Letter To The Editor: Reduce Costs, Increase Efficiencies Before Asking For A Tax Hike

Photo: A No vote sign in Cushing Square.

To the editor:

Belmont voters deserve more consideration, more respect, and far more effort from their municipal leadership and school department than they have been shown in the orchestrated push for a $6.4 million Proposition 2 1/2 override.

Drastic financial measures like a massive tax increase should always be preceded by an exhaustive and comprehensive effort to find savings, adjust priorities, defer expenses, cut costs and make other real attempts at emergency belt-tightening. This is especially true in times of great crisis – such as the global public health disaster of COVID-19. Yet there has been no evidence of such an effort in any of the official override presentations by the Select Board, Town Administrator, Superintendent, and School Department.

Furthermore, a series of significant cash windfalls are being disregarded by town officials – even though the town’s actual FY 2022 budget shortfall could easily be covered by funds either already on hand or on the way to Belmont from state and federal relief appropriations.

Here’s what override proponents want voters to either forget or ignore:

  • The proposed $6.4 million tax override is almost $700,000 more than the actual budget shortfall for the fiscal year 2022. If you count the reserve funds already built into the town’s budget forecast, it is almost $3 million more than the true shortfall.
  • Belmont has approximately $11.2 million in cash reserves on hand – enough to easily cover the budget shortfall and still have a robust emergency fund. 
  • Gov. Baker’s proposed ‘House 1’ budget includes an increase in unrestricted aid to cities and towns that will provide additional funding to Belmont. But the town administrator has acknowledged that those funds – enough to save at least one teaching or other position – were not included in the FY 22 budget calculations.
  • Belmont’s state senator – one of the highest-ranking members of leadership on Beacon Hill – has explicitly said the town will receive even more state funding than Baker has proposed. 
  • A $1.7 trillion rescue package approved by Congress and President Biden will deliver as much as $8.6 million in semi-restricted bailout funds to Belmont. This was disclosed on March 11. Yet just days later members of the Select Board, School Department, and others advocating the massive tax increase attempted to downplay the significance of this tremendous windfall.

Across the U.S. in public, private and non-profit sectors – operating budgets have been reduced as a result of COVID-19 impact or other financial challenges. Many Americans and many Belmontians took pay cuts or worse in 2020 as employers made adjustments to keep things going. But no such measures have been suggested or proposed as part of the official plan to manage FY 22’s shortfall.

Is it possible to cut our way to fully addressing a budget deficit? No. Certainly not. But should every step be taken to reduce costs and increase efficiencies before asking voters for a massive tax increase? It seems like a reasonable ask. When voters are told there is no place to find savings – even as a simple, good-faith effort at austerity – it is not an honest statement. If upper management salaries are untouched; if temporary furloughs are not explored; if proposed hiring increases are not curtailed or suspended; if costly consulting and legal fees for pension fund management and other functions are not re-examined; then the town’s leadership has not explored every option to show good faith to the voters.

What Belmont has experienced is a series of threats: to cut jobs and fire teachers and end services. This approach was vividly on display at an override presentation some weeks ago. “Last in, first out” was the term the superintendent used to whimsically describe how teachers will be let go if Belmont “fails” to approve the override.

The doomsday school scenario – in which we are warned that Belmont education will decline terribly without this override – ignores a very obvious reality: we have already struck the bottom when it comes to educating our kids in Belmont. The pandemic inflicted historically difficult circumstances on this and every other town. We have responded how we have responded, and the results are there for everyone to see. Even if our approach to pandemic-era schooling was the best of the best, we would still be at the lowest point possible for our public education. There is only one way to go: and that is up.

Either way, let’s remember something: Belmont HAS the money to cover the shortfall even without a dime of cost-cutting by town departments. What might have been a credible discussion for some people weeks ago, now makes no sense in light of the huge bailout package approved by Congress and signed into law and the promise of more state aid.

The number of people in Belmont who cannot withstand this proposed tax increase without serious pain is nothing to ignore. Yet many are willing to dismiss that pain and what it means for those households.

How can a community that considers itself welcoming to and encouraging to and celebratory of diversity make a decision that will inflict so much damage on households from diverse economic backgrounds? This community exists today – as it always has – to welcome people from all economic circumstances. It does not exist only for the wealthy or people of means who see a $10,000, $12,000, or $14,000 tax bill as simply a convenient alternative to $50,000 in private school tuition.

