School Committee: New Members Forecast Roles on Board

Photo: Murat Bicer being sworn in by Town Clerk Ellen Cushman.
The April 5 Town Election resulted in the selection of two new members of Belmont School Committee, Murat Bicer and Andrea Prestwich, who won three-year seats on the body that will decide the direction of the school district facing increasing enrollment pressure, the construction of a new high school, keeping the schools at a top level academically and facing future financial pressures.
The Belmontonian asked the pair questions on what they learned during their campaigns and the their future on the board.
[Some answers were shortened for length]
Belmontonian: What did you learn about Belmont and the residents perception of the schools during your campaign that may not have been on your radar?
Bicer: I was delighted by how engaged the residents were, even people who don’t currently have students in the system. About 25 people attended my campaign event; several sent me questions through my website, and one even sent me a letter in the mail. All totaled, I fielded dozens of thoughtful, difficult, and important questions.  As a first-time candidate for office, I didn’t know what to expect for direct engagement, and I learned that Belmont is a very politically active community.
Prestwich: I heard a lot about kids being stressed at school.  I was expecting this somewhat from the parents of high school kids but not so much from middle school or even elementary school parents. The main concerns were a lack of down time during the day and homework.
Belmontonian: What was the overriding concern of Belmont parents relating to the schools? What was your answer to those issues?
Bicer: The overriding concern kept boiling down to the same: How are we going to afford it all?  As many of our largest challenges are budgetary, it’s not a surprise that buried in peoples’ specific questions about class sizes, the shape of the new high school, and access to electives was a concern for monetary resources. So in answering resource questions about the schools, I emphasized that I’ll look over the budget, question assumptions, and work my hardest to stretch our dollars as far as they’ll go while thoughtfully reviewing options for additional revenues.

Andrea Prestwich.

Prestwich: Quality of the schools was the number one issue. People are worried about the impact of the enrollment, especially those with younger kids. I was also very pleased by the depth of support for starting school later. I share these concerns, and I will work very hard to maintain funding and transition to later start times.
Belmontonian: What subcommittee do you think you can contribute the most? Why?
Bicer: I hope to join the finance subcommittee. First, I’ve worked in finance for a decade and feel that this is a valuable experience that can add to the pool of talents already on the School Committee.  Second, Laurie Slap formerly chaired the finance subcommittee, and with her departure, I feel it’s important that the subcommittee is brought back up in number.
Prestwich: Probably the policy subcommittee, because I have the most experience in this area.
Belmontonian: What do you expect from yourself in the first six months on the “job”?
Bicer: In the first six months, I plan to review the budget in the context of enrollment challenges and come up to speed on discussions my colleagues have started about solutions. I’d also like to continue meeting and hearing from the community, and getting a sense of how to represent parents and non-parents in our decision-making processes.

Prestwich: A lot of learning! And I’d like to make significant progress to starting schools later.

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