Dionne: Continued Police Hiring Crisis Requires End Of Civil Service

Photo: Elizabeth Dionne

Editor’s Note: This letter was presented to Belmont Town Meeting Members before the beginning of the Special Town Meeting on Nov. 6.

Many of you have approached me with questions about Civil Service, what it requires and how it operates. As non-experts, we all need reliable information.

The best source of information I have found on Civil Service in Belmont is in the 2022 Report from Belmont’s Structural Change Impact Group: “Recommendations to Improve Belmont’s Finances and Operations.” Anne Helgen’s “Idea #33—Civil Service” report is balanced and thorough. During her 12 years of service on the Warrant Committee, Anne has demonstrated absolute integrity and impressive financial expertise. She is a reliable narrator. There is no one whose judgment I trust more.

You can access the SCIG Report here. The Civil Service report is on pp. 43-54 (pp. 50-61 of the .pdf contents in the left-hand sidebar).

I support leaving the Civil Service for one compelling reason: Belmont’s Police Department has an ongoing staffing crisis that will become substantially worse in the near future. Leaving Civil Service is necessary in expanding our anemic hiring pool and fully staffing the department. 

In 2019, Belmont Police Chief James MacIsaac advised the Warrant Committee that he needed help to fill chronically open spots in the department. Despite diligent hiring efforts in the intervening years, those spots remain open. A few years from now, long-time officers will begin to retire, exacerbating an already dire hiring situation.

If Town Meeting votes to remain in Civil Service, then we need to reduce our policing expectations to match available resources, rather than demanding that current officers cover an ongoing personnel deficit. It is unsustainable and unfair to ask current officers to cover the work of the eight currently open positions for years at a time. It is bad for morale, and it is bad for Belmont.

However, Belmont residents want more effective policing, not less. They are justifiably concerned about school safety, gun violence, mental health responses, and threats to pedestrian and cyclist safety from overly aggressive cross-town traffic. As an aside: Earlier this week, my cyclist husband had yet another near-collision with a car leaving the Belmont Hill School. Again, these are areas where residents are demanding an increased public safety presence.

Without explicit authorization from the Town Meeting to leave Civil Service, the Town administration has been unsuccessful in negotiating departure terms with police unions. In April 2021, the administration presented the unions with a good-faith plan to replace Civil Service. One of the two unions failed even to respond. This followed clear statements from the public safety unions that they would never voluntarily leave the Civil Service. We are at an impasse. Further action depends on an affirmative vote of the Town Meeting.

The Belmont Police Department has faced a hiring crisis for a number of years, and that hiring crisis will become worse in the very near future. Leaving the Civil Service is a necessary step in expanding our applicant pool.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter.

Elizabeth Dionne

Vice Chair, Belmont Select Board

PS: Regarding police compensation in Belmont, the following chart from the Belmont Citizen-Herald  (May 8, 2023) is instructive:

Belmont’s 25 highest paid employees in 2022 (total pay)

  1. Superintendent of Schools John Phelan, $271,178
  2. Town Administrator Patrice Garvin, $220,353
  3. Police Officer Franz Strassmann, $220,066
  4. Police Capt. Christopher Donohue, $216,652
  5. Police Lt. Shiraz Banosian, $215,674
  6. Police Lt. Darin Demagistris, $210,584
  7. Belmont Light General Manager Craig Spinale, $210,332
  8. Police Chief James MacIsaac, $197,113
  9. Police Sgt. David Sullivan, $192,419
  10. Director of Community Development Glenn Clancy, $187,921
  11. Belmont Light Director of Engineering and Operations Mark Piccarini, $185,665
  12. Police Sgt. Paul Garabedian, $181,788
  13. Belmont Light Assistant General Manager Sanjin Osmancevic, $181,758
  14. Assistant Superintendent of Schools Janice Darias, $178,673
  15. Police Sgt. Brendan Young, $175,464
  16. Belmont Public Schools Director of Finance and Operations Anthony DiCologero, $171,694
  17. Police Capt. Brendan O’Leary, $171,280
  18. Assistant Public Work Director/Highway Division Manager Michael Santoro, $170,901
  19. Police Sgt. Richard Murphy, $170,557
  20. Butler Elementary School ELE teacher Meghan Gallagher, $169,295
  21. Belmont Public Schools’ Director of Human Capital Michael McAllister, $169,150
  22. Belmont Light Lead Line Worker Thomas Ricci, $168,974
  23. Public Works Director Jason Marcotte, $167,582
  24. Police Sgt. Marc Pugliese, $166,220
  25. Belmont Light First Class Line Worker Nicholas Kacoyanis, $163,648

