Letter To The Editor: This We Agree On, Vote Epstein If You Care About Belmont’s Schools

Photo: Letters to the editor

To the editor:

Over the years the two of us have often found ourselves on different sides of political debates within Town. At meetings of the Select Board, or in the pages of the Citizen Herald we’ve debated and butted heads over any number of issues. Throughout, however, we have always been united by one thing: our love of Belmont and our sincere desire to see our Town and its residents thrive.

That’s why we’re writing to you today to urge you to elect Roy Epstein for the Select Board, and to warn you about his opponent’s stated plan to cut $8 million from the budget for our public schools. If enacted, such a plan would see as many as 160 school staff laid off and deeply degrade the quality of education our children receive. Belmont residents who cherish our public schools must stand, as one, and re-elect Mr. Epstein and refute this noxious proposal. 

Lasseter’s plan? Crippling cuts to schools

The source of our alarm is a statement made by Roy’s opponent, Jeff Lasseter, during the League of Women Voters debate on March 24. Speaking about the Town’s finances, Lasseter stated that the School Committee had budgeted for $69 to $70 million dollars for the next fiscal year but “only needed 59-60 million” if the School Department used “common sense spending.” That’s a $9 to $10 million reduction in school funding – around 14 percent of our budget.

And this was no gaffe. In fact, Roy’s opponent repeated his claim on Saturday afternoon during a forum hosted on behalf of Belmont’s Pan-Asian Coalition and the Belmont Chinese American Association.

Hyperbole by candidates on the campaign trail is nothing new nor is it unique to Belmont. But the plan promoted by Roy’s opponent would have serious implications for our students.

Here are the real numbers for Belmont’s schools

The facts of the School Budget for 2022-2023 are clear and a matter of public record. After months of discussion and planning, the School Department presented a revised budget of $67.2 million as of March 29, 2022. This number is slightly lower than the School Department’s original request for $69.4 million. Those $2 million in cuts have been followed by another cut of $165,000 and a proposed cut of $507,400. 
This final cut has not been approved by the School Committee. Even without the final $507,400, the Committee would need to cut an additional $8.2 million to meet the budget target of $59 million set by Roy Epstein’s opponent.       

Mind you: Belmont’s public schools already run lean. Class size in Belmont is larger than average among our peer districts, while per pupil spending in-district is thousands of dollars per-pupil below the State average. The two of us can, and have, disagreed about the relative importance of such statistics to educational outcomes. What we agree on is that Belmont’s public schools already operate with a much leaner budget than comparable districts.  

Death blow: Cut 120 teachers and 40 aides

What would happen if the School Department reduced its already lean budget to $59 million as Roy’s opponent has proposed? Well, the only areas for substantial cuts are staffing: personnel. We cannot end state-mandated services (which account for $23 million); we cannot cut fixed costs for operations. To find another $8.2 million in cuts, Lasseter has proposed, Belmont would have no choice but to carry out massive layoffs of teachers and professional aides. Salary savings for 160 personnel would be $10 million.  Health insurance savings would be $1.5 million. But unemployment benefits paid for layoffs would be a cost increase of $3.3 million.

By our calculations, to live within a budget of $59 million in FY23, Belmont might close one of its elementary schools entirely, squeezing all of that school’s students into the other three grade schools in Town. But even that logistic nightmare would not be save enough.

If we, instead, spread the $8.2 million in cuts over K-12, we would need to eliminate more than 160 positions in all: 120 teachers and 40 professional aides. The number of teachers in Belmont would be reduced by more than one-third. Class sizes would explode as a result. Elementary grades would see classes of more than 30 students. At the high school, we would need to cut all electives, saving staffing for the core classes required by the state. AP offerings would also be affected. Fees would soar, further hampering working families in town.

Just as troubling as the implications of Lasseter’s proposal for our schools is the fact-free and cavalier manner in which he floated them. The schools, he said, simply needed “common sense spending” to find the millions in savings. He offered no details on what “common sense” entailed, or  where the millions of dollars in cuts would come from.    

