Neighbors Raise $12K for Marlboro St. Fire Victims

A fledgling neighborhood association raised more than $12,000 for five renters who lost nearly all their possessions after a devastating house fire on Marlboro Street in the early morning hours of May 21.

The efforts by the Belmont Corner Neighborhood Association – including establishing an online fund raising site (fundly.com) and running a day-long yard sale on the street on May 31 – will result in the raised donations split among the fire victims who lived on the first and third floor of the house at 58 Marlboro which is owned by Joe and Colleen Piccolo, according to BCNA’s Erin Lubien.

The building, which was declared a total loss by the Belmont Fire Department, was taken down in the first two days of the week.

In a June 4 press release, Lubien said the association – which was created last year – used Nextdoor.com, the private social network for neighborhoods, to send out urgent text messages and e-mails the morning of the fire inviting the victims into local homes for shelter.

Lubien said the in the days since the fire, neighbors have used Nextdoor to organize, coordinate, and market the neighborhood-wide yard sale with all proceeds going to the fund.

She also said there were many examples of the community coming together to support the renters, “showcasing the amazing generosity of and care for a truly unique neighborhood,” said Lubien.

• “Sophia’s Greek Pantry inspired the idea of a raffle table to be held at the yard sale, and baked large trays of Spanikopita to feed the volunteers and sell to shoppers. We are also indebted to Sophia for her introduction to Helpis.org, an organization who specifically helps those in need during catastrophic times. Helpis donated many collected goods and clothes for both the victims and the yard sale.”

• “While at the yard sale shopping for free, tenants from the first floor of 58 Marlboro met Kay, a neighbor around the corner. Kay introduced the couple to Tom, whose rental property in Belmont Corner emptied that morning. Tom immediately came to meet the couple, brought them to the apartment, secured the lease, delayed collection of the security deposit, and maintained the rental rate instead of raising it as he had planned.”

• “A Cambridge firefighter who fought the Marlboro St. fire collected items from his firehouse to donate to the yard sale. His wife arrived at 7 a.m. to deliver his donations and spent the entire day aiding in all aspects of the yard sale and organization of donations.”

“This incident and the actions our neighbors took to help one another is a great testament to the power of community we have built in Belmont Corner,” said Lubien.

The BCNA is moving the future funding to Belmont Savings Bank. Checks made payable to the “58 Marlboro St Belmont Fire Fund” can be mailed or brought to:

ATTN: Lillian Ayala

Belmont Savings Bank

2 Leonard Street

Belmont, MA 02478

For more information, please contact belmontcorner@gmail.com

The ‘O’ Word Center Stage During Budget Debate at Town Meeting

It was a pretty expensive springboard – the debate of Belmont’s fiscal 2015 budget – Belmont Town Meeting members used to bring attention to the “O” word during Monday night’s reconvened Town Meeting held at the Chenery Middle School on June 2.

“O”  as in override which advocates for greater spending for the schools and general government are prepared to push the Belmont Board of Selectmen to use its authority to place a multi-year, multi-million dollar operational measure on the ballot.

During Monday’s discussion of the $46.2 million ’15 School District budget – or $52.4 million when government grants and other non-general revenue costs is calculated – members voiced their dissatisfaction with the shortcomings within the schools; which, they claim, must be remedied with additional cash, the sooner the better.

“We can not wait until April [2015, when the Town Election takes place] to decide we’re going to place an override on the ballot and then do it in June when three-quarters of the people who are going to be standing up in favor of this don’t even know there’s a vote,” said Kimberly Becker of Precinct 6.

“We need to have this on the ballot in November when people are out voting” in the general election, said Becker to applause.

“I don’t want anyone telling me we don’t have enough time to do it in November. There is plenty of time,” she said to cheers from supporters.

The throwing down of the override gauntlet by several Town Meeting members on Monday would seem a bit surprising as, unlike years past, the school budget was “drama free” as described by Warrant Committee Chair Mike Libenson. The district – which has been riding high as one of the few top-tier school districts in Massachusetts and Belmont High School ranked 151st in the nation by US News & World Report – is receiving a relatively healthy increase of more than four percent, or about $1.9 million, in available town revenue from the previous year.

Yet the increase spending is only enough to, as the Warrant Committee states will “maintain level services” which includes retaining nearly 19 full-time equivalent classroom positions hired last year just to keep up with 140 new students in the system.