Opinion: The Superintendent Search – A Flawed Process Indeed

Photo:The Belmont School Administration building where the district superintendent is located

By Geoffrey Lubien

As a committee member of the Belmont Superintendent Screening Committee (BSSC) and a parent of a Belmont Public Schools student, I would like to voice my significant concerns about the process of screening for up to three viable candidates for consideration by the School Committee. 

As the representative of the Warrant Committee to the BSSC, I was one of a 22-member committee which included three Belmont School Committee members and an outside consulting group with all members invited and appointed by the School Committee. With the BSSC having competed its charge and the finalists for superintendent having participated in a public process, I believe it is time to share these concerns.

As part of the process a charter, set of rules and desired competencies were agreed upon by the committee to guide us in vetting potential candidates. The timeline for this process was admittedly aggressive with the School Committee requirement to have it completed within six weeks, which, according to the consulting group, normally takes 12 to 16 weeks. Therefore, committee members were asked to accommodate tight timelines with numerous three-plus hour meetings. It was explained by the School Committee members that this aggressive timeline was due to the competitive market for Superintendents and the seasonal hiring cycle. It was also communicated to some that there was a desire for all the current School Committee members, two of whom have chosen not to run again, to have a vote in choosing the next superintendent. 

The process was kicked off on Jan. 23 and after several meetings it became evident that this was a significant task and that committee members would need to really need to dig in to determine up to three candidates by mid-March.  

Committee rules included that candidates required two-thirds vote by the full committee to advance to the School Committee for consideration. After a candidate pool was narrowed down to five, we conducted three-hour Zoom interviews with each participant, with the consulting group conducting the interviews and committee members observing. The full committee reconvened on March 6 to discuss and vote upon up to three of the five candidates to push forward to the School Committee. Through much discussion and deliberation, the committee recommended two candidates to promote to the next phase; hence, the committee met its charge. 

Less than 48 hours after the final meeting of the BSSC, the School Committee sent an email informing the committee members that the School Committee had decided to interview all four of the candidates. This egregious decision disregards the hours of work, set rules and charter, and the vote of the screening committee, all of whom were appointed by the School Committee. The School Committee unilaterally decided to advance two additional candidates that were not recommended by two-thirds vote of the BSSC including one candidate who did not receive any affirmative votes from the screening committee.  

The fact that the BSSC members were dismissed after working collaboratively and in the best interest of the Belmont Public School system is beyond reproach. Twenty two committee members worked within a very aggressive timeline for the superintendent search forgoing family and work obligations only to be completely disregarded in the end. Two of the candidates the committee did not vote to move forward were considered unviable candidates by the screening committee and should not have been pushed forward. 

The actions taken by the School Committee are extremely disrespectful of the number of hours dedicated to the process and the final decisions of the screening committee. Violating the agreed upon process in the end hurts the credibility and transparency of the selection of the next superintendent, a role critical to the Belmont School District’s and Town’s future. 

What is needed now is the School Committee to stop this current flawed process and appoint an interim superintendent to carry the schools through, form a new search committee with public invitations to serve and allow the appropriate time to garner and assess the greatest pool of qualified candidates. And when a decision is reached by said committee, the School Committee should follow suit and do what is best for the future of Belmont Public Schools.

Geoffrey Lubien is a Belmont Public School parent, a BSSC member, the Warrant Committee Chair, and Town Meeting Member, Precinct 7

Opinion: On April 4, Yes For Belmont, Yes For The Rink

Photo: A debt exclusion for a new rink will be on the April 4 town election ballot.

Dear Fellow Belmont Citizens:

If you would be so kind, please allow me a few minutes of your time. April 4 is the day to vote for the approval of a new rink. You may have voted in November for this already or decided you didn’t want to approve a new rink.

If you are the latter, would you please consider this:

I could tell you the rink desperately needs replacing, which is costly, but, unfortunately, remodeling is not a viable option. 