Wanted: facts and common sense, not conspiracies

As a town, and a nation, we know well what to expect from politicians who rail against government, while reveling in their ignorance of how it actually works. We know the dangers of conspiracy theories and promises like “only I can fix it!” We’ve seen the chaos that such ill-conceived and ill-informed plans deliver.

Only now is our community emerging from the trial and trauma of the COVID pandemic. Masks are coming off and life is ever so slowly returning to normal. But there is so much more to do. Now, more than ever, we need smart, serious and informed leaders who can lead our Town out of the depths of the pandemic, and put us back on a track to prosperity and common purpose. On Tuesday, Roy Epstein is the candidate who can deliver that. Together, we urge you to vote for him on Tuesday, April 5.

Paul F. Roberts, Town Meeting Member Precinct 8, Chair, IT Advisory Committee

Ralph T. Jones, Town Meeting Member, Precinct 3, School Committee

[Note: Jones is the chair of Roy Epstein’s re-election campaign]

Thursday’s Allen Memorial Horticultural Lecture Explores The World Of The Modern Plant Hunter

Photo: Dr. Michael S. Dosmann, keeper of the Living Collections at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University

The lecture is free and honors the gardening legacy of Anne Allen.

The third annual Anne Allen Memorial Horticultural Lecture will be held Thursday, March 31, 7:30 p.m. at the Waldorf High School, 160 Lexington St. It will also be streamed on Zoom, with the Zoom link available at www.belmontgardenclub.org.

This year’s speaker is Dr. Michael S. Dosmann, keeper of the Living Collections at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, sharing his experience and understanding of plant exploration in “Tales from the Plant Explorer: Adventures in Plant Collecting Around the World.”

The focus of the talk, plant exploration – going into the wild to document plant diversity – is not just a Victorian Era activity, but is very much alive and well in 2020. As a veteran plant explorer, Dosmann uses examples from his own expeditions around the world to compare the historic and modern plant hunter, and places these activities in the context of scholarship, global change, and the search for improved garden plants.

Anne Allen was an Honorary Member of the Belmont Garden Club. Like her mother before her, Anne gave the use of the family greenhouse to the Belmont Garden Club. Anne was also known for helping to initiate and provide guidance to the Chenery Middle School indoor garden. Anne’s family made a memorial bequest to the Belmont Garden Club to fund a horticultural lecture in Anne’s memory.

Several Months Of ‘Heavy Construction’ At School And Common Begins Monday, April 4

Photo: Let the digging begin!

Commuters and parents who drop off/pick up their children at the Roger Wellington Elementary School: Be warned! Construction work will begin at the intersection of Common and School streets on Monday, April 4, according to an announcement from the Town of Belmont.

The work is part of the Mass Department of Transportation Improvement Project at the Wellington. Residents can expect “heavy construction activity for several months” during the construction hours from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause,” said the town.

For any questions about the project, contact Arthur O’Brien, at the Belmont Department of Public Works: 617-993-2684.

Teachers Marching From HS To School Admin Offices In Protest Over Contract Negotiations

Photo: The Belmont Education Association logo

Just past 3 p.m. on Tuesday, March 29, teachers, staff and aides will head for the streets as the membership of the Belmont Education Association is set to march from Belmont High School, down Concord Avenue into Belmont Center and to the School Administration building next to Town Hall on Pleasant Street as the union calls for “fair agreements” in a contract that is currently being negotiated.

After returning almost $6 million to the town over the past two years, the school district is now offering educators annual cost of living adjustments that are, on average, less than 2 percent, even though educators’ real wages are lower now than they were eight years ago. The district is also trying to save a nominal amount of money by shifting greater healthcare costs onto new employees, those who can least afford it,” said a press release from the union.

The BEA release said the union is proposing annual raises of three-to-four percent over the next four years. Currently, the district’s counter offer is:

  • First year: 2 percent increase + $500
  • Second year: 1.5 percent
  • Third year: 1.75 percent
  • Fourth year: 1.5 percent

The BEA is also calling for what they term adequate wages for support professionals, “the district’s lowest paid and most undervalued educators who also happen to be the ones working with our most vulnerable students.”

Commuters should expect delays along Concord Avenue from the high school to Pleasant Street from 3:20 p.m.

