Letter To The Editor: Until There Is Accountability, A ‘No’ Vote On New High School

Photo: A No until accountability

To The Editor:

I am not going to argue whether we need a new school. I am concerned about the people on the committee and our past debacles.

Wellington Elementary School
1. full before it was finished being built.
2. Neighbor Noise issues (as a side the building committee rolled there eyes even thought the residents were correct and the town eventually after finally listening did something about it).
3. Sound proofing – the school was finally fixed this year for the noise between classrooms and it actually caused a new sound issue in the principals office that has to be corrected.
4. It’s made of wood and is already in need of repair.

Trash Dumpsters
For some reason the committees never take this into account. There was an issue at the Burbank. At the Chenery the solution was to line up barrels in the hallways until the fire chief said it was a safety issue

This is the third high school in 75 years I believe. And the in-all-seriousness Bill Lovallo, the chair of the building committee made a comment that this school should last 50 years. Now I am sure it was said with the best of intentions but with proper maintenance and upkeep, shouldn’t a building last more than 50 years?

Speaking of upkeep, what is the maintenance plan for this building? Are estimated costs for the future? For example, what is the boilers life span? Will there be money in replace [them] when the time comes and not let them be fixed with band aids?

Did you know the building committee decided to take down the [White] Field House in front of the hockey rink? The one where just a few years ago people donated to have new lockers put in with name plates? Not to mention the decision was made without consulting the Recreation Department who uses an office there (and to my knowledge had not been told of their new location) or that that building is also use for IT equipment for wiring around the field and rink (sorry I don’t know the technical terms).

Now I completely appreciate the time and effort that the people on these committees make but its the same people committee after committee. Who picks them? The Town Moderator. I am curious if anyone has been turned down from a committee or if truly no one else has asked to be on it. What we need is an actual plumber, HVAC and general contractor on the committee as they know the codes and can pick things up when reviewing plans. To me not having those on the board is irresponsible.

Finally, one of major concerns is the fiscal responsibility of the committee. Once the money is received from the Massachusetts School Building Authority and from the town, the committee has oversight. The committee does have have to answer to anyone else, not the town administrator or the town selectmen. How long has the Wellington been done and the board is still in existence and still spending money (granted it is to correct problems but really, should it have taken this long).

Until I can get assurances that we are not going down the same road we always do, whether we need it or not, I will vote no.

Lisa Boyajian

Letter To The Editor: Where You Learn Matters

Photo: The proposed 7-12 High School.

To the editor:

As a teacher, I’d like to believe that I’m equally effective in every classroom. In reality, the space I teach in matters a lot, and my students don’t have the same quality of experience in a cramped classroom as they do in an airy one. Over the years, I’ve frequently taught in rooms where the seats are bolted to the floor. On a tour this week at Belmont High School, I was disappointed to discover the high school also has a few rooms designed this way. As a veteran history teacher, I can assure you that it is really difficult to foster active learning in rooms where you can’t move the furniture.

When I’ve had the opportunity to teach in more flexible spaces, the difference has been palpable. My favorite room has movable tables that can be brought together to form seminar tables big enough to support the kind of large format documents – broadsides, posters or maps – I love to see students pore over. But the tables can also be subsequently separated into smaller tables for individual or partnered work. The room is flanked by whiteboards, which allow groups to work out problems visually. It’s a joy to teach, and to learn, in this room.

Belmont High School has no spaces conducive to hands-on, project-based learning. Yet studies have confirmed over and again that this is the best way to learn. Our dedicated teachers know this, which is why they send students out into the hallway to use the floor as a table. Still, a noisy hallway is only marginally more conducive to learning than a room with seats bolted to the floor.

Most of us find it hard to concentrate in noisy environments, and few of us learn well by sitting passively. Fortunately, there’s a solution. The need to replace the aging and inadequate high school offers Belmont the opportunity to build a middle and high school with spaces that can change as teaching and learning do, while freeing up more space for hands-on learning at all levels, K-12. The state of Massachusetts agrees this is pedagogically sound and has offered $80 million toward construction costs if Belmont votes to fund the remaining expenses. Please join me Tuesday, Nov. 6 in voting Yes on Question 4.