I can tell you the price of the rink has been reduced significantly to $29 million.

I could tell you the price of a new rink ten years ago may have been a third of the price and the price ten years from now may be a third more. 

Money – yes – top of mind / important, of course, but can we also think about this:

What makes a great town great?

Most would agree town services, town facilities, infrastructure, schools & school services, town center, homes / real estate property values, proximity to Boston and the community itself. 

When we fall short, we all fall short. 

We diminish our greatness and great potential when we vote from a narrow viewpoint. 

Often we are called to vote for the greater good, the good of our town and your town!

If providing a facility:

For our little ones to learn how to skate,

For the public to enjoy public skating at any age and be able to rent skates,

For the high school field sports athletes to have changing rooms and bathrooms,

For those attending community events on Harris Track & Field to have bathrooms and a concession area,

For the recreation department to have a space to offer expanded community programming in the summer, like camps, adult classes, movie nights, concerts,

For our youth and high school boys and girls to play hockey and compete with other towns,

For families to gather and make memories and friendships to last a lifetime.

If all this doesn’t personally hit home with you, OK. But please consider the fact is we all live in this town. We all live in a great town. Let’s keep Belmont great. Let’s not remove a piece of our town and not replace it for future generations. 

Think again. Think about voting YES for Belmont, YES for the Rink on April 4.

Thank you in advance for your time. 

Laureen Federico 

Ivy Road

Opinion: This Week, Help UNICEF’s Work Supporting Children Worldwide Online

Photo: Detail of the poster of the UNICEF campaign.

By Alisa, Sophia, Laiyee, Heidi, and Jessica

Did you know the average American has $113 worth of spare change lying around their house? Last year, Belmont families helped us raise $2,000 with said spare change. Thanks to your efforts, UNICEF was able to support children worldwide in healthcare and immunization efforts- issues that are especially pressing during this period of time. 

To continue our efforts this year, UNICEF is running both an online fundraiser and an in-person coin collecting campaign in partnership with the Belmont elementary schools, until January 17. The online fundraiser can be accessed through the QR code below, and through this link: https://unicefusa.donorsupport.co/-/NLSTSHTB 

QR code for UNICEF fundraiser

While the in-person coin collection sites will be at ALL 4 elementary schools. With the new year, we hope to build a better future for children, one coin at a time. 

What is UNICEF?

UNICEF, or the United Nations Children’s Fund, is an organization that works in more than 190 countries around the world to help children by providing basic services like health care, education, food, water, protection, and more. 

Why are we collecting money?

All of the money raised by the Belmont community will directly assist global health care for children in need, around the world. Your participation allows UNICEF to continue bringing aid to families, from delivering safe water and emergency nutrition in the Horn of Africa to rushing warm clothes this winter to families in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Recently, UNICEF has been assisting the children of Ukraine by providing education, medicine, and mental health support.

Opinion: A New Library Is A Building Block Of The Commonwealth of Belmont

Photo: An aerial view of the schematic design of the proposed Belmont Public Library (credit: Oudens Ello Architecture)

By Mary Lewis

In 1980, Massachusetts passed Proposition 2 ½, a measure limiting increases on property taxes in municipalities to 2.5 percent per year. This ballot initiative was one of a string of similar laws inspired by California’s much more draconian Proposition 13. The story of what happened to public services in my home state of California offers lessons for Belmont as it faces crucial funding choices on Nov. 8.

I grew up in California in the 1970s and 1980s, and I can clearly remember the Prop 13 before and after. The biggest impact was on schools. But many other public services, from parks and pools to recreation centers and libraries were also affected. Before Prop. 13, I could walk to a branch library. Afterwards, it closed for good. Today, a private fitness studio occupies the building once filled with kids listening to story hour. I learned something from that experience: once the funding for a public building or service is taken away, it usually doesn’t come back.

Fortunately, Massachusetts’ Proposition 2 ½, although drawing on a similar desire to rein in taxation, had the wisdom to allow municipalities to pass debt exclusions, which allow adjustments to property taxes for fixed periods of time in order to fund capital expenditures like libraries.