Debate Dust-Up At Candidates’ Night As Epstein, Lasseter Seek Voters Attention For Select Board Seat

Photo: Lawn signs for the candidates for Select Board

The League of Women Voters of Belmont’s annual Candidates’ Night is the opportunity for many residents to get their first – and sometimes, only – look at the town-wide candidates in action. For the most part, the hottest moments in past debates was from the lack of air conditioning in the former Belmont High School auditorium.

Not so the 2022 edition as sparks flew during virtual Q&A on Thursday night, March 24, as the public watched the aspirants for the Select Board – political neophyte Jeff Dean Lasseter and incumbent Roy Epstein – forced home their points in a classic dust-up of ideas and policy differences.

And it was the self-described ”positive force multiplier” Lasseter who made the most noteworthy claims. Backed by the austerity advocacy group Citizens for a Fiscally Responsible Belmont, Lasseter told viewers as a Select Board member he would put a target on the town’s relationship with its workers and their union representatives, contends the schools are over budget by a whopping 17 percent and blasted Belmont’s chief administrative officer as being a “toxic” element in town.

In his opening remarks, Lasseter laid blame for the litany of fIscal issues squarely on the current and past Select Boards, from the ”dire financial straits” he said the town is experiencing and the lack of a plan in place to tackle the town’s “average” $2.3 million “budget deficit” [Editor’s note: Under state law, cities and towns are not allowed to have any shortfalls at the close of the fiscal year.]

“This is simply poor financial management,” he claims. The remedy to all of the town’s problems is anchored in the well-worn catch phrase ”common sense spending.” Lasseter’s one example he provided was a need for a new select board to do ”something” with town employees and their representative unions.

”These things aren’t acceptable the way they are,” said Lasseter, who did not specify the actions he would advocate against the unions and their members. Belmont employs more than 700 full-time employees in public safety, the schools and town services. It also has approximately 600 part-time and seasonal workers.

For his part, one-term incumbent Roy Epstein used his opening statement to tout his achievements during the past three years.

“I’m running for re-election because I love this town because I’ve accomplished a lot in the last three years and because there’s still a lot to do.” He pointed to his work reducing the size of the Beatrice Circle 40B proposal, reconstruct a new Light Board and restart the planning of a new skating rink and led the work on controlling student parking on side streets around the new Belmont High School.

“I’ve always worked hard to be a voice for all of Belmont,” said Epstein. “Having good local government is essential for our quality of life. I offer my judgement, independence, imagination and above all proven experience.”

While Epstein has spent more than a decade in town governance, serving on the Select Board, chair of the Warrant Committee and headed the special group which developed a plan to support installing solar panels on residential property, Lasseter’s local government experience is a blank slate. A Woodland Street resident since 2014, he has not sought to volunteer on the numerous town boards, is not a member or currently running for Town Meeting, and has yet to vote in a town election.

When Epstein highlighted Lasseter’s lack of turning up to the ballot box, the former CIA employee noted his numerous assignments and other government obligations for not visiting the Beech Street Center polling station during town elections (Lasseter has voted in national elections.) Epstein quickly noted that Belmont has ”a system of absentee ballots. That’s all I would say.”

Not that Lasseter has steered clear of politics, lending himself to a campaign video for Caroline Colarusso, the Republican congressional candidate defeated by incumbent US Rep Kathleen Clark in the 2020 general election. He was also seen on Twitter confronting Gov. Charlie Baker over Covid-19 restrictions on businesses as Baker left a visit to Wheelworks in Waverley Square in Aug. 2020. Lasseter is best known for owning and managing Jamaica Jeff’s, a Caribbean-themed restaurant in Belmont Center that closed in early 2022.

When resident Katherine Jewell asked the candidates to prioritize four important issues facing the town – fixing potholes, building a new library, construction of a skating rink and investing in schools – Epstein used the safe out, claiming that ”I support all these things” noting the worthiness of the capital projects will ultimately be decided by the voters in likely debt exclusion votes while schools, budgeted at “$70 million” – the current draft amount for fiscal 2023 is $68.9 million as of February 2022 – and potholes are part of the operating budget and are being funded.