Mary Lewis

Randolph Street


Letter To The Editor: Belmont Should Not Place Fear-Based Regs On Burgeoning Industry

Photo: Sample jars at an existing retail operation.

To the editor:

The debate surrounding retail marijuana arises fears of the “undesirable people” that would be brought into town, fear of kids having access to marijuana, and scares about kids seeing marijuana in the window of a store (despite the fact that retailers are not allowed to display any product in the window, or have any signage that indicates that marijuana is sold there). Parents understandably do not want their kids to smoke pot. Thankfully, marijuana will not be any more present in your life, or any kids’ life if you vote ‘no’ to the Special Election Question on Tuesday, Sept. 25. 

Marijuana already exists in Belmont. The contents of the marijuana that kids currently have access to are not regulated whatsoever. Furthermore, the existence of retail marijuana has the chance to dry up the black market for a substance that is generally easier for American children to get than alcohol, which is regularly exposed to children in restaurants, stores, and advertising. 

Much of the conversation regarding this bylaw focuses on the number of retail establishments that would be allowed. I definitely don’t think that there is a market for more than two retail stores in Belmont at the moment. There should be as many establishments as the market demands, and therefore no premature limitation on what is allowed. If a no vote passes, it is highly unlikely that there will be more than two establishments in the foreseeable future.

My primary concern is that there is no logical reason to block cultivators, product manufacturers, or testing facilities. These facilities create jobs, many of which require advanced education and training and pay well. We should allow a burgeoning industry that will create quality employment opportunities in town. 

Good policymaking is evidence based. We should reject regulation that stifles economic development and doesn’t have any foreseeable social or environmental externalities. I would challenge that there is no benefit to voting for these regulations other than to appease personal biases, unfounded fears, and blatant misunderstandings of the implications of this policy. Voting no will allow for increased tax revenue in town, more quality employment opportunities for residents, potentially reduce the market for marijuana on the street, and allow adults to consume marijuana in the safest possible way if they choose to do so.

Jeremy Romanul

Trowbridge Street

Letter To The Editor: Planning Board’s Meeting Date Is Quite Shocking

Photo: Yom Kippur begins at sunset on Tuesday.

Dear Planning Board,

As you probably know by now, the League of Women Voters of Belmont has been studying Marijuana in Belmont since September 2017. We, as a committee, try to stay involved and aware in all aspects of planning for Marijuana in Belmont. We happened to have a meeting last Tuesday. One person heard a rumor that there was a September Planning Board meeting soon, but no one knew the date. We went online, to the Planning Board website, and couldn’t find a date or agenda. One member of our committee watched the video of your last meeting to get more information but only got the date, no specifics.

So we were all quite surprised, when we got the paper on Thursday, that the big final marijuana meeting for the Planning Board is Tuesday! And, it happens to fall on one of the two most religious days of the year for Jews, Yom Kippur, so there
is no way for me to attend. Others in our committee have multiple engagements this week, so it seems unlikely that anyone from the League of Women Voters will be able to attend in person.

Since reading [media reports], and finally finding the agenda online, it seems that this is a Public Hearing on the Adult Use Marijuana Overlay District and might be the final time the public gets to comment before the November Special Town Meeting. If true, that seems quite shocking. How can you release information so close to the date of the meeting, held the public hearing on it on such an important religious holiday?

While I am writing, you might want to be aware that the League is holding a Marijuana Info Session on Thursday, Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. in the Community Room at Chenery. We hope that someone from your committee might be able to join us, but most of the focus will be on the upcoming Special Election Ballot Question.

Bonnie Friedman (Town Meeting Member, Precinct 3) 

Belmont LWV Marijuana Study Committee

Letter To The Editor: Norton’s Collaborative, Inclusive Style A Great Fit For School Committee

Photo: Jill Norton (Norton’s campaign Facebook site)

To the editor:

Jill Norton is passionate about education and would be a superb member of the School Committee. Besides her excellent credentials, Jill is smart, authentic, has good communication skills and has demonstrated leadership both professionally and in her personal activities. 