So while the Red Queen can tell Alice that “here we must run as fast as we can just to stay in place,” many Town Meeting members are just not willing to accept the claim that level spending means keeping up with past educational standards.

“We talk about level service budget every single year while we watch many things get cut, class sizes get fuller. This is a joke,” said Anne Mahon of Precinct 4.

“Our kids are losing. We may have gotten into [US News & World Report] but a lot of that is because parents compensate  when their kids get home. Help the school system out, get an override on the ballot and put it out in November when we have time to vote for it,” said Mahon.

As both Laurie Slap, School Committee chair and soon-to-be-leaving “interim” Belmont School Superintendent Dr. Thomas Kingston told the meeting, there are serious budgetary worries in the near future, driven by skyrocketing enrollment (up to 500 additional students projected coming to Belmont over the next decade), new salary contracts and greater demands for services by students and staff.

“Sometimes we have to make hard decisions because, just like the family budget, the money will alway be limited,” said Kingston.

Precinct 1’s Rachel Berger, explained that unlike past years, this year “is not a Cadillac budget. I don’t event think this is even your father’s Oldsmobile budget.” 

While the school article did not come under the sort of detailed scrutiny of years past – there were just a few questions before the $46.2 million school expenditure for fiscal 2015 was approved with little opposition – the anxiety of school budgets yet to come served as the catalyst for those in the auditorium who contend that the time to strike the override iron is now.

One of the chief complaints is the myriad of hidden “taxes” residents must currently burden, in the form of substantial student user fees – the family of a three-sport athlete is out $1,100 yearly – to the inability of the district to restores or add to school programing (the district’s “wish list” of programs and staff it could not fund continues to grow).

“We told children to do activities, do sports,” said Precinct 8’s Christine Kotchem. “But now its very, very costly. What do you tell a student when you just can’t pay?”

“Someone paid for our children to do these activities and it’s time for us in the community to turn to our neighbors and say ‘This isn’t right.’ We need to fully fund our schools,” said Kotchem, whose own children graduated from Belmont High School a decade ago.

While the cries of “override” were met with general acclaim within the hall, the same enthusiasm for an increase in homeowners tax bills may not be as universal with the neighborhoods. It has been a dozen years since Belmont voters approved an override, for $2.4 million in June 2002, with the last three attempts (in 2006, 2008 and 2010) defeated by close votes.

But some believe that times are changing on the willingness of communities to shoulder a heavier burden to support “good” schools and there is some evidence of that at yesterday’s special election in Shrewsbury. There voters by a two-to-one margin approved a $5.5 million Proposition 2-1/2 operational override, its first successful override in more than two decades, to add programs, staffing and technology to the schools. 

What to Do Today: Lemonade for Chenery Kids, Tech Support and Take a Survey

• Chenery Middle School students: Bring your homework by the Assembly Room of the Belmont Public Library on early Wednesdays from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. for lemonade and cookies. This is for middleschoolers only!

• The Belmont Public Library will give tech-challenged residents an opportunity to sign up for 30-minutes of one-on-one tech help and start accessing your 24/7 digital library. Today’s begin at 11 a.m. Here are a few things they can help patrons with:
  • eBooks & eAudiobooks,
  • Sign up to read free digital magazines,
  • Get Database help or an orientation to online library research and
  • Manage your Library Account online, place holds, freeze holds, pay fines with a credit/debit card.

Call 617-993-2870 for an appointment, or sign up online at the events calendar.

Help Belmont by taking a quick survey! In 2001, the Town of Belmont adopted a vision statement entitled “A Working Vision for Belmont’s Future,” which included several goals for the town

The survey can be found here or at this web address: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/BelmontVision21

The members of Belmont’s Vision 21 Implementation Committee invite and encourage residents to participate in a survey to assess the Town’s progress in addressing the goals of the Town’s Vision. Survey results will guide the Town and the Implementation Committee regarding Belmont’s priorities for the future.

The complete Vision can be found here: http://www.town.belmont.ma.us/Public_Documents/BelmontMA_BComm/vision21/index.

• On this day 25 years ago, the Tiananmen Square protests are violently ended in Beijing by the People’s Liberation Army, with at least 241 dead.

Residents Turned-In 67 Firearms at Gun Buyback Saturday

A total of 62 guns were turned into the Belmont Police during the town’s first gun buyback event held this past Saturday, May 31, according to Belmont Police Chief Richard McLaughlin.

