‘Growth Spurt’ Has Belmont School Budget Bursting at the Seams

With just three months left in the fiscal year, it appears the Belmont School District will likely finish the fiscal swimming in a pool of red ink.

In a report highlighting the district’s third quarter financial status, Director of Finance and Administration Anthony DiCologero reported the Belmont’s schools are running an $220,000 deficit for the fiscal 2014 budget, which is $44.3 million excluding state and federal grants.

“There has been unanticipated events that began in the summer” resulting in the financial shortfall, said DiCologero, which Belmont School Committee member Kevin Cunningham said is caused by “a growth spurt” within the district since the bulk of the new expenses are directly related to a continued influx of students into the already brimming district.

According to DiCologero, approximately $450,000 of additional funds were spent on hiring 18 FTE (full-time equivalent) positions – many aides – to fill gaps in the system created by an increase of more than 100 students into the system.

An additional amount – not yet calculated – went to direct students services in Special Education as the actual amount spent in fiscal ’14 far outpaced what was anticipated at the beginning of the fiscal year in July, 2013.

“This continues to be a [line item] in flux,” said DiCologero.

On other unanticipated costs, the need to install a new exhaust system at the High School’s Higginbottom Pool required the expenditure of $50,000.

In addition to higher expenses, the district missed out on opportunity savings when an oil feeder pipe burst in the basement of the High School. This has delayed switching the final of the three heating burners from oil to natural gas, resulting in lost savings in the energy account, said DiCologero.

According to Belmont School Superintendent Dr. Thomas Kingston, the deficit will be resolved with a request of $200,000 from the town’s reserve account as well as clamping down on hirings – each most be reviewed by Kingston and DiCologero before being approved this fiscal year – while also restricting spending on supplies, material and services. In addition, facility maintenance and repairs will be limited.

While the ’14 fiscal budget needs a shot of cash to finish the year, the pending fiscal year 2015 budget – which the School Committee will hold a public meeting and discuss before approving on May 13 – which stands at $46.2 million is in balance.

Early End: Belmont High Graduation June 1; Final Day of School, June 20

Sometimes, due to a quirk in the calendar, holidays are celebrated a lot earlier than what is customary. This past year Hanukkah – which is usually held in December – fell on Thanksgiving while Easter can come as soon as the third week in March.

And that phenomenon will occur this year for the graduating class of high school seniors as Dr. Thomas Kingston confirmed this year’s Belmont High School graduation will take place on Sunday, June 1 at 3 p.m. in the Wenner Field House at Belmont High.

“It’s the earliest day on the calendar that we can hold graduation,” said Kington at the Belmont School Committee meeting held on Tuesday, April 29 at the Chenery Middle School, who noted that the class of 2015 will have their ceremony on one of the latest dates, in the second week of June.

Kingston also announced that unless there is an emergency in town that would force the closure of school for a day (or with the current frigid spring, the possibility of another “snow” day) the final day for the Belmont school district will be Friday, June 20. That will also be an early-release day district wide with the High School ending its day at 10:30 a.m. and all schools “out for summer” before noon.

“So those folks anticipating camp dates and vacations can start making their plans” with a date certain finally set, said Kingston.

Belmont High Named As One of Nation’s Best

As the saying goes, you don’t come to Belmont for the roads; you come for the schools.

And in the latest issue of US News & World Report, Belmont High School is honored as one of the top-rated high schools in the country, earning the magazine’s “Gold” medal. The Concord Avenue school is ranked 151st nationally out of 19,400 public high schools in 50 states and the District of Columbia examined that includes charter and examination-entry schools from across the US.

Using the USN&WR ranking criteria, Belmont High is rated higher than 99.2 percent of all high schools in the country.

The top-ranked high school in the country is the School for the Talented and Gifted in Dallas, Texas.

In Massachusetts, Belmont is the top-ranked open-enrollment high school, rated just below the state’s top school, Boston Latin, an exam school, and the Advanced Math & Science Academy Charter School in Marlborough. Wellesley High and The Bromfield School, the town of Harvard’s public high school, round out the top five schools.

In 2013, the school was ranked 193rd nationally.

U.S. News teamed up with the Washington, D.C.-based American Institutes for Research, one of the largest behavioral and social science research organizations in the world, on creating the ranking methodology that is based on, as the magazine stated, “the key principles that a great high school must serve all of its students well, not just those who are college bound, and that it must be able to produce measurable academic outcomes to show the school is successfully educating its student body across a range of performance indicators.”

According to the magazine, Belmont High scored high on college preparedness, with nearly three-quarters of high school seniors taking and passing at least one AP advanced course.

The school also rated very high, 63rd in the country, in students taking and passing AP exams in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) courses.

Belmont High Darkroom To Be Named for Late Benefactor’s Generosity

In a rare gesture at Belmont schools, the Belmont School Committee unanimously approved a recommendation from Belmont School Superintendent Dr. Thomas Kingston to name the photography darkroom at Belmont High School after Paula Lerner, the award-winning Belmont photographer who donated her extensive photo equipment to the Belmont High arts department before her death in March 2012.

“The administration certainly endorses the request as it is perfectly appropriate commemoration for the considerable contribution that Paula Lerner made to the development of a really compelling program at the High School,” said Kingston in his recommendation.

