Crowley Amendment Splits School Committee, Comes Before Town Meeting Monday; Protest Rally Supporting Amendment Anticipated

Photo: Belmont Town Meeting will take up an amendment to transfer free cash to the school department for SPED programs

In one of the most contentious votes in recent Town Meeting history, an amendment to transfer a little over a quarter million dollars from free cash to the school department will come before the town’s legislative body as the meeting debates the fiscal year ’24 operating budget on Monday, June 5.

Sponsored by former School Committee member Michael Crowley with the backing of several prominent Town Meeting members, the amendment has already shaken up the School Committee as half the members voted on Friday, June 2, their support of the measure when it comes before Town Meeting.

A protest rally outside Belmont High School is anticipated by some of the members backing the transfer, with leaflets expected to be distributed.

The amendment seeks to transfer $289,000 from the town’s “free cash” account to support much-needed funding for the special education program and personnel.

According to Crowley, the amendment will provide $189,000 to hire two FTEs in the SPED program and set aside $100,000 to design and develop a plan to return Belmont students currently being taught “out-of-district” back to district schools resulting in significant savings.

“Out-of-district tuition is a top cost driver for the district, and investing now can reduce future expenses,” said Crowley describing the amendment’s aims.

Members backing the amendment include Karen Bauerle, Heather Barr, Marty Bitner, Julie Crockett, Michael Gao, Kim Haley-Jackson, Paul Joy, Amy Kirsch, and Paul Roberts.

Members and town officials opposing the measure contend the amendment – being presented within the last week – is a last-minute financial interloper that, while admittingly not a budget buster, was not evaluated by the Warrant Committee, Town Meeting’s financial “watchdog.”

The action comes as the town is marshaling funds into free cash as an essential bulwark as the town prepares to present to voters a nearly $10 million Prop 2 1/2 override at the annual Town Election in April 2024. Town officials have stated in budget meetings that building up unreserved funds balance will allow the town to keep the override “ask” under $10 million – an amount many feels is more palatable for voters to accept – and will be a lifeline to town and schools if the override fails.

At a recent Select Board meeting, the board indicated the three members will speak out against the measure as will the Warrant Committee contending the amendments and its backers have subverted the budget process. In addition, a significant number of Town Meeting Members are expected to voice their concern the amendment is sowing division between Town Meeting members – the ultimate judge of the budget – and town and school officials and committees, which spent nearly ten months shepherding the budget to a vote.

That division could be seen taking place in the School Committee 3-3 vote where members Jamal Saeh, Jeffrey Liberty, and Jung Yueh voted “favorable action” to the amendment with Chair Meghan Moriarty, Amy Checkoway, and Amy Zuccarello in opposition. In the debate, the newly-elected Yueh said that Town Meeting is part of the budget process, as are budget amendments.

Crowley, when he was a member of the school committee until April, advocated using free cash to support the schools. He believes that an override will not pass or fail by Town Meetings’ acceptance of the transfer.

Belmont Joins Hundreds Of Communities Worldwide Marching Against Injustice [VIDEO]

Photo: Residents marching into Belmont Center protesting the death of George Floyd and seeking racial justice. (all photos credit Lisa Sotir)

Hundreds of Belmont residents of all ages and races marched on Wednesday, June 3 from the Belmont Green through the town’s center as “The Town of Homes” joining hundreds of communities nationwide and around the world protesting the death of George Floyd and seeking racial justice.

Carrying signs proclaiming “White silence = violence”, “End Police Brutality” and “Black Lives Matter,” the marchers gathered first at the historic Wellington Station to hear speeches from organizers such as Mitchell Pereira and from incoming Belmont High senior Preston Jackson-Stephens before heading through Belmont Center.

Preston Jackson-Stephens speaking to protesters at Belmont’s Wellington Station. (Lisa Sotir video)

“I wanted to start this because a lot of our surrounding communities were taking part in protesting and I knew that many people in our town wanted to do it as well,” said Pereira, a 2019 graduate of Belmont High.

The march was a viral moment as organizers took to Instagram and asked friends to share their plans and, from there, the word spread.

“I was super surprised and happy with how many people ended up coming,” said Pereira.

For the organizers, the rally’s goal was as a starting point for all Belmont residents to consider how racial injustice effects their lives and the community.

I think it’s our duty to call out injustice and to try and better our society and community,” he said.

“This happened because of everyone and that everyone deserves credit and deserves to be proud of themselves. I’m just a small part of it, it’s really the community who made this happen,” said Pereira.

From Belmont to Ferguson: Residents Demonstrate Solidarity, Concern

In the chill of a cold, Sunday darkness, a long line of people illuminated the night with candles as they weaved a chain of protest from Belmont Center, under the commuter rail bridge and towards the post office on Concord Avenue.

The marchers, numbering more than 200, were accompanied by a steady chant of concern.

“Hands up, don’t shoot!”

“Black lives matter!”

When the assembly reached the entry to The First Church in Belmont at the intersection of Concord and Common, the crowd began a call-and-response heard across the country for the past three weeks.

“What do we want?”


“When do we want it?”


For the participants – some who first marched in the 1960s Civil Rights demonstrations to a large number of teenagers and children who were participating in their first action – the events of the past four months involving the deaths by police of several black men and youths which many claim the judicial system appeared indifference to the action of law enforcement brought them out to voice their collective anger.

At the church, the group sang “We Shall Overcome,” before laying on the ground in silence for four minutes, one minute for every hour the body of Michael Smith – shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. – laid on the street on a hot August afternoon.

For Molly Thayer and her friends from Belmont High School, participating in the march was a symbolic joining of hands from suburban Belmont to Ferguson and Staten Island, NY where Eric Garner died after a struggle during an arrest.

“Belmont is not a town that we have these sorts of incidents but there’s a need to express our support for people who are effected. We can not look away,” Thayer said.

That sentiment is what prompted Patricia Garcia, the chair of First Church’s Social Action chair, to call for a march in Belmont, “because it is a mostly-white community so we tend to see what occurred in Ferguson and elsewhere as being far away.”

“But what happened there and across the country happened to human beings, to African-American men. We all have a stake in learning what happened, why and do something about it,” said Garcia, a native from Mexico.

After spending an hour in active protest outside, most of the marchers entered the church’s sanctuary to talk, vent or discuss their and the country’s emotional state.

“I had to be here,” said one speaker while another said he “must act in some way” to the increase in incidents around the country.

“It’s been 26 years since Rodney King, and we’re back,” said Mike Collins from Belmont.

For Marian Evans Melnick, a First Church congregant and Watertown resident, cell phones and small video cameras in the hands of ordinary people have made possible “that immediacy where one person can make a difference” and allow everyone to bare witness to incidents.

Longer term, a way to alter the now injurious impact of the judicial system on many African Americans is to “dial back” the overtly punitive sentencing requirements for many non-violent offenders, according to State Sen Will Brownsberger, who is the co-chair of the Joint Judiciary Committee on Beacon Hill. Currently, a sentence for a non-violent drug crime has 700 “collateral” effects on a person including loss of licenses, denial of housing and long probation periods.

“It’s gone too far,” said Brownsberger.

From the protest was a sign of hope, said Collins.

“I am heartened by the fact that so many young people were here,” he noted.

“We need young people in New York and San Francisco but also here in Belmont” to come out for change.