I know Jill from Trinity Church in Copley Square where we are members, and through mutual Belmont friends. At Trinity, Jill serves on the Vestry (Board of Directors), has mentored acolytes, taught Sunday school, served as an educational facilitator, and works with the Outreach Leadership Committee. Jill has a collaborative and inclusive style. People enjoy working with her, which I believe is important in an elected official. 

Jill has an M.Ed in Education, Policy, and Management from Harvard, and a Montessori Institute-New England Certificate in Early Childhood Education. She has highly relevant and broad experience and is both practical and visionary. She has done educational policy work at the State level and is currently Director of Education Policy at Abt Associates. 

She and her husband Read have two sons ages eight and three, and Jill is a Wellington Elementary room parent and PTO third grade Enrichment Coordinator. As we face complex and tough decisions about our education in Belmont, Jill would provide a uniquely qualified perspective and full commitment.  

Please join me in electing Jill Norton to our School Committee on Tuesday, April 3.  You may refer to JillNorton.org for more details and pictures of her and her family. 

Pamela Galgay 

Vernon Road

Town Election 2018: Town Meeting Needs Diversity At The Table

Photo: Belmont Town Meeting 2017

[Editor’s note: The Belmontonian encourages all candidates for Town Meeting and Town-wide office to submit a letter on their platform or motivation for running.]

My name is Dovie Yoana King and I’m a candidate for Belmont Town Meeting in Precinct 7. I live on Oxford Avenue with my son, Noah, who is a fourth-grade student at Roger Wellington School. I’m a parent volunteer and PTA member. I’m also a progressive woman of color and survivor of domestic violence who brings a unique perspective to local government. I believe Town Meeting needs diversity at the table, and I hope to be that voice.

A bit about my background. I was born in San Diego and grew up in a low-income neighborhood comprised mainly of Latinos. My mother was a domestic worker and my father was a fisherman and restaurant worker. Neither had much of a formal education, but both taught me the value of hard work. In 1994, I obtained my BA at Brown University and my JD at Northeastern University School of Law in 1999. I am a first-generation college and law school graduate. After several years of representing low-income workers and Spanish-speaking immigrants in New York and California, I was admitted to practice law in Massachusetts. I accepted a job at Harvard Law School and drove cross-country with my son and puppy in tow to make Belmont our home. 

Belmont is a sanctuary to me. I’m a survivor of domestic violence and I relocated 3,000 miles in search of a safe place to raise Noah and rebuild my life after ending an abusive marriage. Belmont has provided exactly that. By speaking openly about my personal story, despite all the costs associated with it, my goal is to advance the discussion about systemic sexism and violence against women. As a Town Meeting member, I will work to ensure that Belmont is a sanctuary for others and that eradicating gender inequality is a top priority. 

These are the issues that matter most to me for Town Meeting:

  • Gender Inequality. #MeToo is not a passing fad, but a lasting movement spearheaded by courageous women and truth seekers. I firmly believe that victims deserve to be believed and now’s the time to eradicate gender inequality at all levels of society. As an award-winning victim’s rights attorney and the founder of the organization, Survivors of Abuse Rising for Justice (“SOAR for Justice”), I will continue to advocate for policies that combat sexual harassment, discrimination and gender-based violence.
  • Diversity. Belmont is a diverse community with a significant population of people of color, immigrants, renters and non-English speakers, but this is not reflected in local government. I will add diversity to our Town Meeting with an approach of building coalitions to get things done, together. 
  • Schools. Our schools are the cornerstone of the community and should be adequately funded. As a former public school educator and faculty union member, I’m committed to improving Belmont schools. Further, as a mother of a child who suffers from an “invisible” disability (as a result of domestic violence), I understand the importance of offering special education and after-school programs— all students deserve an equal opportunity to learn and thrive.
  • Affordable Housing. Belmont’s home-ownership rate is solid, but many residents are renters, like me. Others are veterans, seniors and low-income families at the brink of being priced out of the neighborhood. I’m sensitive to the needs of community members facing economic uncertainty and displacement. We need more affordable housing opportunities to keep Belmont’s families safe and intact.
  • Small Businesses. I support small businesses because they are an important part of the fabric of our town and represent an untapped source for increased tax revenue. As a former small business owner of a law firm, I will push for incentives to attract businesses and stimulate economic growth. 

