed project.
A dream to join
To the Editor:
Habitat for Humanity of Martha's Vineyard is moving forward in building its fifth house on the Island. The house is being built for a teacher in Tisbury who has three boys. It's exciting to see people work at the site: learning how to shingle, digging holes for the decks, installing windows, and seeing Island people give their time to frame and roof the house. And now that the cold weather is here, we are headed inside to complete the house.
The basement floor is to be poured any day now and then the rough plumbing and electrical wiring will be done, followed by the installation of the heating system. We will need volunteers to help with the installation of sheetrock, trim work, interior doors and painting. We are fortunate to have people at the site who can train you in all tasks to be done. All skill levels (even the unskilled) are welcome!
If you would like to volunteer your time and energy, please either e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the office at 508-696-4646. The build days are Fridays and Saturdays, from 8 am to 4 pm. To come to the site, please park on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road between Winyah Lane and Cook Road/Skiff Avenue, .4 miles from State Road. The build site is on Andrews Road, off of Mud Puddle. There is no street sign for Mud Puddle so please look for a Habitat sign. Walk down Mud Puddle to build site.
This is my fourth house build since I've been involved with Habitat. To work alongside new friends, learn new skills, and have a lot of fun at the same time, has been most rewarding. All of us deserve a decent place to live, and to be a part of helping someone's dream become a reality is the best.
Please be a part of that dream.
To the Editor:
The Martha's Vineyard Garden Club would like to commend the Rotary Club of Martha's Vineyard for its contribution toward beautifying Island spaces.
In November, the club planted 1,000 daffodil bulbs in Owen Park in Vineyard Haven. We look forward to spring (not that far off) when we will all be able to enjoy this spectacular sight. We encourage other Island organizations to follow suit and gear some of their community service projects toward the beautification of our precious Island. Thank you to all the Rotarians.
Martha's Vineyard Garden Club
To the Editor:
Last week, riding home on the Martha's Vineyard, I looked around the upper deck for a water cooler. No dice. I stopped by the purser's office to ask where the water coolers were.
"There's one down there," a crewman said, pointing to the deck below, port side. No dice. Turns out there is one, and only one, "down there," but it's on the starboard side.
A few days later, I was aboard the Island Home, and thirsty again. I stopped by the purser's office, to ask where the water coolers were.
"There aren't any on this boat," I was told.
And at the lunch counter a bottle of water costs $2.75.
What's the deal, SSA?
The writer is the copy editor and proofreader at The Times.
To the Editor:
We had been planning to make this year's annual month-long PeaceCraft holiday benefit sale our largest. The crafts were purchased and our postcards (donated by Modern Postcard) were already in the mail when we learned that we had to change location.
Our local community once again came to the rescue. MVY Radio sent out our SOS and Sylvester Schavone, owner of the Belushi Pisano Gallery building, graciously donated the downstairs space, which he has available for rent. The location worked out just fine. We sold more crafts this year than ever before and raised over $3,000 for the Fish Farm for Haiti Project.
Our next fundraiser is a spaghetti dinner to be held at the Federated Church hall on Wednesday, Jan. 30.
Thank you to everyone who is pitching in and joining us as we try to help the poor of the world help themselves.
Margaret Mayhew Pénicaud
MV Fish Farm for Haiti Project