The request for a memorial plaque bearing Lerner’s name and date of the dedication came from Andrew Roy, the Belmont High teacher who instructs the Photography III Honors class and whose students use the equipment, which, Roy noted, is the “single largest donation to the photography program in [more than] 10 years.”

“There has been so much positive outcome from Ms. Lerner’s generosity and my students have truly benefited in ways far more significant that the material gifts and financial support,” said Roy.

The honors program used a Foundation for Belmont Education grant to create an exhibition of photos in Lerner’s style in the summer of 2013 at the Belmont Media Center in honoring her.

Power Off: Wellington Solar Panel Project Goes Dark

The sun set on plans to place solar panels on the roof of the Wellington Elementary School as the Belmont School Committee voted last night, Tuesday, April 8, to support Belmont School Superintendent Dr. Thomas Kingston’s recommendation to rescind the contract associated with Boston-based contractor Broadway Electric, the solar installer which decided to close its business earlier this year.

“So it’s time to fish or cut bait and I’m suggesting we cut bait,” said Kingston.

Despite attempts to find another solar installer that would take over the current contract – which is considered a very small project by industry standards – the earliest that it would come before town officials for another round of approvals  would be in three months after studying the job.

“We need to stop protracting this,” said Kingston.

Kingston, who said the committee and the town remain strong supporters of using solar power, said it would be best for the new superintendent, John Phelan, who will begin his tenure on July 1, to take charge in leading the committee in finding a new vendor.

Kingston suggested that it would be advantageous for the town and schools to revisit the Wellington solar plan when a new High School is constructed, pairing it up with a larger project that could also include other municipal building such as the town’s fire stations.

“The bigger the project, the more attractive the job will become,” said Kingston.

Yet it is not known when that project will come on line; the school committee today submits its statement of interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority for the renovation of the current High School, a process that can take several years.

Nor is there any certainty that solar-power tax credits, which allows contractors to install panels for no cost to the town or school committee, will remain at the current level or be around when the High School project begins.

Changing Lauries: Slap Selected School Committee’s New Leader

In a changing of the guard but not first names, Laurie replaced Laurie as chair of the Belmont School Committee last night Tuesday, April 8.

That would be Laurie Slap, who is known for her stellar, thoughtful work on budgets and financial matters, was installed as the new chair of the six-member board replacing Laurie Graham who has held the position for the past several years.

(It shouldn’t come as a surprise that it was Lauries switching seats; the name – the “pet” form of Laura, derived from the Latin “laurus,” the evergreen shrub or tree whose leaves were woven into wreaths by the ancient Greeks to crown victors in various contests, according to babynamewizard.com – reached its popularity as a girl’s name from the 1950s to the 1970s (in the top 50 list of names) before plunging off the charts today.

The Long Avenue homeowner, who has been a Belmont resident since 1993 with her husband and three children, said she sees no reason to change the committee’s course.

“I think the team has been working well together, so if we follow in [Graham’s] footsteps we’ll be in really good shape. I am looking for continued continuity,” said Slap.

Slap, who won her seat on the committee in 2010 and was re-elected comfortably in 2013, is an economist by trade matriculating at Colby College earning a BA in Economics/Mathematics and earned a MA in Management from the MIT’s Sloan School with a concentration in finance/corporate strategy.


Beautiful Music: Belmont High Ensembles Garner Highest Honors

Tonight, at Belmont High School, the elementary schools will be holding its concert with many of students performing on stage for the first time as they begin their artistic journey through the district’s music program.

The result of the district’s commitment to music in those early grades was evident this past week as Belmont High School’s numerous musical ensembles took home a Priam’s treasure of top honors at the Massachusetts Instrumental and Choral Conductors Association festivals.

On Friday, April 4, the Chamber Singers and the Concert Chorale, both led by long-time director Sean Landers, earned Gold Medals at the MICCA’s festival site in Norwood.

On Saturday at Lexington High School, the Concert Orchestra under conductor Margot Reavey earned a Gold Medal, the Symphonic Band, directed by Lauren Haley, earned a Bronze Medal and the Wind Ensemble earned a Gold Medal.

“Each ensemble performed at a very high level, and the students represented our music program and our school with a great deal of pride and professionalism, as usual,” said Arto Asadoorian, Belmont School District’s director of fine & performing arts.

Today, Monday, April 7, Asadoorian received notification that the Wind Ensemble was selected through a lottery to perform in the the MICCA Gold Medal Showcase at Boston’s Symphony Hall on Saturday, April 12 at 12:30 p.m.

Anyone interested in hearing the Wind Ensemble should arrive by noon to be seated in time for the performance at 12:30 p.m. Performances by top groups in the state will begin as early as 8 p.m. and are all open to the public.

The 15th annual Foundation for Belmont Education Fundraiser

The theme of the 15th annual Foundation for Belmont Education Fundraiser was “Light Up the Night” and that was accomplished Saturday night, March 22 at the Belmont Hill School as hundreds enjoyed a night of dining, dancing and the auction of some very impressive packages, all in benefit of the Foundation’s four-year Innovative Teaching Initiative that funds training for educators in new technology – the addition of iPads into district classrooms – and programs to provide more enriching and engaging instruction.