McLaughlin said a variety of firearms were accepted including, rifles, shotguns, pistols and a sawed-off 12 gauge shotgun.

Officers are investigating the possibility that two firearms were previously reported as stolen.

Belmont Police, in partnership with the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Office, Belmont Religious Council and individual Belmont houses of worship, held the event – which took place at the town’s DPW Yard on C Street – to allow Belmont residents a safe way to dispose of unwanted firearms and ammunition.

All firearms turned in at the gun buyback were turned over to the Massachusetts State Police to be destroyed.

Gift cards to local grocery stores were exchanged for the firearms from donations made by residents, local businesses and houses of worship including the Belmont Religious Council which raised nearly $5,000. Approximately $2,600 in left over grocery gift cards will be donated to the Belmont Food Pantry.

“This event demonstrates the accomplishments that can be achieved when members of the community and law enforcement partner together to work towards a common goal,” said McLaughlin.

“Reducing the number of unwanted firearms in the community addresses important public safety and public health issues,” said Jean Dickenson chair and founder of the Belmont Gun Buyback Committee, also thanking the Belmont Religious Council, Belmont Police Department, members of the Gun Buyback Committee, individual faith communities and local businesses and individuals who supported the program.

The Belmont houses of worship co-sponsoring the event included All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Belmont-Watertown United Methodist Church, Beth-El Temple Center, First Baptist Church of Belmont, The First Church in Belmont, UU, Plymouth Congregational Church and St. Joseph & St. Luke Collaborative Parishes.

“With more than 31,000 fatalities and 74,000 firearms-related injuries across the country each year, giving residents a way to safely dispose of these unwanted firearms makes all our communities safer,” said Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian.

If residents have questions regarding the gun Buyback Program or would like information on what to do with unwanted and unused firearms and ammunition please contact Belmont Police Lt. Kristin Daley at 617-993-2554 or via email at    kdaley@belmontpd.org

Harris Field Resurfacing Starts on June 16

It’s official: Belmont High School’s Harris Field and the running tack at the Concord Avenue Athletic Complex will be closed for its long anticipated renovations beginning on Monday, June 16, according to Judi Carmody, business manager of the Belmont Department of Public Works. 

The work is expected to last until Aug. 15, a week before the beginning of practice for the fall High School sports season. 

The $960,000 job, in which the synthetic turf field will be replaced and the track will be resurfaced and relined, was authorized by the special Town Meeting in November 2013. 

“We regret any inconvenience that these improvements may cause,” said Carmody. Residents who have any questions can call the DPW at 617-993-2680 or email at BelmontDPW@belmont-ma.gov

What to Do Today: Chenery Courtyard Celebration, Butterflies and Library Tech Help

• The Belmont community is invited to the 10th annual Chenery Courtyard Celebration of the Arts, taking place from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., come rain or shine, in the Chenery Middle School courtyard. Theatrical and musical performances by Chenery students and the Belmont Senior Center’s The Bellaires will accompany the artwork by the Chenery students inspired by the courtyard gardens. Refreshments will be served.
• Attract butterflies and other pollinators to your garden by choosing host plants at “Pollinator Gardens – Buzz and Flutter” hosted by the Massachusetts Audubon’s Habitat Sanctuary’s Barbara Brown at the Beech Street Center  from 1:15 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. Learn a bit about some common plants and flowers and their connection to butterflies. This talk is open to the entire community.
• Both today and tomorrow, Wednesday, June 4, the Belmont Public Library will give tech challenged residents an opportunity to sign up for 30-minutes of one-on-one tech help and start accessing your 24/7 digital library. Today the sessions begin at 7 p.m. and 11 a.m. on Wednesday. Here are a few things they can help patrons with
  • eBooks & eAudiobooks,
  • Sign up to read free digital magazines,
  • Get Database help or an orientation to online library research and
  • Manage your Library Account online, place holds, freeze holds, pay fines with a credit/debit card.

Call 617-993-2870 for an appointment, or sign up online at the events calendar.

