Belmont Town Day Set For A Late Summer Return

Photo: The return of Town Day is coming in September.

After a postponement and an expected delay, Belmont’s long-running Town Day celebration is returning to Belmont Center although a bit later than its usual time.

The Select Board voted on Monday, June 21 to approve a request by the Belmont Center Business Association to hold the 30th annual Belmont Town Day on Saturday, Sept. 4, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Leonard Street in the hub of the its business center.

Residents and visitors can expect the usual attractions: a dog contest (Belmont’s version of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show), kiddy rides, carnival games and food, a dunk tank, business and groups tables, food for sale and the like.

Due to Belmont’s austerity budget, town services such as police and fire details and DPW crews, will now be paid by the sponsors. Select Board member Mark Paolillo did ask if the business association would be responsible for cleaning up at the conclusion of the pony ride, which Town Administrator Patrice Garvin said they would be.

“Maybe they have been fertilizing the grass and that’s why it’s been growing really well,” said Paolillo.

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

Pink Slips For Seven Belmont Teachers/Staff As School Committee Approves ’22 Budget

Photo: Chair Amy Checkoway led the Belmont School Committee in the fiscal ’22 school budget process

Seven educators and staff – mostly teaching kindergarten – will receive pink slips Friday, May 14, as the Belmont Public Schools finalized $2.1 million in cuts to balance its fiscal year 2022 budget.

“These are real staff that work with us right now,” said Belmont Schools Superintendent John Phelan at the School Committee’s virtual meeting on Tuesday, May 11. At the end of the presentation, the six member committee unanimously approved the $66.2 million budget which will go before Town Meeting in June for its approval.

Two kindergarten teachers, a pair of kindergarten classroom assistants, a first grade educator, the fourth grade “bubble” classroom teacher and the high school librarian will be let go on Friday.

Belmont Under Austerity

Yet the damage to the Belmont Public Schools isn’t as bad as in the first version of the budget in the aftermath of the defeat of the $6.2 million override in April. In one instance, a total of four existing FTE (full-time equivalent) positions earlier on the chopping block – a math, world language and band/music teachers at the Chenery, and the community service coordinator slot and the now open librarian slot – were saved although the librarian and community service posts will be repurposed by the high school principal to classroom teachers in order to address rising class sizes.

Eight of approximately eleven scheduled new hires – the majority set to alleviate overcrowding at the middle and high schools in the 2021-2022 school year – have been eliminated. But two special education elementary school team chairs were reinstated after the school committee made “a clear, strong indication” said Phelan that these long-time needs were critical in the coming post-COVID years. One of the chairs will be funded using a portion of the district’s annual Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Federal Special Education Entitlement Grant – usually in the range of $125,000 – and freeing up $81,500 to be used elsewhere.

“It just makes sense that we capitalize on that existing idea,” said Phelan. Committee member Meghan Moriarty said that “through some creativity we have the opportunity to hire one for a grant and I … do feel like these positions not only respond to a current need but they are positions that help to build to build some infrastructure that is needed in this department.”

There is a big add this coming school year with the hiring of a district wide equity director. Several parents and residents lobbied the committee to reinstate the position. It also appears the position could be either shared or budgeted completely by the town according to Belmont Town Administrator Patrice Garvin who spoke about such an arrangement on Monday.

The need for the new position is related to claims of incidents of racism are on the rise in Belmont, the chair of the town’s Diversity Task Force Kimberly Haley-Jackson told last Tuesday’s School Committee meeting. “If we want to grow into the equitable and inclusive place it claims to be, I’m asking the school committee to support this position.”

The result of fewer teachers will be higher class sizes in Belmont’s six schools. While the Chenery Middle School is right at the edge of its recommended limit of 24-25 students in each class room while over at the high school which is seeing a large wave ranging from 29 to 33 in social studies and even higher for science.

Sports, extra curriculars in the cross hairs

While there were serious discussion early in the budget reduction process that targeted district athletics and its $1.1 million budget line, Phelan and the committee decided to keep reductions to sports and the large number of clubs, arts groups and extra curriculars at a minimum.

“There’s no better way to connect to the high school than by taking part in a club, an activity or an athletic team. We are try to put as many opportunities out to our freshmen in all of our students to plug in, in this year of any year, when students need to be helped,” said Phelan.

While all high school freshmen and middle school sports survived the budget axe, varsity and junior varsity scrimmages, an equipment manager will be dropped while all new equipment and uniform replacement were cut in half. In addition, the retirement of Jim Davis, the long-time athletic director and head of physical education, will allow the district to hire a part-time interim director this year at a hefty salary cut while restructuring the position for fiscal year 2023.

In visual and performing arts, the small chamber groups at the middle school and the marching band color guard are cut while stipends for the science Olympiad, Belmontian Club, and debate club are gone. The annual Washington DC trip which has been a highlight for eighth graders has been zeroed out.

