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.

League of Women Voters’ Segment B Warrant Briefing Via Zoom This Thursday, 7PM 

Photo: The poster for the Warrant Briefing on May 26, 2022

Town Meeting members and the public are invited on Thursday, May 26 to attend the 2022 ‘Zoom’ Warrant Briefing on all things budget for next week’s resumption of the annual Town Meeting.

The meeting is cosponsored by the town’s Warrant Committee and the Belmont League of Women Voters.

Residents and members will have the opportunity to ask questions of town officials and department heads about the budget articles and amendments prior to the annual legislative gathering on Wednesday, June 1.

Geoffrey Lubien, chair of the Warrant Committee, will preside.

Viewing Options:
Zoom meeting ID: 890 2008 1969
Live broadcast: Belmont Ch 8 (Comcast); Ch 28 (Verizon)
Livestream or on-demand:

‘Extra Innings’: Belmont Town Meeting Reconvenes Wednesday With A BRAVE Act Taking Center Stage

Photo: Town meeting (non virtual)

When Betsy Vose asked her fellow Financial Task Force members Friday morning how the first night of the reconvened Town Meeting had gone Wednesday night, she was caught by surprise when she was told that after nearly four hours the meeting had voted on a total of two articles which included a non-binding resolution.

“So we’re already in extra innings!” said Vose, now expecting with most observers the three subsequent meetings in the next week will be going late into the night.

In the past decade, the budget/expenditure articles before Belmont’s annual Town Meeting are lumped together in what is called Segment B. And due to the near-automatic approval of nearly all the articles during that time, you wouldn’t be that far off to label the segment as B for boring.

But not this year as the 2021 Town Meeting made its return on Wednesday, June 2 (and will continue on Monday, June 7, and Wednesdays June 9 and 14) The second coming of the town’s legislative body – Segment A was completed last month – saw members absorbed in debating the articles in such detail and with a lack of urgency that it is almost preordained the remainder of the meeting is destined to slouch towards Bethlehem.

After an appetizer of the Department of Public Works/ Belmont Police Department Building Committee presenting a report and video of its successful renovation of the police headquarters and DPW building, the first of the main courses were presented in amendment 11, a non-binding resolution for Fossil Free New Construction sponsored by the Energy Committee. Marty Bitner, Precinct 8 and co-chair of said committee.

The article was originally scheduled to come before the 2020 Town Meeting but was pushed back from a year before due to the pandemic when the article was a bylaw change, following a similar change passed by Brookline in 2019 that required all new construction to be fueled by electricity, banning oil and natural gas as options. The Brookline bylaw was later found by the Massachusetts Attorney General to be illegal as the state has the only authority to alter the state’s building code.

Monday’s aspirational resolution seeks to change the state building code to mandate fossil-free construction, direct the state Department of Energy to create a zero net energy “stretch code” requiring buildings to have electrical fuel systems and revise the state gas law to give towns the authority to restrict future gas permits on new construction.

Bitner pointed out passing the article would have Belmont joining 18 other municipalities who are seeking fossil fuel mandates and it will demonstrate Town Meetings commitment to reaching both the town and state’s net-zero carbon emission by the self-imposed 2050 deadline. Opponents, such as Stephen Rosales, Precinct 8, said they want to have choices on what energy source to use, that non-binding resolution reduces Town Meeting to “student government – if you want a community discussion, organize a community forum” and non-binding resolutions can become “gospel” over time. The article passed 188-57 with 8 abstentions.

After the usual 9 p.m. break, Aaron Pikcilingis, Precinct 6, presented his citizens petition (Article 7) dubbed The Brave Act, made up of four provisions. First, town employees who are fulfilling military obligations would be paid to the same extent that state employees are eligible for such payments; second, the town will design and establish a voluntary property tax workout program for veterans; third, the town will provide tax credit and exemption eligibility for disabled veterans who live in and pay taxes on a home that is owned by a trust for their benefit; and fourth, the town will add a tax exemption for Gold Star parents and guardians who lost a child serving during war time.

While not having served in the US military, Pikcilingis felt compelled to submit the article after learning a Belmont employee was using his own vacation time to pay for his service creating infrastructure in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic while putting themselves and their families at increased risk.

“I believe we should do all we can to support them now and beyond the pandemic as they continue their service where it is needed,” he said.

The first provision would do two things. First. provide full town pay for up to 40 days of paid military service during which service members receive both their town pay and military pay. Currently, depending on the contract, Belmont doesn’t pay for any days or only 17 days if they are either police or fire personnel. Second, the new provision would add differential pay for military service. So, let’s say if an employee’s military pay is less than their town pay, Belmont will pay the difference for those unpaid military days. Currently, four employees would be impacted by the new provision, with the expected annual expense per employee between $4,500 to $18,000 or about $11,300 on average. So four employees would cost the town an extra $45,200 with the range being $18,000 to $72,000.

The other three provisions were straight forwards with the voluntary work program and home owned in a trust each with a very small cost while the Gold Star provision costing $10,000 to $16,000 with a total cost of between $28,000 to $88,000 a year. The act would be reviewed annual and can be ended by Town Meeting vote after three years.

While each provision received general approval, it was the Gold Star tax exemption that produced the most push back including a 3-12 vote by the Warrant Committee against favorable action. Some supporters of the entire article believed those who opposed the provision as it could attract parents who lost children in combat to move to the Town of Homes for “tax-free living for their lifetime” as tone-deaf.

Peg Callanan, of Precinct 7, said that while the town voters did defeat an attempted override in April,
“it is my strong belief that the service and sacrifice of our veterans … should never be measured against a sum of money” then quoted Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Miller who said, “let us never forget those who have given their tomorrow’s for our todays.”

The four provisions passed and the article was accepted.

League of Women Voters’ Segment B Warrant Briefing This Thursday, 7PM

Photo: The budget will be discussed this Thursday at the Warrant Briefing

Town Meeting members and the public are invited on Thursday, May 20, to attend the 2021 ‘Zoom’ Warrant Briefing on all things budget for next week’s resumption of the annual Town Meeting .

The meeting is cosponsored by the town’s Warrant Committee and the Belmont League of Women Voters.

Residents and members will have the opportunity to ask questions of town officials and department heads about the budget articles and amendments prior to the annual legislative gathering on Wednesday, June 2.

Laurie Slap, chair of the Warrant Committee, will preside.

  • Please click the link below to join the webinar by computer, tablet or smartphone:
  • To join by telephone, call: 1 (929) 205 6099. When prompted, enter:865 8991 9600 # When prompted, enter #
  • Follow along live on Belmont Media Center Gov/Ed TV. Watch in Belmont on: Ch 8 – Comcast or Ch 28 – Verizon
  • Watch from anywhere on