Belmont Town Meeting, Budget Articles

Welcome to the future as the 2014 annual Belmont Town Meeting reconvenes in the relative comfort of the Chenery Middle School’s auditorium tonight, Monday, June 2.
Tonight brings not just the premier of the fiscal 2015 budgets but also e-voting to the 155-year-old legislative body. Just after Moderator Mike Widmer brings the assembly to order, there will be a tutorial on how to use the voting devices.
There will be special recognitions tonight with one being Belmont Superintendent Dr. Thomas Kingston who will be leaving his interim position.
7:10 p.m.: A great rendition of “God Bless America” by the one-and-only Sandy Kendall who is being feted by the Selectmen, State Sen. Brownsberger and State Rep. Rogers for her great works around town. Three standing ovations to a classy lady.
Bob Gallant is honored for his great work with the town bylaws and creating the McLean agreement.
Kingston is honored for bringing a more collegial effort to the town/school relationship. In a great gesture, Kingston brings up Dr. Shea who was named the Massachusetts Teacher of the Year this year.
7:30 p.m.: By introducing the articles, Moderator Mike Widmer said electronic voting, which is being introduced tonight, will make our “wonderful clerks” obsolete.
Widmer said there will be a dry run with the e-voting devices, the “latest fashion statement” said Town Clerk Ellen Cushman. The polls will be declared open and you will have 40 seconds to vote. This should be neat. Aggregate voting will be anonymous. A roll call vote will be recorded. The practice votes: did you attend Town Day? (No was the majority vote). Will the Red Sox win tonight (a roll call vote with yes winning easily)
That was fun. Now for the budget.
7:45 p.m.: Article 18: Salaries for town officials. Pretty straight forward. Not much to debate. And it is adopted unanimously.
Article 19: Enterprise Funds for Water and Sewer and Stormwater Services. Again, fairly standard routine financial event; this year nearly $6 million in user fees will go to fund the Water Department and $8 million in sewer and storm water revenue to fund the maintenance of our sewers. Yes with no discussion or no vote.
Article 20: the fiscal ’15 Budget Appropriation: This is it: where your taxes go to in the general government and the schools totaling $95.2 million. Presentation about general government, schools and Minuteman. Selectman Chair Andy Rojas said the fiscal ’15 budget was created under a collaborative effort known as “One Town, One Budget” approach; a realistic budget “we all could support” by reaching consensus. Rojas talked about the Financial Task-Force and precinct meetings concerning the OPEB payments. He said the selectmen take seriously the Belmont Center reconstruction project as well as the new Minuteman Regional contract.
Mike Libenson, chair of the Warrant Committee, the Meeting’s financial watchdog, gives his committee’s opinion on the budget. He praised the budget process from the town and school sides at a 58/42 percent split. He is explaining how the budget is created – or how the sausage is made – ending in mid-May. He shows the pie chart of available revenue which nearly 3/4 comes from property taxes. State aid is a variable number with this year was actually a positive for Belmont to make this a “drama-free” budget.
Libenson said that on the expense side, the fix costs are paid right away, about $15 million (pensions and debt making up the majority of these funds as well as nearly $2 million for roads), with $79.6 million in discretionary fund to be divided between schools and government.
The operating budget is 58 percent to the schools and the rest to the general government; the two big parts: 16 percent public safety, 12 percent public service.
Highlights include town departments level funded or a little better, the schools being walloped by 139 students saw its budget increasing by 4.1 percent. Healthcare costs remain flat – a big winner for the town’s bottom line and a new combined Facilities Department and a new director Gerald Boyle.
Risks: Revenue growth will only rise by 2.5 to 3.5 percent growth while employee compensation is 69 percent of the budget and that’s going up, significant infrastructure needs (the list goes on and on; a new high school, library, DPW building, police station, the rink and the White Field House) and school budget pressure continues with rocketing enrollment, compensation (a new contract with the teachers is coming) special ed and rising direct cost. “There will be pressure on all fronts.”
Pensions and OPEB (health costs after retirement) are costly: $6 million contribution to unfunded liability which will be covered by 2027. The town is making a contribution to the OPEB account, which currently is at $196 million, of $265,000. It’s tiny amount but the rating agencies want to see something.
“All towns are in the same boat and work with Will and Dave to have the best results,” said Libenson. His report was quick and precise.
8:25 p.m.: Now there will be nine articles under general government.
A question by Vincent Stanton, Pct. 3; can the town use a later date for the pension to be paid for to 2040. Lebenson said he hadn’t looked at it. Town Administrator David Kale said town’s want to get rid of this expense as soon as possible due to the ups and downs of the economy.
The pensions will be the first real test of an article. And the vote is in: 224 yes, five opposed, and three or two not voting.
Johanna Swift Hart, Pct. 4, wants to know about the $60,000 funding of a school resource officer under the public safety appropriation of $12.8 million. Mark Paolillo of the selectmen said the cost is covered. Swift Hart said she was concerned that under the school’s order of priority spending, an officer was “next to last” behind teachers, education, smaller classes … Couldn’t that money be better spent on educating. Paolillo said the additional money was there and a SRO in the High School enhances the safety of the students.