The bottom line is that a vote for the override is a hostile act against people who cherish this community and want to continue living here but cannot afford a massive tax increase.

Cosmo Macero Jr., Palfrey Road, Town Meeting Member Precinct 5

‘We Have A Summer!’ Rec Comm OKs Opening Underwood Pool For Summer Season June 23

Photo: Throwback Thursday, the Underwood Pool in 2019.

We have a summer! Let’s go!” said an excited Brandon Fitts, assistant director of Recreation, after the Recreation Commission voted unanimously to approve Belmont Recreation’s blueprint to open the Underwood Pool for a summer season at the Commission’s Wednesday, March 24 meeting.

The summer pool season will run from June 23 to the first of September according to Fitts, who led the plan for reopening the Underwood.

Residents can go to the Rec Department’s web page for more basic information on the coming swimming season beginning Monday, March 29, according to Fitts.

The opening comes after the pool was closed for the 2020 season due to the emergence of the coronavirus and uncertainties due to strict limits on participation – at the time 25 percent of capacity – and the town being uncertain it could recoup the expenses of operation at less than capacity.

And while there remains a cap on how many patrons will be able to come onto the site, it will be sufficient – even in a worst-case scenario – to meet its targeted break-even point of $290,000, said Fitts.

The start date for obtaining memberships remains up in the air as Fitts said the department needs to resolve some software issues with the registration system and will need to ramp up the office for what is traditionally a very busy first week of selling swimming passes.

Because there will be a smaller number of passes than years past, Belmont residents will have about a month when they can purchase family and individual passes before sales are open to non-residents beginning June 1.

Now under the state’s latest reopening plan (Phase 4, Step 1), pools can open for business at 50 percent capacity; in Belmont that would be 165 participants at any one time. Fitts told the commissioners Belmont Recreation is hopeful the state will increase the percentage this summer to 65 percent which would allow 215 people at the pool.

In the 50 percent capacity protocol, the town will sell 520 family passes and 107 individual passes while under 65 percent capacity, 625 family passes, and 125 individual passes sold.

During the season, residents will have the opportunity to reserve two 2-hour “blocks” per week, but if there are blocks with openings, residents can “theoretically could access [the pool] more than two ties a week, you’re just guaranteed it,” said Fitts.

On the safety front, Jon Marshall, assistant Town Administrator and director of the Recreation Department told the commissioners his department will use the same attendance tracking system at the pool as they had with public skaters at the town’s rink this winter.

On arrival at the pool, swimmers will sign a document verifying they do not have COVID symptoms and haven’t been in contact with anyone infected. If there is a reported positive case at the pool, everyone who was in the same block of time would be contacted, said Marshall, noting that there were no COVID-related incidents at the rink.

“I talk all the time with Diane [Ekman] and Wes [Chin] of the Health Department and fill them in … so certainly they’re aware of everything and we follow their guidance,” said Fitts.

The fee schedule is set as:

Resident Season Passes

  • Family membership: $305
  • Individual: $110

Resident Day Passes

  • Adult: $15
  • Child: $10

Nonresident Day Passes

  • Adult: $25
  • Child: $20

Nonresident Season Passes

  • Family membership: $610
  • Individual: $220

Graduation Taking Place At Harris Field, ‘Prom’ Cruise A Bon Voyage To Class Of ’21

Photo: A return to in-person graduation for the Class of 2021

They’ll be cheering in the Harris Field stands on the weekend of June 5-6 but it won’t be for the rugby or lacrosse teams.

The Belmont High School class of 2021 will be receiving their diplomas in person – following socially distance protocol, of course – as family and friends will be watching from the bleachers at Harris Field, according to Belmont Superintendent John Phelan who announced the news to the School Committee Tuesday night, March 23.

“[Belmont High School] Principal Isaac Taylor has been communicating with students and parents and the high school that we will be holding graduation this year at Harris Field the first weekend in June as we normally do,” said Phelan.

The move outdoors is due to continued COVID concerns and that the traditional location for graduation, indoors at the Wenner Field House on the BHS campus, is currently within the construction site for the High School portion of the new Belmont Middle and High School.

Last year, graduation was conducted virtually less than three months after the coronavirus shut down most activities worldwide. The decision by school administrators and town health officials to have the class of 2020 receive their diplomas on video resulted in a bitter fight with some parents of graduates who wanted a more traditional ceremony.