We live in a Commonwealth – a term that literally means what is shared and beneficial for the members of a given community. It was in Massachusetts that the building believed to house the oldest public library in the United States was built. Belmont is the heir to that public library tradition. Our library ranks in the top ten of towns and cities for highest circulation per opening hour across the Commonwealth, and is a social center for our town. That statistic means we are in the same company as cities like Cambridge, Boston, and Quincy despite being a small town. But our library building is at the end of its life. Its systems are failing, and it would be irresponsible to try to fix these with band aids, only to watch them fail again – throwing away our tax dollars. Instead, we need a building that can last.

The new plan for the library includes not only traditional library services, but envisions what a 21st century library needs to be: a place to borrow books, of course, but also a place where job-seekers can have secure internet, or book a room for a Zoom interview. A site for hosting talks for the whole community. And yes, in the 21st century, it can and must be a site where people needing wheelchairs can finally make it to the main floor, in compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act, which was passed more than 30 years ago and with which our library is not compliant.

Library use rates aren’t just statistics; they’re an experience – yours, your child’s, or your grandchild’s. And when libraries close, it’s that experience that is gone: story hours lost, books unborrowed, community meetings not held, and stable internet access untapped for those who don’t have it at home. Make no mistake, if we have to shut our library, we will violate state certification rules, and there’s no guarantee neighboring towns will let us use their libraries under such circumstances. The Minuteman Library Network requires viable libraries that give into the system, not just take. Decertification has happened before. We cannot let it happen to us.

Libraries, schools, community centers, recreational facilities, and parks. These are the building blocks of the common good – the Commonwealth of Belmont. Let us renew our commitment to community, and let it thrive. The Commonwealth spirit is alive and well in Belmont: the cost of this new library is being partly offset by the largest private fundraising drive in Belmont history, pledges we will lose if we don’t pass a debt exclusion to commit public funding for the rest. Please join me in voting Yes on Question 5.  You can vote early at Town Hall. Or you can go to your polling place on November 8.  You can still register to vote until Oct. 29. Vote for the common good, the Commonwealth of Belmont.

Mary Lewis is a Town Meeting Member from Precinct 1.

Opinion: A ‘Yes’ Vote For A New Rink Is A Choice For A Better Future

Photo: Poster of the ‘Yes for the Rinkcampaign

By Sheryl Grace, Kayla Wiggin, Lucinda Zuniga

On November 8th, Belmont voters have the chance to save two community assets by voting yes on the Debt Exclusion for the rink and field sports facilities. The Skip Viglirolo Rink and White Field House are both well beyond their useful lives. Reports dating back to 1999 document the code issues and decaying nature of the buildings leading the town to identify these buildings as part of the infrastructure plan along with many other facilities in Belmont. The identified facilities were treated with only small Band-Aids over the past 20 years because larger Band-Aids would have cost more and still not enabled the buildings to come off of the list. Belmont has chipped away at the list completing fire stations, schools, town buildings, the pool, etc. It is now down to the rink, field house and library.  

Twenty plus years after the infrastructure list was created, the rink and White Field House are on the brink of being shuttered. The Youth Valley League already pulled out of using the rink deeming it unfit. This means that the Belmont Youth Hockey program does not have any home games in Belmont. Other skating clubs have stopped using the rink as well. The White Field House was slated to be demolished because its issues are beyond treatment and when the initial number of parking spaces requested for the new high school was made, a plan to use the field house land was hatched. Because of pandemic related cost increases related to the high school project, the demolition did not happen. This is fortunate as there was no plan for replacing the functions of the field house. The high school football, hockey, ski and lacrosse teams would currently be without a locker room and the Department of Public Works would be without storage for field maintenance equipment. 

It is very important for citizens to understand that the use of these buildings cannot be extended with even large Band-Aids for very far into the future. When shuttered, there will be a significant cost to demolish and remediate the site; football, hockey, ski, and boys lacrosse will lose the use of a locker room area for storing their sports equipment; 400 BYHA families will be driving to other rinks the entire season; the Belmont High School hockey teams will look to the school and town budgets for the $250,000 or more each year to pay for ice time and transportation; the BHS hockey teams will have either very early or very late practice times and no longer benefit from the support of a hometown crowd; the women’s and men’s hockey leagues and the S.P.O.R.T. program that use the rink will be displaced; the public skates, puck-n’-sticks and PTA skating events will cease. 