8:40 p.m.: Now the school department budget with Chair Laurie Slap providing an overview of the achievements and what’s up. The issues facing the schools is, of course, exploding enrollment, increasing class size, greater special needs and strains on the staff and budget. She highlights all the students who are coming “across the world” 102 to 182 students needing help in English instruction.

The future is scary as 500 new students could be coming to the district in the next decade. Short-term, the department will attempt to cope with the enrollment boom; long term, the need will be additional space. While renovating the high school, it may need to be a 8th grade to 12th grade.

But how to keep this great district sustainable? It will focus on studying the finances with a subcommittee, using “trend modeling” groups and other issues.

Superintendent Kingston discuss the three pillars that keep Belmont as a top level 3 status, a rare achievement.

The primary cost drivers are salaries, enrollment and special ed while losing federal grants. The real cost to run the district is $52.4 million, with the general fund request of $46.2 million, a four percent increase.

8:57 p.m.: Discussion from the members: Yes. Christine Doyle, pct. 1, asks how much the additional tax, such as student fees, is being paid to the district; her family is paying $1,100. Kingston agrees that is an issue but they are trying to keep them level.

Rachel Berger, pct. 2, said there is a lot of user fees, such as 60 percent of the athletic department. Outside fees supports so much “and this is not a Cadillac budget, it’s not even your father’s Oldsmobile budget” and the town will need more funding to keep this level of education.

Kimberly Becker, pct 6, said the “O” word; override, which needs to be placed on the November ballot to get the greatest level of voting.

Paul Roberts, pct. 8, said there are already changes being made due to limited budget such as teaching team structures at the Chenery Middle School. He worries that modular classrooms will be used to save money because we don’t have the money. What other examples of budget constraints if impacting the schools today? Kingston said the elimination of the fifth grade foreign language was one example. “Sometimes we have to make

Anne Mahon, pct. 5, said “Don’t kid yourself, a level service budget doesn’t do our kids anything.” Help the schools by playing an override in November.

This is a roll call vote with the e-voting system which comes out overwhelmingly in support of the school budget.

9:28 p.m.: After a short “stretch” break, the Minuteman Regional High School appropriation of $751,000, which is lower by nearly 12 percent, or $100,000, from last year’s budget due to lower enrollment, while the school’s total enrollment has increased along with a boom in out-of-district student tuition. Approved with little debate.

The final budget item, the debt and interest, in the fiscal ’15 budget is approved.

Belmont now has its fiscal 2015 budget coming in at $95.2 million.

9:50 p.m.: Article 21: Authorization to Transfer Balances to Fund the ’15 Budget. A straight forward transfer to keep the upcoming budget out of the red. 204 in favor and 6 opposed.

Now we are at Article 22: Authorization for Up-Front Funds for Chapter 90 Highway Improvements. That’s $534,000 from the state to repair our roads. Passes easily.

And Widmer agrees to go forward with the Capital Budget. Ann Marie Mahoney, committee chair, said they had $4.3 million in requests from all departments, but only with available funds of $1.4 million. Unlike past years, there is no “big ticket” items although there was some of those from the library, the schools or the Belmont Center reconstruction project. There will be a snow blower, $200,000 in sidewalk maintenance, $133,000 in building envelop improvements, only two town vehicles, a new surface for the Town Field’s basketball courts and a fingerprinting “livescan” system. Mahoney said she would love to have $3 million a year that doesn’t rely on one-time funds.

“We need more revenue, more predictable revenue,” said Mahoney.

Roger Colton, pct. 6, has submitted an amendment to the capital budget article, who will add $30,000 to the sidewalk maintenance budget by taking it from the Grove Street Master Plan. The Warrant Committee voted 7 to 7 on the amendment and the Capital Budget Committee voted one for, two against and one not voting. Colton said this is just the sort of question that Town Meeting was created; to make priorities. He said residents asked why give money to the schools when the sidewalks aren’t repaired. He said when the town has to go to the voters for an operational override, it must show that Town Meeting has their priorities straight.