The day of the graduation, a group of parents and graduates held a impromptu celebration on Harris Field which was condemned by the Health Department and the Select Board.

In addition to graduation, seniors and school officials have been discussing some sort of prom-like activity which currently is heading in the direction of an additional cruise of Boston Harbor, “a nice outside event,” said Phelan.

“We are working with a vendor to make sure that they are within state guidelines and health guidelines to hold that event and keep our students safe outside,” said Phelan.

Statement: Belmont Education Association Addresses Its Approach To Teaching In COVID

Photo: The logo of the Belmont Education Association

In the past year as the Belmont School District has been adapting long-standing standards of learning and teaching in response to a once-in-a-century pandemic, one group consciously quiet during that time has been the teachers and staff and their labor representative, the Belmont Education Association.

As the School Committee and district administration has been the face of the ever-changing strategies to mitigate COVID-19 in Belmont’s six schools while keeping learning a priority, teachers have been in the background, only rarely breaking their vow of silence as parents and students began questioning educators and the BEA for being perceived as obstacles to the return of students to the classroom.

But in a response to a series of questions – they can be found at the bottom of the article – from the Belmontonian, the union issued a statement addressed the reasons behind its approach to teaching in a time of pandemic and discussing its view on key issues facing teachers and the union moving forward.

The Belmont Education Association statement:

A year ago, the Belmont Public Schools and the Belmont Education Association entered into a collaborative process to address issues related to instruction during a pandemic. Health & Safety, Social-Emotional Well-being, and Academic Engagement were our shared priorities for remote and then hybrid learning. Belmont’s options were limited as we faced the lean resources of space and personnel to operate safely in person. As educators, lacking statewide guidance, certainty, and evolving recommendations, we worked through interest-based conversations for eight months to effectively make decisions. This changed in November when we entered into formal bargaining. Formal bargaining forced us to work through all the issues in a tight timeframe with little opportunity to understand our myriad and changing interests and priorities and no chance to pilot our ideas.

As a union, our approach has always been to increase transparency and partner with the community to support our students. Our requests for open bargaining (inviting all community members to attend negotiations) are consistently rejected, so we sought other opportunities to connect with parents through PTOs and community forums. Transparency and mutual understanding are important for all constituent groups moving forward. We are committed to an approach that includes all community members in a conversation about what is best for the Belmont Public Schools.  

At times it’s tempting to see the union as one person, but in reality, it is the school employees – union members whom parents see every day – who are the decision-makers. Members actively guide and determine our positions. We have expanded transparency and improved internal conversations by including ever more teachers, administrators, administrative assistants, and professional aides in bargaining. We understand that this has not been the same experience for parents. In retrospect, we should have included members of the Belmont School Committee and parent community in our Joint Labor-Management Committee meetings.

Moving forward, we will continue to prioritize CDC guidance for ventilation, correct use of masks, and physical distancing (at least six feet) as the most important mitigation measures for in-person learning.  Surveillance testing and vaccines are also essential considerations as we expand in-person learning. We remain committed to our students and each other’s Health & Safety, Social-Emotional Well-being, and Academic Engagement. 

Questions submitted to the Belmont Education Association

1. The CDC has stated “K-12 schools should be the last settings to close after all other mitigation measures in the community have been employed, and the first to reopen when they can do so safely.” When will the BEA consider Belmont schools “safe” for full-time in-school learning? Is it when all the measures in the CDC roadmap or some other matrix to reopening schools are met? Why is it taking so long to reach these goals?
2. How important is teachers’ vaccination to meeting the level of a “safe” workplace?
3. Are attempts to reduce the six-foot social distance requirement a “deal-breaker”? 
4. The school district has created a working group – the Return to In-Person Learning Group – to make recommendations and a plan to bring all students back to school full-time. Is this the correct approach to take or would the BEA accept a more direct, faster approach from the superintendent or school committee to open schools?
5. The level of animus with some parents/residents towards the BEA and some teachers have reached a level last seen when teachers called a work action in 1995. “Why does the BEA have so much power”, “The town should follow science and not the union” and “There needs to be a lockout of the teachers union” are just a few comments on a popular Facebook page. Those parents believe the BEA is the chief impediment to full-time, in-school learning in the district, either by slow-walking negotiations or being overly cautious. 1). What misconceptions do these parents have of the union’s position/power in returning students to school full-time? 2. Do you believe it was the right approach to remain silent to the public – not on negotiations with the school committee but on general views of teaching during a pandemic? 3). Do you believe that the BEA will need to reach out to parents/residents to work towards improving the relationship it had pre-pandemic?