On November 8th, Belmont has the chance to choose a better future scenario that will not only avoid the aforementioned outcomes but benefit the community greatly. The planned building will combine the current functions of the rink and White Field House, provide new functions, and be more energy and cost efficient to operate. The new functions include locker room opportunities for field sports. Many currently have no place to put their backpacks during practice or an indoor space for team discussions which is particularly unfortunate when it is torrentially raining. The building will provide bathrooms, concessions and a warming space for events in the rink and on the adjacent fields. A room above the front community area will provide additional viewing of the rink and fields to the west and be available for rental. Should the ice sheet be removed in the summer, the space would be available for Recreation Department programming which has not been possible for the past 15 years because of issues with the current sublayer of the ice. 

The cost, while not finalized, has been projected to be around $30 million. This is more than the cost of a “rink in the box” because it includes the required demolition and site remediation; design work to create a building that includes all the features requested by the Select Board that does not encroach on the fields west of the rink; a structure strong enough to support solar on the roof; the solar panels; and the green space and parking near the building. The new functions that are included in the new building that are not in the existing buildings enable support of more student athletes and enhance the energy efficiency and revenue potential of the space. Based on past ballot measures, the estimated debt translates into about $300 additional in property taxes per year for a median valued home for the duration of the debt. (This tax figure is an estimate and has not been officially provided by the Assessor’s office.) 

It is envisioned that the facility will be like other town-owned rinks in nearby communities that are revenue neutral or revenue generating. Income will come from ice rental by the Belmont Youth Hockey, mens and womens leagues, skate rental for public skate, the Valley League, nearby private schools, club programs, and recreation department programs. The building will service more than 800 student athletes a year through the youth and high school sport programs as well as all in the community that attend their games at the rink or adjacent fields. Thriving youth and high school sports programs feed community pride and are a sign of a healthy, vibrant town.

We hope that Belmont supports this tradition by voting yes on Ballot Question 6, the Debt Exclusion for the rink and field sports facilities. 

Sheryl Grace, Kayla Wiggin & Lucinda Zuniga are co-chairs of the Yes For the Rink

Opinion: Support Your Local Farmers And Gardeners!

Photo: Composting (credit: Black Earth Compost)

By Megan Tan

Support your Local Farmers and Gardeners!

By the title of this opinion piece, you may be expecting me to tell you to support your local farmers by going to farmers markets in the greater Boston area. While that is something I love to suggest to my friends and family, I want to talk about a different way you may be able to support your local farmers. I want to encourage you and your family to start composting.

You may already be familiar with composting, considering many residents in Belmont do so already. However, it is also possible you are not so familiar with it, which is okay because we all must start somewhere. I also would love to share some information about it.

Composting is the process in which organic material and food scraps are separated from the trash that would otherwise end up in a landfill. Once separated, the food scraps decompose and in a matter of a few weeks to a year, it becomes a natural nutrient-dense fertilizer.

One can process compost right in their backyard; however, this method requires some attention which not every Belmont resident is able to provide. Recognizing this obstacle, Belmont has partnered with Black Earth Compost which is a company that is dedicated to processing your food scraps into compost. This partnership has resulted in the installment of a weekly curbside compost pickup for residents that sign up for the service.

To start composting yourself, all you would have to do is pay a small and worthwhile fee for the weekly pickups, a compost bin, and some compostable liners in addition to signing up. Once you have done that, you are ready to start composting. After eating a meal or snack, simply separate the compostable items into your compost bin and put the rest in the trash. Some of the many things that are compostable are fruit and vegetable scraps, animal bones and shells, dairy products, eggshells, paper, and much more.

To make this easier for you, Black Earth has an extensive guide on their website that shares items that are and aren’t compostable which is shown below:

The partnership between Black Earth Compost and Belmont formed almost two years ago, and since then, nearly 1,000 Belmont residents and counting have signed up. Belmont so far is responsible for diverting 472 tons of food waste from landfills into compost production. The compost created by Black Earth is eventually purchased and utilized by farmers and gardeners to help grow sustainable and nutritious fruits and vegetables that we can then buy to feed ourselves and our families. And of course, after eating them, we can put our food scraps back into our compost bins, and the cycle starts all over again.

Compost is a wonderful way for us to reduce our waste and reuse the nutrients we would otherwise throw away. In fact, approximately 40 percent of what goes to a landfill from our trash is compostable. By composting, you would be able to personally divert a large portion of your waste and instead have it be used happily by farmers for their crop cultivation.