While saying ”I support the schools 100 percent,” Lasseter said while “we budgeted [schools] for … 70 [million dollars],” ”it only really costs 59 to 60 [million dollars]” to run the district. Lasseter did not detail the 17 percent gap between his vision of the schools budget and that vetted by the school district and warrant committee or if he would challenge the school budget at the upcoming annual Town Meeting in June.

“[W]e need to be realistic, on how much money we have and then what we can spend,” said Lasseter.

Lasseter also said the current skating rink and library structures simply “need improvements” despite lengthy studies demonstrating both facilities have passed their useful lives especially the library. Rather than rely on the existing multi-year reports for both projects, Lasseter suggested going back to square one where ”we need a plan a, b and c and we need to pick the most viable plan with the resources we have available.”

The most contentious question was from an “anonymous” resident directed at Belmont’s Town Administrator, Patrice Garvin, alleging ”the salaries and financial benefits some town employees receive … are considered excessively generous by many citizens.”

Epstein said Garvin – who has been in her position since 2018 – “does an excellent job,” emphasizing that past Select Boards and the town’s Human Resources Department have conducted extensive salary benchmarking with relative-sized communities and discovered Garvin is paid slightly below where the “market is.”

“We’ve had this discussion over and over again but people insist on attacking our town administrator,” said Epstein, noting top male town officials are not held to the same scrutiny. “It seems bizarrely aggressive and misogynistic and I reiterate my support,” for Garvin, he said.

But Lasseter alleged that “there’s a toxic relationship that exists between our administrator and many of our public servants that are here to protect us and these things need to be fixed. That’s just the reality.”

The allegation of a toxic relationship is referenced in a recent letter to the Select Board targeting Garvin with unsubstantiated wrongdoing presented by John Sullivan, president of the Belmont Education Association, whose union is in increasingly contentious contract talks with the Belmont School Committee and town officials who are creating the fiscal year 2023 budget. [Editor’s note: The Belmontonian has decided not to publish the letter as it contains possible elements of libel.]

Saying Lasseter was “clearly referring to the letter,” Epstein said his challenger was repeating “innuendo that is unfounded, malicious and is bound up intimately with ongoing contractual negotiations.” Lasseter quickly doubled down on his assertion the letter was asking for “fairness and respect in dealing in a professional manner.” “These things are uncomfortable but they need to be discussed,” he said, stating he had read the letter.

Lasseter also questioned Garvin’s salary. ”I like, most Belmont citizens, find these things out after the fact,” wondering why salary decisions by the Select Board “is never put to a vote in the town.” [Editor’s note: Garvin’s salary was approved by the Select Board in open session.]

“The money belongs to the town and we should have a say in it. It shouldn’t just be administered by leadership and then told us how we have to spend it,” he claimed.

Wrapping up, Lasseter reiterated his past claims that by voting for Epstein “the same financial mess that we’re in or likelihood of severe could happen sooner than later.” He also highlighted the town not having to accept “toxic relationships,” homeowners forced to sell homes due to high tax bills and . While saying he wants to put the town on a strong financial footing via common sense spending, Lasseter referenced a misleading assumption advanced by several CFRB members at public meetings that the Belmont Middle and High School building project is $17 million over budget.

“We have to do things better,” said Lasseter.

In a rebuttal to his opponents assertions, Epstein said the public sees “how complex the Select Board really is” and it will take more than “silver bullets” to resolve the issues facing the town. Epstein accused Lasseter of budgetary magical thinking, pointing to his opponent’s contention that current town financial challenges will be solved “with funds waiting for us on Beacon Hill.”

“Anyone with experience knows better,” he said. “We have to work on real solutions” based on research, listening to the public and reliable facts.

“Alleging that the middle and high school is $17 million over budget is not a fact, at all,” Epstein said.

“I urge you to consider that experience counts,” he said.

Q&A With Michael Macrae, Candidate For Light Board (Two-Year Term)

Photo: Michael Macrae is a candidate for the Light Board

Michael Macrae is running to fill one of two two-year term open seats on the first elected Light Board in the town’s history. He currently serves on the Municipal Light Board Advisory Committee along with three other members who are seeking election to the five-member board that will oversee the running of Belmont Light, the town’s municipally-owned electrical utility.

