Photo: Amy Zuccarello, candidate for Belmont School Committee
A Belmontian through and through: born, brought up, schooled, and now living in Belmont with her family, Amy Zuccarello is seeking one of two seats on the Belmont School Committee.
Who is Amy Zuccarello?
Amy Zuccarello is a person who gets things done. Amy is a Belmont mom of two who is committed to her family and her community and has always been a champion of Belmont’s public schools. She is a lifelong Belmont resident, a graduate of Belmont schools, and a bankruptcy and financial restructuring lawyer with 20 years of experience working with distressed companies and helping them rebuild. Amy is also the Belmont Girl Scouts service unit coordinator and a former Belmont POMS board member and officer.
Why are you running for school committee, knowing just how challenging the next years will be for Belmont schools?
I am the right candidate for Belmont right now. My background and skill set complements the skills and abilities of current committee members. I know that I can make an instant impact to help the town and the schools navigate the current fiscal challenges.
What broad experiences do you have – that is not in your LinkedIn profile! – that will make you a good school committee member?
I represent companies and other large stakeholders in distressed business situations – where resources are at a premium and there aren’t always enough funds for every item on everyone’s “wish list.” As a trusted business advisor, it is my job to be able to use resources wisely. I need to be creative and think outside the box to find ways to solve these problems. I am also a fair, skilled negotiator. I pride myself on navigating contentious situations while maintaining the balance between standing my ground on important issues and preserving a good working relationship with all sides going forward. I also have significant experience working on committees of all types in various contexts.
Many residents/boards and committees believe the Belmont school district historically asks for more funding annually than it needs. Can Belmont schools teach children at the level parents/the community expects if district budget increases are capped at average growth in town revenue of about 3 1/2 percent a year?
In light of current inflation rates alone, I don’t think that this is realistic. The actual answer here depends on many factors we can’t know at the moment. For example, school enrollment isn’t something we can predict with certainty year over year. In addition, the town’s BEA contract contains cost of living increases at about 2.5 percent per year – so personnel costs – which comprise the largest single expense in the school budget – will increase by this amount alone year after year. In addition, there are some big categories of costs set forth in the school budget that are not discretionary – including the cost of funding ESL programs and out-of-district special education placements.
Belmont’s future will depend on a substantial override in 2024. As a committee member, what would you do to help navigate the schools over the next year to prepare for a yes or no vote?
Put simply, spend smart. Whether an override passes or not, we need to maximize efficiencies where possible. We need to review expenses carefully and be sure that we are asking our community to fund an override that will be sufficient to bring stability to the schools for the foreseeable future. We can only do this while being mindful that our citizens are unlikely to support an override that isn’t backed by reasonable assumptions about what we need to fund the schools sufficiently. If we can restore public confidence in managing the school budget, I believe that our citizens will be more inclined to support an override.
Which line items in the school budget would be your priority to protect while serving on the committee?
I will always prioritize maintaining funding for positions and services that directly impact student learning and well-being. My goal is to minimize disruption for students due to a budget shortfall.
Do you have any ideas of your own or an existing plan that you support for providing outstanding care for Special Education students while also keeping a cap on expenses?
I have been speaking with many students and families about Belmont’s approach to special education. I think that we need to take a very close look at the number of students with out-of-district special education placements and assess whether Belmont can find ways to accommodate student needs in-district. We should capitalize on the availability of space that has been created by the construction of the new Belmont Middle High School and a decrease in district-wide enrollment to build a robust program to serve the needs of special education students in the district. By doing this, we will not only enable our Belmont students to remain in town with their siblings and neighbors, but we will also be able to control the costs of out-of-district spending on special education.
Being a school committee member means more than working with finances. Which academic areas – curriculum, policy, etc. – will you focus on?
I will be available to work with my colleagues in many areas; however, I think that my legal background will make me an especially strong asset to the policy subcommittee.
What is one change – big or small – in the six Belmont schools that needs to occur to make the education experience better?
I would like to explore changes to the schedule of fifth- and sixth-grade students at Chenery to provide for more recess/socialization time.
At the end of your first term, by what measure will you know you have succeeded?
A Girl Scout’s mandate is to leave a place better than she found it. I will succeed if I can bring financial stability to our schools while maintaining academic excellence so that Belmont’s students can be assured of the best in public education for years to come.