Approximately a year ago, I signed my house up for weekly curbside pick-ups from Black Earth Composting. Since then, my family has diverted a total of 418 pounds of food waste to compost which has been used to plant 54 seedlings of various fruit and vegetable plants. Keep in mind my brother and I have been out of the house for most of the year at school, so these numbers are on the lower side.

Another cool thing about composting is that the more people who do it, the less expensive it gets. It is currently $8.99 a month to be subscribed to the weekly pickups but is subject to decrease as more Belmont residents sign up. If f you’re interested in learning more about composting or wanting to sign up with Black Earth Compost, click the link here.

Megan Tan is a 2019 graduate of Belmont high and is a sophomore at Bowdoin College majoring in Environmental Studies and Anthropology.

Opinion: Belmont High Needs A More Comprehensive Approach To Teaching Sex-Ed

Photo: Belmont High School

By Molly Hamilton

I attended Belmont Public Schools from Kindergarten until I graduated from Belmont High in 2019. Overall my experience within the Belmont school system was positive and effectively prepared me for college and many other aspects of post-graduation life.

However, there was one area where the curriculum fell short: sex education. In my four years at Belmont High, the only topics related to sex education that we covered were basic anatomy, STIs, pregnancy and abstinence. There was a brief discussion about contraception that centered around an oft-repeated phrase along the lines of, “abstinence is the only sure way to prevent pregnancy”.

While this statement may be true, a 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report indicated that approximately 55 percent of teens have had sexual intercourse by age 18. Why, when over half of teens are sexually active by the time they graduate high school, are we not providing a more comprehensive, realistic, and applicable sex education curriculum?

There are three main arguments for a more comprehensive sex education curriculum: sex-ed curriculum would help reduce the stigma around STIs and encourage more teens to get tested, and, finally, most sex-ed curricula do not cover vaginal health and thus set young women up to be misinformed about their own bodies.

Massachusetts’ current laws require an abstinence-focused approach to sex education in public schools (SIECUS) which was entirely in line with what I experienced in high school. While it is true that abstaining from sex is the only completely effective way to prevent pregnancy, I believe that telling young people to avoid a natural human behavior in order to avoid the risks that come with it is foolish and ineffective. Teens are no strangers to risk, and counting on them to avoid risky behaviors entirely is doomed to fail. Your teens years are inherently one of the most emotionally tumultuous, mistake-prone periods of your life, and it’s dangerous to forget that.

Why, when over half of teens are sexually active by the time they graduate high school, are we not providing a more comprehensive, realistic, and applicable sex education curriculum?

Furthermore, a 2017 study found that abstinence-focused sex-ed curricula “have little demonstrated efficacy in helping adolescents to delay intercourse.” Similarly, a study at the University of Washington concluded that, compared to teens who received no sex education, those who were taught an abstinence-focused curriculum were 30 percent less likely to experience unwanted pregnancy while those were taught a more comprehensive curriculum were 60 percent less likely. That alone proves that abstinence-focused sex-ed is not only ineffective at preventing pregnancy, but that a revised curriculum that covers more contraceptive options and risk-reducing behaviors could be significantly more effective. If it’s the aim of Belmont High to reduce teen pregnancy rates, then a comprehensive curriculum is the best way to accomplish that.

However, pregnancy is not the only risk factor when it comes to sexual activity. STIs are just as, if not more, prevalent. While I was taught the signs and symptoms of the most common STIs in high school, there was little information about how those STIs are treated. In health classes, the education we received about STIs felt more like a fear-mongering tactic than an actual informational session. We were required to do extensive research on the physical effects of STIs, the only facet of the issue that was thoroughly discussed.

I believe that the way STIs are discussed in health classes is only adding to the stigma around seeking treatment and getting tested. Young people are at a higher risk for contracting STIs, and lessening the stigma around them could lead to more teens getting tested. Regular STI testing is an important part of all around physical health and should be treated with the same neutrality as visiting a general practitioner, dentist, or optometrist.