A resident with his family since 2017, Macrae matriculated at the University of Washington in Seattle where he earned his BS in Chemistry and Biochemistry afterwards obtaining a PhD from UC San Diego.

Q: What motivated you to seek election to the newly-constituted elected Light Board?

It has been a wonderful experience [being a member of the Light Board Advisory Committee] to be able to work with our locally-owned municipal light plant, Belmont Light. I’ve had the privilege of working with two general managers and a team of very dedicated, knowledgeable people who share a passion of helping our town through how we use electricity.

What brings me to the ballot is, fundamentally, low-cost electricity should be first and foremost. Another of the most essential components of a well-run light department is reliability as a lot of people depend on the power not only just to keep the lights on, power is an essential service for health and safety. And, equally important, is sustainability, how we source our power, who we buy our power from, and how much renewable energy is provided to the town. Low cost, reliability, and sustainability is really what’s my motivation for running.

A five minute video of Macrae explaining his positions can be viewed at the Belmont Media Center at this link: https://www.belmontmedia.org/watch/michael-macrae-candidate-light-board-2022

Q: Why seek a two year term rather than a full three year position?

A: One of the things that I think is really important in this election, is understanding that this is a sort of natural transition, an evolution of how Belmont Light and their governance and advisory committees work together. We have four of the current Lightboard Advisory Committee running for five seats on the Light Board, It naturally creates a need for us to create some agreement to say, “hey, let’s not all run against each other.” I want to make this as easy as possible for the four current Light Board Advisory Committee members to run.

Q: What are your goals for the Light Board?

A: On a personal basis, my motivation goes back to that triangle of reliability, low cost and sustainable. And I think one of the most effective ways we can do that is to lower the cost of electricity. Because if you lower the cost of electricity, it becomes easier and more attractive to say “I want to do an electric dryer. I want to get a smart thermostat. I want to install an EV in my garage or my driveway.” All of those things become financially more attractive the cheaper electricity gets, but those things also come with such a strong benefit because they are shifting how we use energy to cleaner energy. They’re getting emissions out of our town and they’re getting global emissions of greenhouse gases out of the air.

Q: Belmont Light is expected to move towards carbon neutrality through the Town Meeting-passed Climate Action Plan. But is there a price point on renewable sources of energy that you are unwilling to cross because it would cost consumers too much?

A: When I worked with Harvard University, one of my jobs was essentially the exact same thing that Belmont Light does – buying power. but for Harvard’s campus. And in that time, we continually increased the renewable energy use for Harvard’s campus without raising costs.

So if you do it smartly, and you do it strategically, you can have a very sustained, steady march towards cleaner power without crossing over a point at which you start to say, “Well, we’ve using lots of renewable power, but nobody can afford to use it.” Because then that disincentives somebody replacing a car with an electric vehicle or replacing an oil boiler with a heat pump.

And so we look at the benefits of the totality of everything to say, as you increase renewables, you also increase all these local benefits. And that helps clean the air in Belmont. Every time you take an oil boiler offline, our local air quality gets a little bit better, as well as reducing the global impacts of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. So the answer is you need to do it smartly, you need to do it with careful consideration and planning and you need to do it in balance with the local benefits. That cheaper power can bring similar global benefits that buying renewable power brings.

Q: How will you help make sure this new board doesn’t become a bureaucratic backwater that lacks in transparency?

A: One of the exciting opportunities is that we have a highly functional team stepping into this board role. Travis [Franck], Dave [Beavers], Steve [Klionsky] and myself, we have a demonstrated proven track record of getting a lot done. We’ve launched a Time of Use pilot, we’ve successfully navigated revising the governance documents for Belmont Light, and we’ve moved through numerous big topics, and we’ve done it well. And within the organization, there’s just a lot of camaraderie. There’s a lot of high functional relationships and we can all see the goal. We communicate well, we are honest, we’re transparent. We say what we mean and we mean what we say. And I think that within the board structure this will really help us support Belmont Light.

Q: A prominent resident said Belmont Light was a “quaint antiquity,” a municipal utility in a world where large international energy firms are the dominate powers. Is the small utility a thing of the past?