In conclusion, I’m honored for the opportunity to represent Precinct 7 as a Town Meeting member. I’m a life-long Democrat and was recently elected delegate to the Massachusetts Democratic Convention where I will proudly represent Belmont and add a diverse voice. 

I invite you to contact me at dovieking@hotmail.com or on Facebook at @Dovie4TownMtg with your concerns or ideas for improving the quality of life in Belmont. 

Thanks in advance for your vote on April 3, 2018. As a reminder, Precinct 7 voters should go to Mary Lee Burbank School to vote, 266 School Street, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Dovie Yoana King

Oxford Avenue

Letter to the Editor: Help Keep Teens Safe This Holiday Season

Photo: Wayside Youth & Family Support Network logo.

You might know me as the “Slices of Life” columnist, or as Minutes Recorder for various Belmont committees, but I’m also a Public Health Educator, now working with Wayside Youth & Family Support Network to oversee Belmont’s implementation of grants focused on drug/alcohol use and mental health disorders. In that capacity, and as a fellow Belmont parent, I thought I’d share some of Wayside’s tips for helping to keep our teens safe this holiday season.

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey administered several years ago in Belmont, revealed that approximately one-third of our teenage students admitted they are drinking. Most are getting their alcohol from older siblings, older friends, or home.  In many instances, their parents do not know how much they drink – or even that they drink at all.

This is not only illegal, it’s dangerous. Teen alcohol use can lead to unsafe behaviors that puts our kids’ health and safety at risk. Due to their developing brains, teens tend to drink too much when they drink. And those who drink endanger more than themselves: teens who drink put themselves at risk for alcohol poisoning, car crashes, injuries, violence, or unprotected and/or unwanted sex.

As a parent of three teens, I thought I would share the following tips to reduce teen drinking:

  • Keep alcohol in a secure location, preferably in locked cabinets. Even if you trust your teen, their friends may be tempted by what’s available in your home.
  • If you are hosting a party, do not leave unsupervised alcohol around where it is accessible to underage guests. And tell other relatives not to serve alcohol to your child under the age of 21.
  • Let your child know what you expect. Tell your teen that adults may be drinking during the holidays, but under no circumstances is he/she allowed to drink alcohol.
  • If your child is attending a party, check on the details. Find out if there will be parental supervision, and be sure no alcohol will be available at the parties that your teen will be attending.  Wait up to greet your child when he/she arrives home at curfew time.
  • Make sure not to leave your teenagers home alone if you go out of town. Word gets out quickly and a drinking party can develop, sometimes without your child’s consent.
  • Do not relax your family rules with your own teens during the holidays; it can be difficult to return to previous expectations.

Did you know that for every year a teen does not use alcohol, the odds of lifelong dependence decrease by 15 percent? That’s worth keeping in mind. Avoidance now is an investment in the lifelong health of our teens.

Please do what you can to reduce youth access to alcohol; it really does take a village!

If I can be of support to you or your teens, please contact me at Lisa_Gibalerio@WaysideYouth.org

Lisa Gibalerio

Wayside Youth & Family Support Network

Letter to the Editor: Selectmen Personal Preferences Sunk Pay As You Throw

Photo: Logo for pay as you throw trash collection.

To the editor:

In a Nov. 16th public pronouncement, Jim Williams provided his reasoning as Chair of the Board of Selectmen on their recent trash decision. I appreciate his clarifying the factors that informed the decision to pursue only one option for the trash and recycling Request For Proposal (RFP). What is evident from his letter and from the September meeting where the Selectmen made their decision, was that cost, environmental impact, and convenience were not important considerations, if at all.

The Board of Selectmen broke precedent and procurement best practice by selecting only one option in the RFP. Without any basis for comparison, there is no meaningful way to know the comparative impact their choice will have on the Town’s finances. Generally, having cost information quickly narrows the choices so having multiple options means it would be easier to achieve consensus, along with informing us about the pros and cons of each option. For instance, the last time Belmont went out to bid its trash contract, an automated collection was more expensive than manual pick-up which was apparent when bids for both options were compared.