Sexual health should not be presented as a shameful, scary topic, but should be presented as a neutral collection of facts and information. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “Young people ages 15 to 24 represent 25 percent of the sexually active population, but acquire half of all new STIs, or about 10 million new cases a year.” Such a startling statistic should be more than enough evidence to indicate that more comprehensive sex education curricula is not just an issue for teens and their parents, but a wide-reaching public health issue that we should all have a stake in.

While pregnancy and STIs are undoubtedly the main concerns surrounding adolescent sexual activity, there are many other topics under the umbrella of sexual health that should be covered. In school I was never taught about UTIs, yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, or any other vaginal health concerns. While they may not carry the same frightening connotation as STIs, all of those conditions can lead to severe complications if left untreated. For example, an untreated UTI can lead to a life-threatening kidney infection and untreated bacterial vaginosis can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, a condition which increases a woman’s infertility risk. Teen girls are not taught the early warning signs of these conditions, how to prevent them, or the urgency with which they need to be treated. Adding such topics to the curriculum would also help combat the strong cultural stigma around vaginal health, possibly helping female students feel more comfortable seeking treatment. Most women will experience one or more of these issues in their lifetime, and we’re doing them a disservice by completely omitting gynecological issues from sex education curricula.

While the Belmont Public school system does an excellent job preparing students for life after graduation, this issue represents a significant hole in its high school curriculum. Many young people, especially young women, do not receive educational information about sex, gender, and their own bodies outside of school.

As an educational institution meant to serve and uplift young adults, Belmont High School should revise their sex education curriculum to include a broader range of topics in a less abstinence-focused manner. The disadvantages of abstinence-focused sex-ed are backed by numerous studies, and the advantages of a more comprehensive curriculum are innumerable.

This is not just an issue on an individual level, but a serious public health concern that, if remedied, would benefit the entire community.

Hamilton is a 2019 graduate from Belmont High School and is currently attending college

Opinion: My Support For Bill To Allow Drivers’ Licenses To Residents Without Lawful Immigrant Status

Photo: Sample of a Massachusetts commercial drivers’ license. (Credit: mass.gov/rmv)

By Will Brownsberger

Current Massachusetts law provides that “no [driver’s] license of any type may be issued to any person who does not have lawful presence in the United States.

A bill currently before the senate would change that sentence to read: “An applicant for a [driver’s] license … who does not provide proof of lawful presence, … , shall be eligible … if the applicant meets all other qualifications for licensure and provides satisfactory proof to the registrar of their identity, date of birth and Massachusetts residency.”

In other words, the bill would give licenses to people who cannot prove lawful presence in the United States, provided they can prove their residence and identity and pass the same tests that everyone else has to pass.

I plan to support the bill.

My fundamental view about immigration policy is that it is up to the federal government. It is not the concern of state and local government. However, one of the top concerns of state and local government is to assure that all drivers know the rules of the road and how to operate a vehicle safely. It is often necessary to drive and we are all safer if more of the people on our roads have the required training and insurance.

Some argue that to discourage illegal immigration, we should make life in Massachusetts as inconvenient and uncomfortable as possible for people without lawful immigrant status. I do not agree with that approach. We hurt ourselves when we isolate people in our midst. We benefit from immigrant labor in many occupations and we should treat all workers as well as we can.

Others express the valid concern that a driver’s license is an identification card and we do not want to facilitate the creation of false credentials. The bill gives this concern careful attention in two different ways. 

First, the bill does not allow persons who cannot prove lawful presence to get a “Real-ID” which would get them into federal buildings and on to planes. Instead, they will get a card that is valid as a license to drive but is not valid for federal identification.

Second, applicants for a license who do not possess United States identity credentials like a U.S. passport will have to provide similarly rigorous foreign credentials — a foreign passport or an identity card issued by their consulate. In addition, they will have to provide a corroborating document like a license from another state or a birth certificate. At least one of the proferred documents must be a photo ID and at least one must include birth date.

Some have expressed the concern that since one can register to vote through the drivers license application process, the new law would allow non-citizens to vote. Again, the law specifically speaks to this, requiring the Registry of Motor Vehicles to “establish procedures … to ensure that an applicant for a Massachusetts license … who does not provide proof of lawful presence shall not be automatically registered to vote.” The law would not take effect for a year, allowing time to assure that these procedures are in place.

