Photo: Yes campaigners.
To the editor:
We all have been inundated with reasons for and against the override vote on April 7. I’ve see the needs as a resident and an insider, as a parent and a decision maker.
I have lived in Belmont for 19 years, and on either side of Belmont for another nine. My six years on Belmont’s School Committee (which included, as the School Committee rep, two years on Warrant Committee and two on Capital Budget Committee) have given an enlightening view into many parts of town government. I’ve been lucky enough to work with professionals in Town Hall, School Administration Building, and each of the schools, I and am sometimes awed by what they can produce for us with limited resources.
Here are the key points that make me an enthusiastic supporter of the proposed override:
Big Picture on School Spending
I’m a fan of allocating a reasonable amount of resources for a given function, then letting the professionals manage within that limit. Clearly, Belmont Public Schools’ per-pupil spending shows that we get a lot of value for our money. It is about 12 percent below state average and far less than nearby towns such as Newton, Lexington, and Watertown. The state Dept of Ed breaks that spending into major categories, where we can see that our per-pupil spending on teachers is 11 percent below state average and administration is a whopping 30 percent below. Yes, 30. To me this negates squawking from the “no” side about some individual teacher salaries being high. Yes, some are indeed high. But some are low for what we get. Most are within reason for the professional tasks they do – just like at my own company, and probably yours.
Financial Task Force Cred
One of Belmont’s faults over the past few decades is its lack of planning and reluctance to look ahead, whether for finance or infrastructure. The Financial Task Force, appointed in 2013, is a serious effort address exactly that. Members should be applauded, and their findings taken seriously. This override is a reasonable step to address Belmont’s needs. Names like Paolillo, Carmen and Mahoney are hardly associated with irresponsible spending or caving to special interests. The additional money won’t fix everything – it is necessary, but not sufficient – and there is still a ton of work to do across Town and Schools for the long-term well-being of our entire community, kids and adults, infrastructure and people.
The “No” Side
I should know better than to be surprised by the ideological intransigence of the “No” side, but I still am. From my six years on School Committee, and observations the years after, this summarizes the patterns I see from some individuals who are or were on the Warrant Committee:
The disregard of the FTF’s findings is very disappointing, and even disrespectful. It seems they’ve chosen to simply ignore the facts, even in their rhetoric. But then they are trying to position themselves as the eventual saviors, sharpening pencils and tightening belts, or whatever trite phrasing you want. It is as if the professionals who work for the town have not tried and do not know their jobs better than those Warrant Committee members. Every committee has wanted the thorough, factual look that the FTF has produced, and I assume the No side did too. But I think they did not get the answer they wanted, and are now ignoring and talking over the findings.
The Warrant Committee is often called the “fiscal watchdog,” but too often some want to micromanage departments’ internal spending, and even intrusively try to manage policy. For schools, I have seen them question curriculum offerings, like whether to offer art at all (since it’s not required by the state), advanced language classes, and even support for college counselors.
Please join me in voting Yes on April 7.