A:  I sure hope not. There’s a lot going on in the world right now, a lot of it is very challenging to see in the news. And one of the impacts of that is increasing global energy prices. And so while we in Belmont Light have had stable electricity rates for years, and have indications that we should continue to have very modest changes to our power supply rates, all of our neighboring towns that have investor-owned big utilities of Massachusetts are seeing up to a 25 percent increase in their electricity costs. Because we have this wonderful gem of Belmont Light, we are able to strategically manage our power supply to keep rates low.

We have fewer changes than all of our neighbors and to keep our power as sustainable and reliable as possible. I think we’ve got some of the lowest outage rates and we have some of the cleanest electricity supply. And that is because we have a smart, locally governed community-owned light plant. So I don’t see it going anywhere soon. Municipal utilities been around for a very long time. And I’m optimistic they’ll be around for even longer than that.

Breaking: Butler Elementary Evacuated Due To Suspected Natural Gas; Students Relocated To Nearby St Lukes

Photo: The Butler school

The students of Daniel Butler Elementary School have been temporarily evacuated from the building located on White Street due to a suspected odor of natural gas in one of the school’s stairwells reported sometime before 8:30 a.m., Thursday, March 24.

The Belmont Fire Department is on scene, according to a social media message from the Boston Police Department. Due to the rain and cold temperatures, students are being taken by police to nearby St. Luke’s RC Church on Lexington Street.

National Grid which supplies gas to the town “will be arriving on scene shortly,” said police sources. Commuters will experience brief detours in the area.

Select Board Nix Pedestrian-Friendly Summer Plan In Belmont Center For More Parking, Traffic

Photo: The end of the pedestrian-friendly summer plan

The two-year experiment known for calming traffic and prompting walking and al fesco dining in Belmont’s business center has come to an end.

The Belmont Select Board voted, 2-1, Monday, March 21 to end pedestrian-friendly summers along Leonard Street in Belmont Center as the board’s majority approved a blueprint created by the Belmont Center Business Association that emphasizes auto traffic and long stretches of parking.

The approved plan essentially maintains the center’s current traffic pattern with it’s two-lanes of commuter traffic running through the town’s main hub.

“In terms of traffic flows … nothing would be any different than it is today because it would be retain two-way travel,” said Glen Clancy, Belmont’s director of Community Development.

The one exception to the current design will be jersey barrier-protected bump outs in front of selected restaurants and eateries to allow for a small outdoor dining area. The number of restaurants seeking seating will decrease from 14 to 9, much due to changing business environment. Owner of The Toy Shop of Belmont, Daren Muckjian, told the board that a reduction of Center eateries including Starbucks and Comella’s just didn’t warrant the amount of spaces taken out of circulation.

“I hate to have barriers and spaces in front of empty spaces. What’s the purpose and what’s the reason behind it?” he said.

There will also be “a significant number of parking spaces gained” said Clancy, including converting the former MBTA bus stop adjacent to the town “delta” adjacent to the People’s United Bank branch from a loading zone into additional spaces. Where once the near entirety of the parking spaces on the east-side of Leonard Street was converted to seating, this year most will revert back to the curb parking.

The metal railings that ran the length of Leonard Street which provided a safety barrier between autos and the walking public will not longer be part of the scheme as the business association referred to them as a “maintenance headache,” said Clancy. In addition, cyclists will be asked to share the traffic lanes with vehicle traffic as the jersey barriers will take up that space.

The summer traffic plan accepted by the Belmont Select Board that shows two-way traffic and several new parking spaces. The yellow spaces are seating areas.

Devised by the town and Select Board in the spring of 2020 to allow the center’s eateries room to create outdoor dining when the Covid-19 pandemic closed indoor service at restaurants, the opening of Leonard Street with a single traffic lane from Alexander Avenue to Channing Road created a pedestrian-friendly area that attracted strollers, shoppers and diners to the business district. In 2021, additional parking was created along the street as well as flower pots and new railing as the length of the closure was increased from early May to late October.