Mahoney has submitted her own amendment to the amendment that would take the $30,000 and place it in three other requests. She said she had hoped that Colton had come to the committee’s meeting to hear the debate on the request.

Andy Rojas said he placed the request for the neighbors who are in conflict with youth sports specifically baseball. A master plan will be help control the ad hoc nature of our parks that are “overused and underfunded” which will be the first step with Community Preservation Committee funding coming afterwards to implement the plan’s recommendations. Colton’s amendment is a “false argument.”

Chris Doyle, pct 1, why can’t the master plan be paid for by the CPC and what’s the shelf life of a master plan. Rojas said the CPC will not pay for it and the master plan (he is backed up by Town Treasurer Floyd Carman) for a park like this is five years. How about the youth baseball people pay for the master plan. Rojas said the baseball people do play their fair share.

Swift Hart, pct 4, said she had seen the town pay for plans that could not be implemented and why not an overall recreation plan instead of being driven by a neighborhood that’s angry about parking.

Deb Lockett, pct. 7, a neighbor to the Grove Park, said she was concerned it was coming out of the overburdened Capital Budget. After a series of conversations, Lockett said the selectman had promised that a master plan would be coming and this is the follow up. It can also spur other reports for other parks and the CPC will then pay for them. So while agreeing with some of Colton’s arguments, she can’t support it because this expenditure will result in critical answers.

Paul Roberts, pct. 8, said he hopes the selectmen are “listening” to Mahoney, Libenson and Slap the town does not have the revenues needed to support all the needs; an override is needed.

James Stanton, pct. 1, said why pay an outside consultant $30,000 when this should be a job of the selectmen (to cheers).

11 p.m.: Town Meeting has now reached its fourth hour, just as long as it took Belmont High baseball to play that marathon 16-inning game on Friday night. One member told me that Town Meeting would be completed tonight. HA!

Donna Ruvolo, pct. 7, said she finds paying $30,000 for a report a bit bewildering but the park, which is now being mismanaged, is in need of a plan to save it. “This is our property” as a town, not for a single neighborhood. “The entire town should have a voice in deciding this issue,” said Ruvolo.

A Scott Sheffield who is not a member but is allowed to speak on the measure. The 10-acre park – in a densely urban areas – does not have the amenities like so many parks in surrounding towns. For $30,000, that could be accomplished.

The motion has been moved and the e-vote in underway. 69 to 114 against. Colton’s amendment is defeated.

The capital budget is approved by a very tired meeting. Time to go home. It’s 11:19 p.m.

See you Wednesday.

2014 Class Act: Belmont High Graduates Seniors into the World

Salutations, speeches, songs and even a selfie. The 2014 graduating class of Belmont High School was feted in a myriad of ways at the final ceremony of – for many of the graduates – 13 years of education in the Belmont school system.

On a brilliant late spring day, the 265 graduates – one of the largest senior classes in recent history – had to cool their heels upstairs in the “little” gym before descending into a hallway with faculty, staff and School Committee members just outside the Wenner Field House. Inside were parents, relatives, siblings and friends, many with cameras, iPads and smartphones at the ready to help remember the celebration.

Leading the way in was Belmont School Superintendent Dr. Thomas Kingston whose three-year long “interim” tenure heading the district is coming to an end on June 30. It also marked the end of an active career as an educator of nearly half a century.

“All graduations are a bit bittersweet,” said Kingston, who said he had been to so many in his career his academic robes had become frayed.

And a few minutes after 3 p.m. – not that many people were worried about being tardy – the graduation possession proceeded with Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” by the school’s Symphonic Winds.

The ceremony’s highlights were the exceptional speeches from three outstanding graduates.

Class President Tyler Normale – or as he was known, “El Presidente” – said he is the 32nd member of his extended family to have graduated from Belmont High School, a school in what is more than just a small town; “it is a community … a place to be together, and a place where everyone knows everyone.”

Speaking of the activities his classmates had in common, Normale said it took a “thick skin, hard work, perseverance and countless sleepless hours with nothing but caffeine” to move through the four years of high school and to be seating in the Field House on this day.

Normale, who will be attending Stonehill in the fall, asked his classmates to turn around and give those nearby a hug, a high five and a handshake before turning around himself to take a group selfie of himself and his classmates, a gesture leading to a standing ovation from this classmates.