Letter To The Editor: A Yes Vote On Override Necessary So Students Receiving Special Education Services Can Succeed


To the editor:

At a November Parent Teachers Organization meeting, a Belmont Public School administrator explained one of the rationales for the “WIN” (What I Need) blocks in students’ schedules: they provide the time needed to work with students who receive special education services. That prompted a parent to respond that never before had it felt that a minority of students were holding all the others back. The comment, no doubt born of the pandemic’s frustrations and miseries, highlighted a misconception. As the parents of children who receive special education services, we write to explain what really holds back every BPS student and how not passing the budget override on April 6 will only magnify the problem.

Many students have neurological conditions and other issues that necessitate having an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). An IEP specifies services, accommodations, and modifications required for each student and details goals. The document is legally binding, and no educator or administrator can cherry pick services to provide from the IEP or eliminate goals because staffing and funding are just too difficult.

Currently, our very lean school budget means not having critical special education positions for Belmont’s elementary schools. These positions are not “an extra,” as Butler parent and middle school special educator Stephanie Crement wrote in The Belmontonian. In other districts, people in these positions, among other things, complete legally mandated and time-intensive compliance paperwork. Otherwise “those responsibilities fall solely on the teachers and school psychologists,” Crement wrote, meaning less time for Belmont’s dedicated educators to teach all children.

In 2012, a Winn Brook School kindergarten class had fewer than 20 students. At Chenery Middle School, science classrooms have reached or exceeded 30 students in recent years. The Superintendent’s recent budget report to the School Committee details some BHS core academic classes already had as many as 35 students in 2019-2020. This alarming change in class sizes has occurred because from 2010 to 2020, the Belmont Public School total enrollment grew by 21 percent, an additional 823 students. Two Massachusetts Department of Education statistics testify to the effect of the surging enrollment: Belmont falls in the bottom 3 percent in Massachusetts for class size and in the bottom 6 percent in per pupil expenditure. Belmont’s per pupil expenditure falls behind Fall River, Holyoke, and Revere and far behind Concord, Newton, and Weston.

Providing the level of support, accommodations and modifications necessary for students with special education services in a class of 15 to 20 students gets significantly more difficult — and thus requires more individual classroom support — when classes reach 25 to 30 students. A student’s IEP legally binds BPS to provide this individual support. But legal mandate or not, we cannot realistically expect our children, or anyone else’s, to receive the same care and individual attention needed to thrive fully in a 57-minute class with 35 students compared to the attention received in a class of 15 to 20.

Here is what all parents need to know about a critical reason BPS could not provide live, synchronous learning for all students during the WIN blocks: it simply lacked the teachers to do so. Here is what all BPS students — regardless of receiving special education services — face if they return to school in September without an override’s additional funding: 22 fewer teachers and staff than if the override had passed and a $564,760 reduction in programs beginning this summer — arts, athletics and anything else that can be cut. However, with an override’s funding, BPS can hire elementary school special education professionals, teachers for CMS and BHS, and a high school social worker to help all students with mental health challenges. Shell-shocked by the pandemic, many kids will be crying out for a social worker’s help to reintegrate socially and academically.

As parents of children who receive special education services, we support the override because this funding is necessary for the success of our own children. We also know that passing the override is good for ALL of Belmont’s students. To conclude, we quote a recent Belmont Citizen Herald op-ed from BHS students appealing for parents to support the override:

“As of October 2020, the Belmont Public Schools had around 4,700 students. Fewer than four percent of these students are eligible to vote, making our voices almost entirely unheard in an issue in which each student is directly impacted by your vote.”

“The future of Belmont’s students lies in your hands. Please remember us when you vote.”

  • Roger Fussa, Chenery Middle School
  • Amani Abu Shakara, LABBB
  • Charles Bandes and Patsy Collins Bandes, Butler School
  • Amy M. Brown, Chenery Middle School
  • Amy Frasco, Wellington School
  • Helen Josephine, Chenery Middle School
  • Dawn Mampreian, Butler School
  • Kara Morin, Chenery Middle School
  • Abigail Myers, Butler School

Two Weeks To Go: Voting In Person, Voting By Mail

Photo: You can stuff your ballot in the drop box outside Town Hall up to and including election day, Tuesday, April 6 at 8 p.m.

Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman wants eligible voters to know there are three ways to cast your ballot for the annual Town Election being held on Tuesday, April 6.

Vote by Mail Options

Absentee Voting or Early Vote by Mail
Voters who are unable to go to the polls to vote on Election Day, or are worried about the COVID impacts, may request that a ballot be mailed to them. Requests must be in writing containing the voter’s signature and are due to the Town Clerk by 5 p.m., March 31 (per a change made by the Legislature).

An Absentee ballot application was included in every household’s February Belmont Light Bill and just this week, the Massachusetts Legislature extended availability of Early Vote by Mail to municipal elections held this spring. The ballot is the same for Early Vote by Mail and Absentee Voting so please only file one request per voter so we can fulfill all requests in a timely way; if you’ve already filed an application to receive an Absentee ballot, do not file an Early Vote by Mail request. Applications can be dropped off or emailed to voting@belmont-ma.gov

The ballot will be mailed to the voter using the US Postal Service; The Town Clerk asks voters to file requests early to avoid delays. Voted ballots may be mailed back or deposited in our secure Town Clerk Drop Box at the bottom of the steps to Town Hall, parking lot level. All ballots must be received by 8 p.m., close of polls on Election Day, April 6.

Voting In Person

Registered voters may cast their ballots in person only on Election Day; polls are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and the usual polling locations:

  • Precinct One: Belmont Memorial Library, Assembly Room, 336 Concord Ave.
  • Precinct Two: Belmont Town Hall, Select Board Room, 455 Concord Ave.
  • Precinct Three: Beech Street Center , 266 Beech St.
  • Precinct Four: Daniel Butler School Gym, 90 White St.
  • Precinct Five: Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St.
  • Precinct Six: Belmont Fire Headquarters, 299 Trapelo Rd.
  • Precinct Seven: Burbank School Gym, 266 School St.
  • Precinct Eight: Winn Brook School Gym, 97 Waterhouse Rd., Enter From Cross Street

To see the specimen ballots or download an Absentee or vote by mail application, please visit the Town Clerk’s web page:


Opinion: Protect Our Town Employees and Seniors With A ‘Yes’ Vote On The Override

Photo: A vote to pass the override will ensure seniors and town employees are protected

ln his guest column in a local publication dated Feb. 18, “Please Join Me ln Voting ‘Yes,” former Selectman Ralph Jones suggests ways of reducing town expenses including asking town employees to help pay for them. He wrote “reducing compensation through union negotiations would depend on the expiration dates of existing contracts.”

ls it fair or appropriate for Jones, or any elected official or administrator in town including the Select Board or the town administrator, to expect town employees, through a reduction in compensation or benefits, to help pay for the ongoing increases in town expenses?

Residents, administrators and elected officials regularly advocate for new services and facilities but we are reluctant to pay for them and are dismayed when we receive our new real estate tax bills. We, as a town voted, through our town meeting members, for an expensive new high and middle school. Now we have to pay for it.

Regarding additional school services, Jones writes “increasingly, schools also are not simply educating students, they are also caring for their social and emotional needs. This expands the type of employees that must be part of the school system.” I agree with him and will be voting for the override in April.

As residents, we Belmontians want excellent services and top flight facilities and we have them. We want our schools to be among the best in the state. As taxpayers many of us are shocked and angry at how expensive our excellent quality of life costs us.

The town has a limited commercial tax base so we residential taxpayers have to rely on ourselves to fund the facilities and services we choose to have. Going forward, I see overrides every several years as an uncomfortable but routine aspect of living here.

For years there has been talk of helping seniors, who may be having trouble paying their real estate taxes, stay in their homes but I’m not aware of any follow through regarding this issue. ln order for overrides to be successful I believe this issue needs to be effectively addressed.

Our town employees are an integral and valued part of our community. They contribute to our quality of life in ways we often do not notice. I’m in favor of the police and fire department employees keeping their Civil Service protections and of fair compensation and benefits for all town employees.

Dick Madden
Retired Town Meeting Member
Pleasant Street

League Of Women Voters (Virtual) Candidates’ Night On Monday, March 22

Photo: The annual candidates night will take place on Monday, March 22

The Belmont League of Women Voters will be holding its annual Candidates’ Night for all those running for town-wide posts and Town Meeting on Monday, March 22 at 7 p.m.