Despite being popular with residents and shoppers, a segment of the business association’s membership has opposed to the one-way, pedestrian version since its inception, claiming their operations suffered financially due to the lack of direct on-street parking and commerce generated by the mostly out-of-town commuter trade. While there is a large municipal parking lot in the rear of the center along Claflin Street, the merchants said it is too far for many shoppers.

Another reason for the businesses opposition this summer is cost as the local family which donated the funds to install the jersey barriers will not commit that money in 2022, according to Muckjian.

For the Select Board’s majority, the business association’s option appeared to meet the needs of those most impacted by the road changes.

“I think we’re feeling our way … to striking a balance between different businesses that may have different priorities,” said the Select Board’s Roy Epstein, as restaurants keep their outside dining areas – albeit diminished in square footage – while retailers have their on-street parking.

With the town-wide mask mandate lifted for businesses and indoor dining expected to “flourish, I think this is a fine compromise,” said the Select Board’s Mark Paolillo, who said businesses have “suffered” due to the lack of on-street parking in front of their establishments.

But Dash said that since last year, “I’m concerned that we keep eroding this plan” noting the original concept in 2020 advocated doing away with vehicles in the center as many European municipalities and some US resort areas have done.

“Now we are talking about two-way traffic. At some point [you have to ask]’what’s the point?’” said Dash. “I’ve heard from residents that either do what you did last year or get rid of the cars altogether. I’ve heard zero people in the public say ‘I want two-way traffic’,” he said.

“I’ve also talked to businesses in the Center who wanted the same that it was last year,” said Dash.

But Epstein countered Dash view by noting the plan has changed yearly due to new conditions.

“I don’t believe we are eroding the concept, I think we are evolving the concept because we’re trying to balance a number of different constituencies,” including a number of merchants who believe “keeping two-way traffic year-round is a matter of life or death” for their businesses.

He suggested creating a lower speed limit targeting Leonard Street as a way to make the area “a little more acceptable.”

“It would be better if we had the one-way travel lane and a dedicated bike lane,” said Dash, who was the lone dissenting vote. “At least the commuters will love it.”

The 2021 plan for Belmont Center.

Belmont Students Attending Minuteman Are Medal Winners in SkillsUSA Mass Comps

Photo: Belmont resident Laryssa Maia when she learned she was a top winner in the Culinary Arts category in the SkillsUSA Mass District Tech competition (Minuteman High School)

Seventeen Minutemen High School students – including three from Belmont – received medals in the SkillsUSA Massachusetts District Technical Competitions this month.

The award-winning Belmont students are:

Laryssa Maia won a gold medal in the Culinary Arts contest. Maia is a grade 10 Culinary Arts student. Amalia Findeis, a grade 11 Culinary Arts student, and Charles Pressey, a grade 10 student in Advanced Manufacturing, won silver medals respectively in Commercial Baking and in CNC Milling contests.

More than 370,000 vocational-technical students participate in SkillsUSA competitions nationwide annually. Students demonstrate their skills in their career technical areas of study, employability, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety guidelines. 

A total of 56 Minuteman students representing 13 career technical education majors competed. Of the 17 students who won medals, 6 received gold, 8 silver, and 3 bronze. The gold and silver medalists will continue onto compete at the States competition at Blackstone Valley Vocational Technical High School on April 29.

Letter To The Editor: Lasseter Will Welcome Change To Status Quo

Photo: A lawn sign for Jeff Lasseter (Jeff for Belmont Facebook page)

To the editor:

Although I’m too young to vote, I want to express my support for Jeff Lasseter who is running for Belmont Select Board. I’ve met Jeff and was impressed with his depth of knowledge, commitment to the town, and how he listens to residents and thinks about their input, before reaching decisions, leading to action. I appreciate how Jeff hired young Belmont residents to work in his restaurant and his involvement in the community through sponsoring fundraisers. 

In his many years in federal government, Jeff acquired real life experience balancing the books, often needing to do “more with less.” We need to run the town like a business, holding everyone involved with the town’s finances accountable. 

Jeff sincerely relates to parents, seniors, business owners and anyone invested in improving our town for all. Jeff’s ability to relate to all constituents and respect their concerns, is a welcome change to the status quo in Belmont.

Antonio Molle

Warwick Road