Letter to the Editor: Vote ‘No’ to Preserve the Override Funds

Photo: Supporter of the schools override.

To the editor:

How do we want to spend the 2015 override funds?

Next Tuesday, Belmont voters will decide whether to spend $335,000 to $500,000 per year (or more) to fund the $144 million new Minuteman debt.

I am a school advocate. I strongly support vocational education.

But this referendum is not a vote about education. If Belmont votes No, we can continue to give our students the same Minuteman education, for less money.

This is a vote about debt.

The debt could be funded through a 30-year tax increase, but I believe that it will not pass. Any tax increase is always a hard sell.

Without a tax increase, we would have to use override funds.

Override funds are currently being used to support our operating budget, as promised. But if we take on the Minuteman debt, without new taxes, it will hit our operating budget and prematurely drain the override funds.

If we vote “No” now, and only now, we have a chance to avoid the debt. Belmont is currently a member of the Minuteman district. If we vote “No”, Belmont Town Meeting will have the opportunity to vote to become a non-member.

Member towns pay much more than non-member towns. In 2017, Belmont will pay $30,602 per student, compared to $19,702 by non-member towns, and it will only get worse when you add debt payments for the new $144 million Minuteman.

Michael Libenson, chair of the Warrant Committee, presented his analysis on Monday night that shows Belmont will likely save $200,000 to $400,000 in tuition and capital charges by sending our students to Minuteman as a non-member. (The presentation is available at www.betterplanforbelmont.com.)

In other words, it will cost Belmont an additional $200,000 to $400,000 every year to remain a member. To pay that annual membership premium, we would likely have to tap our override funds.

What Belmont decides should not impact the new school. Most of the remaining nine towns have already lined up their funding. They will vote for it. The referendum is expected to pass. The school will then be built.

Belmont is left with few options. We tried to fix broken district, but the non-member towns won’t join. We tried to right-size the new school, but we were rebuffed.

Now, we need to get out. If Belmont signs on to the $144 million debt, it will squeeze our budget for the next 30 years.

An analogy I think is helpful: Why would we want to “own a new building” (and 30 years of debt payments), when we could “rent ~30 seats” at Minuteman for less money? Why would we choose to pay more, when we could pay less for the same services?

We worked hard to pass the 2015 override. Let’s not use it up more quickly than we have to.

Please join me in voting “No” next Tuesday.

Ellen Schreiber, Sandrick Road

Ellen Schreiber is a member of the Warrant Committee and Town Meeting Member.

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Comments

  1. Laura VanderHart says

    I understand how hard it was to get the “Yes” on the override, and therefore, I see where the “No” argument comes from. I also respect the people making it. However, I think they are relying on several assumptions that I am not sure are true, especially longer term:

    -that Minuteman will continue to have space.
    -that interest in vocational ed is declining in Belmont.
    -that the other nine towns will happily pay our share, and we will still enjoy all of the access we once had (even though it kind of feels like ten of us went to dinner and we left the other nine with the bill).

    After visiting the Minuteman school, I was impressed with their curriculum. The building is terrible, but the teachers, the students, and the work they are doing are great. The majority go on to some kind of college, and have the earning potential to pay for it. So, if you combine a new building, the current BIPARTISAN emphasis on vocational and technical ed in our country, and the cost of college, I think Minuteman will only become more attractive.

    I have sought out some families with kids at Minuteman to see what they think. They are not as vocal on these forums, but, despite cost, everyone I spoke with is voting Yes. They appreciate the education their children are receiving.

    There are costs we are not talking about, like transportation and administration, especially down the road. Belmont may have to hire an administrator to place our kids in various programs around the state. There is also the emotional cost of insecurity. A commitment to Minuteman will bring peace of mind and options for our students. The “rent” model means that every year will be different, and the students and their families will be kept wondering until the last minute if they have a spot and where.