In addition, representatives of ballot questions on the April 6 ballot will be defending their sides of all issues.

And while the event will be virtual via Zoom and the Belmont Media Center, Town Meeting candidates will have their opportunity to participate in the traditional “parade” but this year it will be done on video.

Letters To The Editor: Election Endorsements, Upset And Voting For The Override; How To Select School Committee Members


Supporting Saeh For School Committee

I am writing this morning as a mom and member of the business community here in Belmont. I am a local Realtor here in town and a 17-year resident.  Just as many people do, my husband and I decided to start our family here in Belmont solely for the public school system. The past year has made many parents and residents question that decision.  I am writing to give my full and enthusiastic endorsement for Jamal Saeh for School Committee. Jamal has committed himself to the difficult task of sitting on that committee.  It is a demanding and time-consuming endeavor that determines our children’s fate.

My experience with Jamal has been through his tireless efforts and our interactions trying to get our children back in school. He has proven to be a skilled problem solver while presenting endless solutions to the many challenges our current administration has proposed. His background and profession enable him to analyze and research the data and that translates perfectly for a position on the school committee.

He has worked and fought continuously to give our children the education they deserve here in Belmont. He is honest, transparent, fair, and approachable. Our children are worthy of so much more than what they have lost this past year.  There are many challenges for our school system that lie ahead.  Jamal will help preserve the integrity and standard of our school systems and ensure that all families are receiving the highest quality education that we expect from our town. Our children not only deserve someone like Jamal, but they also NEED him. A vote for Jamal is a vote for our children.

Melissa Maniatis, Country Club Lane

I’m Angry and I’m Voting for the Override Anyway

When our children were very young and just learning how to manage conflict and complicated emotions, my wife and I used to say, “When you’re tired, be careful of your body and the people you love.”

We are all tired now. Bone tired. Pandemic life is strange and unnatural.  After a year of isolation, little things like going to the grocery store or the park can feel stressful. Many of us are working from home and, at the same time, trying to make sure our kids continue to be educated and socialized in the ways that they can these days.

From last March to today, the School Committee and the Belmont Public Schools administration have not been up to the task of managing our growing, diverse, and under-resourced school system through the COVID crisis. Teachers have worked hard to learn new skills and to support students in new and creative ways, but the teachers’ union has run circles around the BSC and BPS leadership in negotiations, ensuring that even basic improvements to students’ opportunities to learn take forever to implement or never happen without state intervention. As a consequence, reeling from the chaos of the last year, families have formed insular factions that quarrel with one another online while others have lost hope that their kids can get even a semblance of a decent education this year and have become disengaged from the conversation about our public schools.  Many families have left the Belmont Public Schools altogether.  

And that’s just the schools. After 11 years, my street still looks like the surface of the moon and recently installed sidewalks are in need of repair.  We can’t seem to make simple municipal decisions like how to replace an aging fuel tank or how to collect trash from our parks without a resurgence of rats.

Then there’s the fiscal management of the town where it has seemed for a decade that no one has been able to develop a viable plan to permanently and comprehensively deal with the structural deficit we have inherited from previous generations by consolidating services and creating new and sustainable revenue streams that rely less heavily on residential taxes.          

It’s exhausting. All of it.  

This is the environment in which we are being asked to consider financial decisions with real consequences. After a year when so little has been in our control and after so many ineffective meetings, committees, communications, and decisions, it’s tempting to focus all of your tired rage on whatever decisions are directly in your hands.

Here’s where we need to be extra careful of our “body” and “the ones we love.” In this case, our body is the civic culture of our town and the way we relate to one another as neighbors. The ones we love in this analogy are the teachers and students in the Belmont Public Schools, our seniors, and other members of our community who rely on town services.  

The underfunding of our schools and our other town departments doesn’t explain away poor management, process, and communication, but it does make it more difficult for challenges to be identified and resolved effectively and efficiently. The low levels of staffing at the Chenery, for example, made it much more difficult for Principal Koza and her team to offer more synchronous learning time during the hybrid phase. I learned recently that the electrical system of our library, unlike Watertown’s which has been open for weeks, can’t handle running air purifiers so that we can enjoy our library safely.        