While the new law cements the requirement of procedures to protect the voter rolls, procedures are already in place according to the Secretary of State. He states on his website that “The RMV … collect[s] information about lawful presence in the United States and they will not submit names to local election officials of any persons they have determined are not U.S. citizens.” This is not a new concern. Currently many people who are not citizens but are lawfully present in the United States have drivers licenses: for example, a green card holder can get a license.

Similar legislation has been passed in 16 other states. The bill has the support of many law enforcement officers, including the Sheriffs of Middlesex County and Suffolk County, and the police chiefs of Cambridge, Belmont, and Watertown. 

The Massachusetts House of Representatives has already voted for this bill by 120-36. I expect the Senate to take it up and I hope we are able to give it a similar strong endorsement and send it to the Governor’s desk.

Belmont resident Will Brownsberger is a Massachusetts state senator representing the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District that includes Belmont.

Opinion: Don’t Believe The Pessimism; Belmont’s Best Days Are Ahead

Photo: “Attend meetings of local committees and make your voice heard at them.”

By Paul Roberts

Imagine a Belmont in which foreign language instruction and instrumental music commence in kindergarten; courses on robotics and AI pepper the high school curriculum; and students have rich, in-district choices for technical and vocational education. 

Imagine a Belmont that no longer obliges families to pay hundreds of dollars each year in fees for their children to ride the bus, participate in athletics or join a school club. 

Imagine a Belmont that gives aging residents more options for staying in their homes and extends a helping hand in dealing with problems related to transportation, nutrition, and loneliness. 

Imagine a Belmont in which children, seniors and professionals frequent a well equipped and modern library with liberal operating hours to study, work and learn.

Imagine a Belmont in which we use our smartphones to report a pothole or heaved sidewalk, get a text message that lets us know when the DPW has scheduled a fix and then another to confirm the work is done. 

Imagine a town with bustling recreational facilities: a renovated skating rink; a bike and skate park for our kids and a dedicated youth center where kids can hang out, get tutored and socialize after school. 

Imagine a town built to meet the needs of modern families and professionals, not those of 50 years ago – a town in which residents can move about town by foot, bike, or car safely using dedicated routes that prevent injuries and deaths. 

This is Belmont’s bright future and it’s well within our grasp. 

This vision of our Town of Homes may sound strange to you. If you’re a regular reader of local media opinion pages, you have been treated in recent months to an entirely different view of our town: one far more cynical and pessimistic about our shared future. 

According to this view: Belmont’s elected leaders are inept; our town professionals are incompetent; our school officials are liars and cheats; our library, roads and recreational facilities are beyond our ability to repair. Belmont’s best days are behind it, by this account. Our only recourse is to retreat: deny an unworthy government the resources it needs, make do with less and shrink from the challenges of the future. 

A quick review of the record says otherwise. In the last decade Belmont has accomplished quite a bit. We’ve re-paved dozens of roads and sidewalks; renovated our playgrounds and parks; updated and expanded our historic town pool and our police station. Following a successful Proposition 2 ½ override in 2015, Belmont’s Public Schools reduced class sizes and hired new teachers across grade levels. Last, but certainly not least, we recently completed the first stage of a brand new 7-12 school on time and on budget. Naysayers and doomsayers aside: Belmont gets things done.

Of course, neither of these visions of Belmont’s future – one optimistic, the other dire – are inevitable. Both require a commitment on the part of Belmont residents and our leaders to realize. 

I would argue that no community ever shrunk its way to greatness. To realize a brighter future, we need to embrace a vision for what our town can be, and do the yeoman’s work to make that vision reality. This almost certainly will require investment: more resources, not fewer. But Belmont also needs to make our government more efficient and accountable. We need to make better use of technology to reduce inefficiency and increase agility and transparency. We need to double down on our commitment to excellent public education and a high quality of life by pursuing policies and investments that make those commitments more than just words. 

What can you do? Start by paying attention to what’s going on. Attend meetings of local committees and make your voice heard at them. Town elections are in April, 2022. Listen for candidates’ vision for our community. Is it one in which Belmont improves the quality of life for its residents? Or do you hear a litany of complaints with cuts to services as the cure-all? Finally, don’t be afraid to dream big for our town, and then to work hard to make those dreams a reality. Belmont needs you now, more than ever. 

Paul Roberts is a Town Meeting Member from Precinct 8 and Chair of the Town’s Information Technology Advisory Committee (ITAC)