In the remaining budget line items, money for substitute teacher is trimmed by $80,000 and custodial overtime reduced by $20,000. This year, a total of $270,000 in revolving accounts will be will be transferred to the school’s general fund while $117,000 in texts, material, supplies, expenses and travel will be slashed. The technology department will be level funded with a cut of $35,000 while the district’s contract allowance was reduced by $300,000.

After the committee’s vote ended the most strenuous school budget process in many years, Chair Amy Checkoway told her colleagues that “this process will not end tonight and I’m sure we’ll continue to be talking about budgets starting next week in various ways.”

Letter To The Editor: Avoiding Some Painful Budget Cuts By Delaying Pension Pay Down

Photo: Belmont should not continue to pursue a pension pay down plan. (credit: Pixabay)

Letter to the editor:

It looks like the defeat of the override will lead to the loss of several school teachers, at least one fire fighter and police officer, and several DPW employees, as well as cuts to many important services for seniors and others. I’m guessing that even those who opposed the override will consider this prospect to be unfortunate. 

With this in mind, it is absolutely critical that we identify any moves we can make to free up money in the budget. While it would be nice to do so, we can no longer afford to achieve 100 percent funding status on our pension liability eight years before we have to. According to an October 2020 report by the Segal Group, we are currently spending almost $9 million a year to reduce our pension liability and will boost this expenditure by about 4.5 percent annually until it hits $13 million in 2031 to eliminate the liability by 2032. If, as we are free to do under the applicable state law, we adjusted our full funding target date to 2040, we could free up at least several hundred thousand, if not more than $1 million, a year. This adjustment would enable us to avoid some painful budget cuts, lower our structural deficit and the size of the next override while preserving our commitment to provide the pensions we promised to our employees.  

If you think that Belmont should not continue to pursue a pension pay down plan aimed at achieving full funded status several years ahead of when it is legally required, please ask the Select Board, the School Committee, and the Town Administrator to reach out to the Retirement Board, which determines the pension funding schedule, and request that it extend the full funding target date to 2040.

Dan Barry, Town Meeting Member, Precinct 1, Goden Street

Wishin’ and Hopin’: While School District Finalizing Cuts, Optimism Remains That Federal Monies Will Save The Day


When Belmont School Superintendent John Phelan was asked earlier this month by the School Committee to “think creatively” in finding ways to fill a $2.1 million chasm in the school’s fiscal year 2022 budget, he need only look back one year for a successful template to the problem at hand.

When the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly interrupted last year’s budget process, Phelan – speaking before the Belmont School Committee on Tuesday, April 27 – noted how the district was able to rely on an emergency injection of dollars from Washington DC to allow the schools to keep teachers while moving to a remote and then hybrid education model.

Belmont in Austerity

“We used financial support from the federal government to be able to service the district as best we could,” said Phelan. This year “[w]e’re hoping to do something very similar with fiscal ’22”, by using federal grant money to close a deficit created after residents rejected a Proposition 2 1/2 override vote at April’s Town Election.

But rather than submit to the committee a single fiscal blueprint going into next year, Phelan presented two separate avenues the budget could travel to Town Meeting for a June vote: the current fiscal ’22 operating budget with $2.1 million in cuts and lost positions and several ambitious budgets in which federal funding is used.

“We’re going to explain the budget in two different segments,” said Phelan. “We want to make for sure that there’s a clear distinction in all our minds as to our operating budget … and using one time money to support students and teachers next year.”

School Committee Budget Community Forum

Please join the Belmont School Committee and Administrators for an opportunity to ask questions regarding the Fiscal Year 2022 School Budget.

Tuesday May 4, at 6:30 PM

Please click the link below to join the webinar by computer, tablet or smartphone:

Under a sub headline he called “bad news,” Phelan presented the committee the difficult reductions in what he has long said “makes many students want to come to school”: extra curriculum activities including athletics and the arts.

In sports, $200,000 would be saved with the elimination of ninth-grade teams and cuts up and down the budget – not replacing worn uniforms, reduction in travel expenses, playing only the minimum number of league games – while fully a third of visual and performing arts clubs (four at the Chenery and ten at the High School) would be dropped saving $28,000. Finally, approximately a quarter of a million dollars would be taken from associated revolving funds which totals up to $418,000.

Supplies – the pencils, copier paper and electronics – the necessary day-to-day stores for a school to function efficiently will see significant reductions, from $5,000 to $7,000 at each elementary school to $17,000 at the high school and $18,000 at the Chenery for a total of $57,200.

While the majority of the committee suggested even greater cutbacks targeting sports and the arts could be coming in the near future, Committee Chair Amy Checkoway and newly-elected committee member Meghan Moriarty sought to keep the cuts to a minimum.