I’ve come to the conclusion that I can support the override on April 6 without signaling that I am satisfied with the performance of our town’s leaders.  I am not satisfied.  I am angry and exhausted.  There needs to be real accountability and real reform, especially in our school system, the School Committee, and the way that we plan for the future financially.  Through our votes for School Committee, Town Meeting, and Select Board and our engagement with our elected officials, we can express our righteous anger, insist on better local government, and fund services that are essential to our quality of life without hurting the ones we love the most. 

Jeff Liberty

Vote Jamal Saeh for School Committee

Belmont’s school system has always been a source of pride, yet it is in a state of crisis. We are enthusiastic that Jamal Saeh is offering his time and expertise to chart a better path forward. He is a strong leader with a vision, having tirelessly advocated for better, evidence-based decisionmaking in our schools.  
Why are we in crisis? Last summer, 70 percent of Belmont parents, consistent with recommendations of health experts, expressed a preference for in person/hybrid education for their children. We view in person interactions as crucial for children’s emotional well-being and effective learning. However, Belmont began this school year with remote-only instruction, forgoing two months with mild weather and low transmission, and leaving many details for the return to in person instruction unspecified. Results have been discouraging. Recently, Belmont ranked third from the bottom state-wide in terms of number of hours of in person instruction. Little has been done to improve upon initial hybrid instructional models selected with almost no parent feedback or public vetting of assumptions. Teachers have been forced to make major changes multiple times in mid-stream at short notice. Many of these problems felt avoidable, a symptom of a broken decisionmaking process.

Jamal offers a different model for approaching these challenges moving forward. Jamal proposed a plan for a pooled testing program which was easy to implement and cost effective, one which closely resembles programs eventually recommended by the state and adopted here in Belmont, albeit four months after his initial proposal. He has continually advocated for practical and thoughtful solutions. A common thread in these proposals — whether related to evaluating public health metrics, live-streaming for high school students, or better layouts under social distancing constraints — is their practicality. Rather than reinvent the wheel, Jamal studied successful solutions which worked elsewhere and adapted them to our specific context. He has always been transparent about his assumptions and consistently pointed to easy opportunities for improvement, while carefully considering views of all stakeholders. 

We should not be surprised to see such an approach from Jamal, given his experience as a researcher. He has worked for two decades doing strategic planning in environments with uncertain outcomes and incomplete information. Given the myriad of challenges we currently face, Belmont would be very fortunate to benefit from his skill set.

We highly encourage you to visit  www.saehforschools.com and to vote for him on April 6.

Lawrence D. W. Schmidt, Richardson Road; Martin Zwierlein, Richardson Road

No School (Leadership) Will Lead to School Flight

In a recent poll, nearly 65 percent of Belmont parents stated they will consider sending their children to private school if Belmont does not commit to full in-person school. Approximately 25 percent of respondents – 50 people – have applied or secured spots in private schools for their children.  This after we saw a drop of nearly 300 students enrolled in Belmont public schools this past year.  We are on the cusp of flight from Belmont Public Schools, a trend that will hurt us all.

Recently, a number of concerned parents conducted an informal survey of nearly 200 parents to learn more about the impact this year may have on school enrollment. The results are upsetting. The reason is unacceptable.  Parents have lost confidence in the School Committee and Administration.  They are upset because online school does not work and the hybrid plans – especially at Chenery where hybrid is described as a mess and ridiculous – are failing our students. Children are not learning and their social and emotional needs are not being met. Parents believe leadership has failed and they lack confidence in Belmont Public Schools. 

Belmont already has earned the bad reputation of being one of sixteen schools in the state to be cited as failing to comply with guidelines to provide in-person education, and then had our hybrid plan ranked 240 out of 242 by DESE. If families start to leave, the problems are exacerbated. We risk keeping and attracting the best teachers. We are creating a less equitable school system. Families will stop seeking out Belmont and our property values will decline. Our schools, which have been the pride of many and a consistent draw for families, will suffer.

While this poll is not scientific, it is a clear sign of an important and concerning undercurrent in our town. Families are looking to send their children to other schools because of our schools and leadership are failing them. We need to allow all of our students to return to full in-person school now – not just for our children, but to start to repair the trust in our system and allow our community to thrive. 

It has been more than a year since our children have attended real school.  To repair our community and help ensure the continued success of our schools and our town, it is time to open our schools for every student who wants to return.