    I’m pretty sure we will see the predicted savings in the first few years. After that, we may find ourselves very insecure. We have a chance to be part of one of the nation’s top voc-tech schools. I predict that the new school will be a stop on almost every politician’s campaign trail and will be a point of pride for all of the towns associated.

    Sincere thanks to everyone who is thoughtfully weighing in on this complex issue.

  2. Martin Plass says

    Let’s please stick with facts and avoid false statements!

    1. The debt that the 9 or 10 (depending if with or without Belmont) member towns have to take on is $100 million, not $144 million as Ellen and others keep saying. The school costs $144M but the State would pay $44M of that, A subsidy by the way that the State will not provide for the alternative of renovating Minuteman, which is expected to cost as much or more than a new school. So voting No means foregoing the 40% state co-funding of a new school,

    But Ellen and other No supporters like the Board of Selectmen or Will Brownsberger do not really want to stop the new school from being built, they just don’t want to pay for it. This means letting the remaining member towns shoulder the entire costs and let Belmont get the benefits without paying its share. The current Minuteman funding mechanisms dictated by the State unfortunately allows an upside down payment scheme where non-member towns pay less than member towns. While it may seem financially clever to withdraw and become a non-member town and save some money, I feel that this might be a short-lived advantage that comes with many risks and disadvantages.

    It is easy to predict that member towns will do everything to ensure that non-member towns either pay the same or more as member towns and if this cannot be achieved for whatever reason they will make sure that non-member towns will get treated as second class citizens. This can mean students will not be guaranteed access to popular programs, Plus we will have no more voice on the school committee and cannot influence the future direction and management of Minuteman. Our students might have to go far away to other vocational schools, and even that is not guaranteed, with over 3000 students wait-listed for vocational programs in MA.

    2. The No supporters talk about that we will have full access for our students to Minuteman for 7 or more years. This is also very wrong, it is only for three years. If town meeting votes to withdraw from the district, we will still remain a member town for three years until the withdrawal becomes effective. During this time we will have full access. However after the three years, only the students that are already enrolled by that time are guaranteed to finish (stay for 4 more years, hence the 7 years). Any new students trying to enroll after the three year grace period will not have guaranteed access.

    By voting No we are giving up the guaranteed access to a quality vocational education for our children, and ask our neighboring towns to pay extra for our Belmont kids. I think this is unfair and too much risk. I will vote YES and stick by what we decided in town meeting 6 months ago when we voted unanimously to stay in the Minuteman district!

  3. Michael Crowley says

    Ellen,

    Unfortunately, there is no equivalence between “renting” seats as a non-member town at Minuteman and remaining a member of the Minuteman district. Minuteman has a number of innovative and high demand programs that would be out of reach to Belmont students as a non-member town. Only member towns are first in line for these programs. Students from non-member towns have to choose from what’s left or forgo a Minuteman education. The only option to preserve access to the high quality education our kids deserve is to remain a member town.

    Best,

    Mike Crowley

  4. Donna Tocci says

    Letter to the Editor

    I have no children, yet when I was a home owner for 20 years, I never once complained about my rising property taxes going towards education. The Belmont Town Council is proposing that we leave the district of 9 neighboring towns. With this, we will we will not participate in repairs and upgrade to Minuteman Tech, or, pay the $23,916 per student, for our 31 students currently enrolled. Their family’s would fend for themselves, along with paying for transportation.
    I say no! No! No! We pay for sports, swimming pools, Special Ed., extracurricular actives and transportation of our youth. All of our children’s well being and educational needs should be taken care of, even the few seeking to learn the trades. This is the price and the advantage we pay for living in a town like Belmont. We can find cuts elsewhere.

    Thank you,
    Donna Tocci

    • says

      Donna,
      The town of Belmont would continue to pay for our students to go to Minuteman – parents would not pay tuition or transportation. As a non-member, the charges from Minuteman to Belmont would come in a different form – tuition instead of an allocation of operating costs. As a member or non-member, the town pays for this public school offering.
      Ellen

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