“I’m pretty concerned about cutting all freshmen sports in the high school, my sense is that ninth grade is a particularly stressful time academically and with that transition,” Checkoway said, while Moriarty pointed out that athletics and clubs are where “kids are gaining confidence, they learn life-long skills from these endeavors … and how to work together in a band and on a team” suggesting that any major cuts be delayed by a couple of years.

The reductions announced Tuesday are on top of the 11 total FTE reduction of existing staff Phelan provided at the last School Committee meeting two weeks ago. Those salaried reductions – making up 75 percent of the total school cuts – included four elementary teachers, one each from the Middle and High schools as well as a slew of administrator and teacher aides, totaling $635,000. A final determination on the specific teacher and staff member who will be made redundant will be determined next week.

But before those specific reductions are made public, 24 staff and administrative positions that supported the district’s COVID efforts will be pink-slipped on Friday, April 30 while 22 will return to their previous teaching and staffing slots.

Phelan’s “good news” is the possibility of sources of federal funds and any increase in state aid coming from the state legislature above Massachusetts Gov. Baker’s submission that could ease the pain of filling the deficit. He pointed to successfully using federal money last year in fiscal ’21 to pay for the one-year COVID related position and services.

Two sources of funds coming from Washington directed only to schools are the second and third installment of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund – known as ESSER funds – in which Belmont is in the process of applying for $1.4 million. Both funds have strict criteria; expenses have to apply to academics and instruction, address unfinished teaching and learning, and social emotional support to address mental health and well being to name a few.

Priority COVID services in ’22

Phelan and the committee have long sought to allocate ESSER II and III money to pay for anticipated services in the COVID related expenses in fiscal ’22. Those items – which Phelan called priorities totaling $876,000 – include:

  • Hiring teachers, aides and supplies to run an “academic recovery” summer school to service all grades ($100,000)
  • Adding a pair of nurses ($163,000),
  • Two social workers for mental health and social emotional learning ($163,000), and
  • Beefing up remote education with teachers, specialists and other material ($450,000)

There are a slew of other costs such as COVID testing, personal protective equipment and the “wedding” tents at each school to allow for outside classes and lunch.

But by only funding the four COVID priority items and redirect money from areas that may not longer be needed – the school committee could determine to eliminate an aggressive testing plan – Phelan indicated the schools would split the hoped for $1.4 million giving $750,000 to the COVID expenses and using $650,000 to restore three FTE positions at both the High and Middle schools as well as filling three Special Education slots.

While rearranging the ESSER funds will allow for the retention of a handful of positions, the greatest wish from the school committee is to get its hands into the most recent pot on money coming Belmont’s way. The American Rescue Plan Act signed in March by President Biden will provide the town upwards of $7.2 million which several committee members and the leaders of the No Override campaign are hopeful the ARP guidelines are loose enough to allow the town – which will receive the funds – to provide the schools with additional monies to apply to the district’s bottom line.

If federal regulators do determine the ARP funds can be optioned whatever way the town wishes, Phelan said he would work with Town Administrator Patrice Garvin to find a way to pay for all COVID costs, fill the $2.1 million fiscal ’22 deficit which will reverse the pink slips to the 11 teacher positions set for next month while restoring the 12 new FTE educator and staff slots which Phelan was anticipating to hire (for $870,000) until the override failed before sitting down and figure out a strategy for using the remaining change over the next two years.

But Phelan readily admits that it remains unknown if – and that is a big “if” – the federal government will allow any or all of the three funding sources to be used beyond reimbursing expenses directly impacted by the COVID pandemic. For example, under the ARP, Belmont can use the funds “to support the public health response and lay the foundation for a strong and equitable economic recovery” by providing “assistance to households, small businesses and nonprofits, aid to impacted industries, and support for essential workers” and “invest in infrastructure, including water, sewer, and broadband services.” There is no language currently that allows any portion of the $7 million to be transferred for school aid.

A second concern of using any federal funds or additional state aid to save educators positions – a worry championed by Geoffrey Lubien of the Financial Task Force – is that one-time funds are just that, money whose funding cycle ends after a single year and isn’t renewed. Phelan acknowledged that any additional position that could be saved in the coming fiscal year would need to be terminated on the final day of the 2022 school year.

“It’s important to me to say this out loud because when we start to talk about next school year and the potential use of federal funds … those dollars will only be one time dollars and they would not be able to carry into future years,” said Phelan.

But Phelan said despite the limited time frame of those funds, if allowed, he would hire teachers and administrators just for that one year, saying it is similar to someone who has crashed their car and despite having another vehicle ready to go “not using it for the year,” he said.

“We could use any of these (federal) dollars to support some parts of our school for the next year, even if we have to make layoffs in other areas,” said Phelan. “We just have to be flexible.”