The Pay As You Throw (PAYT) option was rejected as an option for five years, (the length of the contract as stated in the RFP) not because of costs, or for lack of support (Town Meeting voted 62 percent in favor of evaluating this option). The majority of Selectmen viewed PAYT as just a financing scheme, even though proponents advocated a revenue-neutral approach, whereby the Town would give back all fees to households. This included rebating households on their monthly electric bills. Yet repeated misstatements by Mark Paolillo and Williams and Department of Public Works showed they preferred to characterize it as a tax and something that would interfere with raising funds in the future. Yet no evidence was presented to support this belief, and no public outreach was done. The irony is that the option the Selectmen chose will likely put more pressure on the need to raise taxes with more than $500,000 additional funds needed to buy and maintain barrels and automated trucks.

The experience of 147 communities in Massachusetts has demonstrated that PAYT saves them money by reducing trash sent for disposal and significantly increases recycling.

Judging from the public meetings on trash, there was no consensus on the 64-gallon bin with automated collection option. So it’s difficult for the Selectmen to claim they were acting in the majority interest of town residents.

While it’s not explicit in Mr. Williams’ letter, personal preference may have been what drove his and Mr. Paolillo’s decision. While it’s natural elected officials have their own preferences, these preferences include blind spots–something we all have. To help guard against blind spots, officials can seek out reliable information from a variety of sources. For instance, the Solid Waste and Recycling Advisory Group (I was a member) studied many choices for Belmont’s trash for over a year and recommended four options to include in the RFP. Town Meeting voted by a strong majority to compare “all options including PAYT.” Both citizen bodies provided valuable information about the Town’s preferences and viable options.

Over-reliance on one source of information can create blind spots. This was evident when Williams at the Sept. 25 public meeting stated, “DPW are the experts, we should follow their recommendations.” Yet DPW was not a neutral provider of facts. They have expressed for years their desire to implement 64-gallon carts with automated collection. In addition, in a trash audit they procured and widely publicized, the sample used for their recommendations was so distant from Belmont’s averages, it didn’t even come close to representing our trash and recycling patterns. For instance, the sample claimed the average household set out 46 gallons a week of trash. Yet the Town’s annual average is about 28 gallons, according to data from DPW. The audit also claimed households had 50 percent more recycling than they achieved on average. The Selectmen were told of these errors on several occasions, but they did not change their views or ask for a revised analysis. DPW acknowledged the audit numbers were not to be used in the RFP. The inflated estimates for total waste and recycling tonnage in the audit were apparently useful in swaying the Selectmen, but not good enough to use for the bids.

The role of Belmont’s elected officials is to provide oversight and curb attempts – accidental or intentional – to mislead the public and Town Meeting. It’s not easy to challenge the administration of the Town that we depend on for many key services. Yet, without oversight, citizens can’t ascertain that the Town has their best interests in mind when making decisions. The governance of the Town depends on this trust so using unchallenged misleading information erodes trust–something that is needed when Belmont is facing a $4 million deficit and a new high school.

To squash any questions which might check blind spots, Williams recently changed a long-standing tradition of citizen’s raising questions for five minutes prior to Selectmen’s meetings. Williams required that questions be submitted two days prior to the agenda was published, and therefore before the public knew what to comment on for approval by the Chair. At least four citizens have tried to raise questions about the trash RFP two days before recent meetings but were denied.

Where do we go from here? Adding another RFP with additional options that could potentially save money might help restore confidence that the Selectmen care about costs, convenience, and environmental impact and finding consensus as they procure services. They might also support the PTO/PTA Green Alliance’s plan to divert food waste from school trash (it represents 75 percent of school’s waste) and save the Town over a hundred thousand dollars annually. Or add curbside textile recycling that would actually earn Belmont money. There are a number of other creative options for reducing waste and saving money in Belmont if the Selectmen and DPW would work with interested citizens.

With an improved process where the Selectmen reckon with the costs and other features of different options, they can demonstrate they have heard what many have requested, provide good oversight and help restore trust in how the Town is governed. As it stands, we are left with the clear conclusion that the Town wants to implement a more expensive option – without considering other choices, in direct contradiction to the will of Town Meeting and the desires of many residents. We are going in the wrong direction, especially when the taxpayers will be asked to fund an override in the near future.

Kim Slack

Taylor Road

Letter to the Editor: Include Four Trash Options In RFP, Not Just One

Photo: Waste contract in Bemont.