Danielle Lemack, Fairmont Street

How to Choose the Right School Committee Members for the Future of Belmont

On April 6, town election day, we have an opportunity to elect two members of our six-person School Committee. If you do not have children in the school system, do not abstain from voting for School Committee candidates. Throwing away your vote is like giving a blank check to someone you do not know. 

Get to know each of the five candidates on the School Committee ballot. Visit each of their websites, participate in their Zoom sessions, and most importantly, ask questions about how they will deliver on their promises. Your vote is your voice.

The School Committee has the power to hire and fire the Superintendent. They control over half of our town’s budget. And most importantly, the School Committee looks out for your student’s best interests in much the same way that the teacher’s union looks out for the teachers’ best interests.

Here are four ways to consider how to cast your vote for School Committee candidates:

1. School Committee members must be committed to being the best advocate for our children by gathering information from the community so he/she can make an informed decision on whether to accept or reject any policy regarding the public schools. They do not participate in creating curriculums, that is the job of the superintendent and school administrators. This means a degree or experience in the field of education does not make or break a School Committee member. Rather, a School Committee member should be attuned to the needs of the students and gather applicable data from reputable sources (i.e., other school committees, scientific data, etc.) to help make an informed decision.

2. School Committee members are responsible for continued oversight of the school budget expenditures to ensure the funds are spent appropriately.  They must be familiar with the school budget, which includes salaries and enrollment numbers, and must be confident enough to raise questions and challenge the numbers if they don’t make sense. Keep in mind the school budget represents 60 percent of the town’s operating budget. It is important the School Committee does not simply rubber stamp financial information. It is their job to probe and manage finances to ensure that the budgets reflect programs that will best support our students.

3. School Committee members must have skills in negotiations and arbitrations because it is they who sit in the room with the administration and district lawyer when negotiating with the teacher’s union.

4. Members must exercise good governance, which means knowing how boards operate and how to adhere to guidelines of operations and civil interactions. It is not easy to wrap your head around and quickly “dive into” this type of knowledge. It is best to have some members who have prior experience running boards of directors.

The best way to choose a School Committee member is the same way you would choose an advocate to represent your child at the bargaining table. You need to be a terrific negotiator, someone who knows how budgets work, how the rules work, and what levers to push in order to advance children’s best interests.  

Vote on April 6. Your vote is your voice. 

Rubi Lichauco, Belmont High School parent ’21 and ‘17 

Solidarity Vigil Set For Sunday 3 PM As Human Rights Commission Denounces Violence Against Asian Community

Photo: Notice of community vigil set for Sunday, March 21 at 3 p.m. at the high school parking lot.

Several Belmont groups are sponsoring a community vigil to show solidarity to the Asian community in response to the murders of six Asian women in Atlanta and the increase in violent attacks on people of Asian heritage.

The event, which will take place at 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 21 in the Belmont High School parking lot, is organized by the Belmont Chinese American Association, the Pan-Asian Coalition, Belmont Against Racism, Belmont Human Rights Commission and the Belmont Religious Council.

Those attending are being asked to wear a mask and social distance.

Days after the Atlanta killings, the Belmont Human Rights Commission issued a statement condemning the violence directed at the Asian community.

“In light of recent physical assaults on the Asian elderly across the country and the murders of Asian women in the Atlanta area, the Belmont Human Rights Commission (BHRC) denounces these and all forms of domestic terrorism. We want to express support and appreciation of all of our community members of Asian descent. Since the start of the COVID19 pandemic, hate crimes against persons of Asian descent have drastically increased, causing much fear and pain. While there has been media coverage of assaults in New York and California and the killings in Georgia, two assaults have been reported as close to home as Quincy, Massachusetts just last month. BHRC calls for unity in this challenging time. We must not let frustration as a result of the pandemic become anger and hate toward our neighbors.”

“Our nation must work to heal divisions across racial and ethnic lines. We believe that open, honest, and heartfelt communication among all members of our community is the best way to begin this healing.”

“If you are interested in addressing anti-Asian hate, call your legislators and ask what they are doing for the Asian community, support local Asian American-owned small businesses and read more on this issue at stopaapihate.org”

“The Belmont Human Rights Commission is dedicated to fighting discrimination in all forms and to increasing visibility and awareness of issues regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion. If you have experienced discrimination in Belmont, please contact us at belmont.hrc@gmail.com or call 617-993-2795.”