The two graduation speakers, honored with the School Committee Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Scholarship, saw their classmates as having

An accomplished violinist and outstanding academic – her senior thesis was honored with the Lillian Blacker Award – Aldis Elfarsdottir said while they praise those who helped shape us such as parents, family, teachers and friends, she asked her classmates to think of those “you only glancingly saw” in hallways and classrooms; “those you probably known by name but have never really spoken to.”

“You might be one of them,” said Elfarsdottir, who is matriculating at Harvard.

“All around us, there are people we don’t really know, who we take for granted to always act in certain ways” – Elfarsdottir never got to know the young man who had the locker next to hers through most of High School – which can change quietly or with a burst of friendly charm.

“Whether or not we choose to burst our with friendliness as we bump into new people in the future depends on ourselves. It is up to us … [to] bring out the compassion and goodness in ourselves and others of our global community,” she said.

Yuansi Amy Zhang admitted being a perfectionist from the time when she had to answer all the “Mad Minute” questions correctly. So given the opportunity to write one of the graduation speeches, she was flooded with excitement and anxiety “as the intrinsic need for fiction coursed through my body.”

Joining Elfarsdottir at Harvard, Zhang – a first-class scientist and four-year volunteer education aide – said she soon realized the speech need not be perfect but have some long-lasting impact on her classmates, a speech “tinged with permanence.”

“I believe that an individual, like a good speech, should strive to have style, substance and a permanent impact” one achieved through hard work, perseverance and practice, she said.

Asking her classmates to think of what, over the past 13 years, helped shape their character and their own quest for permanence, Zhang said she believed the class of 2014 remain in control of that goal “because we can choose what impact we make on the world.”

“We cannot be the future until we make the conscious decision to become part of the present,” said Zhang.

And for the next 45 minutes, that present was for each of the seniors to receive their diplomas, toss their caps into the air and then walking out into the warm afternoon newly-minted alumni.

Soon, several young men continued the recent tradition of lighting up a “victory” cigars – this year joined by a few young women – while classmates gathered for photographs, handshakes and hugs.

Belmont Town Meeting Reconvenes With Budgets on the Agenda

Belmont’s annual Town Meeting, 2.0, will commence tonight as the town’s yearly legislative gathering will reconvene after a three week hiatus to take on the $95 million town and school budget.

The meeting, known as Section B, will take place at the Chenery Middle School, 95 Washington St., at 7 p.m., Monday, June 2, having decamped from Belmont High School.

The meeting members will review and vote on budget articles including general government, school district, capital improvements and all other sundry financial items.

The order of the articles will be 18 through 27 and then non-budgetary articles 3 and 14, according to Town Clerk Ellen Cushman. 

Budget information can be found on the Town Clerk’s web page on the town’s web site.

But before the meetings articles are taken up, the 300-odd member will pick up “response cards” – or voting devices – before the start of Town Meeting. There will be a brief overview as well as a hand-out to familiarize members with the new technology. It’s anticipated all voting will be cataloged electronically tonight and at future Town Meetings.

If time permits, members will debate two non-financial articles:

  • Articles 3 proposes action regarding a proposed amendment to the Minuteman Regional Vocational High School Regional Agreement, and
  • Article 14 seeks to amend the Town’s Zoning By-law to Address Citizens’ Petition from 2013 Special Town Meeting.

PHOTOS: Second Sunny Saturday Greets Rescheduled Belmont Town Day

Would Belmont Town Day, delayed a fortnight by rain that never came, be dampened by precipitation on the day it was rescheduled, the last day of May?

Two weeks previous, predictions of a stormy weekend by weather forecasters forced the hand of Town Day’s hosts, the Belmont Center Business Association, who postponed the yearly event. 

That Saturday turned out to be the best weekend of the year, warm without a cloud in the sky all day.

With fingers crossed, John Gallagher, a manager at Champions Sporting Goods who helps manage the yearly festival, said he was expecting the same conditions on Saturday, May 31.

“We’re due,” he said.

But that prediction appeared a bit iffy as the same weather prognosticators predicted showers on Saturday morning.

Thankfully, the experts were incorrect for a second time as the entire day was just as sunny but just a bit cooler for the crowds to came to Belmont Center for a day of fun and food.

Sponsored by Belmont Savings Bank, events as diverse as kiddy rides, a petting zone sponsored by the Lions Club, eats and tables manned by organizations and businesses lined Leonard Street as the multitude of residents and visitors browsed, rode and walked the scene.