To the editor:

I am writing to express my concern and disappointment that Belmont’s Board of Selectmen has issued only a very limited RFP for Belmont’s new trash contract. Belmont’s Board of Selectmen has asked for quotes only for 65-gallon barrel pickup and has ignored the more environmentally-friendly 35-gallon barrel or pay-as-you-throw options. Belmont’s Board of Selectmen has also shirked their financial responsibility to the town by not comparing the costs between different trash pickup options after receiving bids to the RFP.

Massachusetts provides hundreds of thousands of dollars for communities to shift to more environmentally-friendly trash options. Refusing to request bids for both the 35-gallon barrel and pay-as-you-throw options means that we are leaving Commonwealth money on the table that we could use to offset the costs of these options and possibly even reduce our tax burden for trash disposal. The 35-gallon barrel and pay-as-you-throw options could incentivize residents to reduce, reuse, and recycle instead of throwing away.

The Board of Selectmen has not provided reasoning for focusing on only one trash collection type, instead of requesting a wider selection of options for the RFP, explicitly ignoring direct requests for more information about their thought process. The Board of Selectmen must make an educated comparison of the costs for these trash options. They must also act as fiduciaries for our town itself and all of our children by prioritizing more environmentally-friendly trash strategies. Why can they not make these assessments at the information gathering stage of an RFP?

Please join me in emailing Selectmen Paolillo and Williams to ask them to reevaluate their decision. Selectman Dash already supports including environmentally-friendly trash options in the RFP. Belmont should include all four options recommended by the Solid Waste and Recycling Advisory Group in the RFP so that we can weigh the environmental costs and benefits, as well as the financial cost, of the various options after receiving competitive bids from trash contractors.

Rebecca McNeill


Letter To The Editor: Let’s Talk Trash; The Type You Pay To Throw

Photo: A sample PAYT bag presented at public discussions sponsored by the Belmont Department of Public Works in June.

To the editor:

The Belmont Board of Selectmen will need to vote soon on issuing a Request for Proposals for the town’s waste contract since the current contract expires in June. It’s really important that the RFP include Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT) as an option.

We’re facing a future of higher waste disposal costs over the next several years because of capacity limits on incinerators and landfills. The state has set a goal for communities to reduce waste by 30 percent by 2020, which will be challenging. Belmont also has made limited progress against its 2009 Climate Action Plan for reducing greenhouse emissions to which our trash contributes. 

We have to consider progress against these goals. Failing to do so contributes to long-term higher costs for the town. Not taking every small and reasonable step we can now also clouds our children’s’ futures and saddles them with higher costs from climate change and environmental degradation. 

Because it encourages households to reduce unnecessary waste, PAYT is part of a menu of options Belmont needs to reduce its waste costs. Reducing household waste is something we need to do as part of our efforts to promote fiscal balance. It’s also something we need to do to be responsible stewards of our environment. 

With PAYT, households will buy special trash bags for a nominal fee, $1 to $2, so that there is a cost for filling each bag and more of an incentive to recycle. It’s estimated that PAYT could reduce Belmont’s trash by as much as 25 percent, which will reduce our carbon emissions by almost 4,000 metric tons. According to the EPA, that’s the equivalent of not burning 450,000 gallons of gasoline or switching about 142,000 incandescent light bulbs to LED’s

Dealing with new trash options is sure to be perceived as an inconvenience for some. Let’s not forget, though, that Belmont’s Town Meeting voted to empower our selectmen to consider PAYT as an option for the next waste contract. For it to be an option, it needs to be included in the RFP for the next trash contract. Belmont’s Department of Public Works is considering an option for automated pick up of trash cans that it refers to as a PAYT/SMART option – but it won’t lead to the kind of progress we need that true PAYT will bring.

As Belmont’s selectmen consider the issuance of this RFP, they need to consider not just the immediate cost to the town – something for which PAYT should be a winner. They also need to consider the long-term costs of keeping our community sustainable, costs which economists describe as “externalities,” but ultimately with time need to be faced by everyone. PAYT can help our community reduce costs and ensure our community’s future.

Mike Crowley

Farnham Street
Town Meeting Member Precinct 8