Town Opens Belmont Library As Cooling Center During Weekend Heat Wave

Photo: The Belmont Public Library will be a cooling center over the weekend

Due to the current period of high heat and humidity, the Belmont Public Library at 336 Concord Ave. will open as a Cooling Center over the next few days, according to a release from the town.

The hours will be as follows: 

  • Friday Aug. 5: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Saturday Aug. 6: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Sunday Aug. 7: 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

“We encourage everyone to stay cool and hydrated,” said the release. “We ask you to check on elderly friends and neighbors, and others who may need help, during this period of high heat and humidity.”  

Letter To The Editor: How Restoring A Pair Of Reading Specialists Will Change How Belmont Schools Support Literacy Growth

Photo: A reading specialist’s job

Seventeen.

That is the number of students who, out of the roughly 1,400 children between grades 5-8 in Chenery Middle School, were able to receive in-school reading support prior to January 31st, 2022. That is the date that funding took effect to create two dedicated Reading Specialist positions for the remainder of the 2021-22 school year, fundamentally changing how the school has been able to support the literacy growth of its students.

We are writing this letter to the decision-makers of this town because these positions have been eliminated for the 2022-23 school year, and the time to act to restore them is now – before we leave more of our neediest students behind.

Since their transition to this role in January, the impact that Jen Mathews and Taylor Moroso – our two trained and certified Reading Specialists – have had on growing the reading skills of our students has been profound, and we would be failing some of our highest-need students to not have these positions continue into next year.

Due to their other job requirements prior to the funding taking effect, Jen and Taylor were previously able to spend only one 47-minute block per day offering Reading Enrichment classes to students identified as most needing this extra support during the school day. Since being able to pivot to working with students as full-time Reading Specialists in January, Jen and Taylor have been able to focus entirely on supporting students as they strive to achieve their literacy goals, not only through facilitating the small Reading Enrichment groups but also by supporting students in their ELA classrooms – something that was previously not possible.

Since these positions were added, the following positive impacts have been observed:

  • The amount of students being able to receive regular reading intervention services increased from 17 to 59. That is 42 students who were screened and identified as requiring additional support to reach grade-level reading goals but that previously received no reading intervention beyond what was offered in the classroom.
  • Students who receive reading support have also been able to be supported in their ELA classrooms on a regular basis – this helps the teachers and specialists observe how they work not only in small groups, but also support the development of bespoke interventions that can be applied in the classroom for each student individually. In the 14 ELA classrooms the Reading Specialists have been able to support, they have been able to work with students from a variety of skill levels to help lift the confidence and skill levels of all students through their classroom work. Further, this work has enabled the specialists to identify students who may benefit from additional reading support.
  • Some of our highest need students, including those from diverse racial, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds, have been able to be supported in the classroom in ways that were previously not possible. Further, students whose literacy skills atrophied due to COVID and remote-related challenges have been able to experience success while supported by these interventions.

The proposed 2022-23 budget eliminates both of these positions, and as a result eliminates every single one of these benefits.

We implore the decision-makers of the town: the School Committee, Select/Planning Boards, and the citizens of Belmont, to not accept the fact that our school of 1,400 students will only have seventeen students receive small group reading instruction. To, rather than perpetuate a problem that has existed for years where we underserve these students, take a step toward a solution.

To make the decision to support all students, including our highest-need students still reeling from pandemic setbacks, in building their literacy skills. All it will cost to restore all of these crucial supports for many of our most vulnerable students is the 1.6 teacher positions that were added for the second half of this school year.

We are of the belief that there are not many ways to spend the town’s resources more effectively than this. If you agree that there are more than 17 students out of the 1,400 children in Chenery Middle School that need reading support, then you need to raise your voice, be heard, and restore these positions immediately for the 2022-23 school year and beyond.

Alex Goldsmith and Caitlin Corrieri

English/Language Arts Teachers

Chenery Middle School

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]

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

Letter To The Editor: Support Checkoway’s Re-Election To The School Committee

Photo: Amy Checkoway is running for re-election to the Belmont School Committee

To the editor:

I am thrilled to support Amy Checkoway in her re-election campaign for the Belmont School Committee this April.

Amy is committed to enabling every student to reach their full potential. She is doing so by staying committed to the goal of providing a normal school year for students in an environment that is safe for students and staff.

Amy works tirelessly to put the needs and well-being of all students first. This is evident from her support for funding programs and staff to support students’ educational, social, and emotional needs at all grade levels.
I have seen what a critically important role Amy has played as the School Committe Chair in the last year. Amy is thoughtful and empathetic when members of the community express concerns. She tackles challenging situations with professionalism. She bases decisions on data and reinstated a more robust evaluation process for holding the Superintendent and School Committee accountable.

Amy’s experience will be invaluable for the students of Belmont Public Schools in the years ahead. I hope you join me in voting for Amy Checkoway for Belmont School Committee.

Meg Moriarty

Garfield Road

Letter To The Editor: Thank You From Belmont Helps

Photo: Belmont Help has assisted more than 600 Belmont residents

To the editor:

It’s the end of a long and challenging year, and what a year for Belmont Helps it was! Under the umbrella of the Belmont Food Collaborative, Belmont Helps has been fortunate to assist several households with meals, grocery orders, phone buddies and more. Our volunteers have tirelessly helped our neighbors in need while our team leaders have been behind the scenes coordinating, fundraising, as well as working on initiatives to Brighten Belmont.

We are filled with gratitude for the volunteers and partners that join our efforts so we can be there for those in need.  We would like to especially thank Mark and Angie Gregor for providing Belmont Helps with a year-end fundraising match of $5,000 and are happy to report that we’ve met and exceeded this goal, which will help to keep us strong for the year ahead! Huge thanks to Belmont Helps Leads Julie Wu, Martha Loftus and Abigail Klingbeil for the countless hours spent responding to requests for help, speaking with families about their needs, arranging to fulfill those needs and providing referrals to other town-based services; and to Anne Lougee and Fiona McCubbin for accounting for every dollar spent and received.  Thank you also to the many other leads and volunteers that have contributed to our work since we began. It takes a village, and we are very thankful to this one.

Belmont Helps is here if you find yourself needing assistance this upcoming year. We have succeeded in helping families in need due to the generosity and willingness of the many in our community who step up to help when needs arise! 

Cheers to a happy holiday and a healthier new year. Connect to us for help, to donate, or to volunteer at http://www.belmonthelps.org/ or leave a message with us at 617-993-0163

Amy Kirsch and Shana Wang

Belmont Helps Co-Chairs

Letter To The Editor: Belmont Needs Common Sense Policy On Student Covid Vaccination Mandate

Photo: The author believes Belmont should adopt a common sense approach to student vaccinations

To the editor:

In the last year and a half, I’ve made it a point to call my elderly Aunt Helen every week. Our conversations touch on a wide range of topics: politics, stories about my parents I’d never heard before, and regular family updates. Lately, Helen has shared stories that are more personal: experiences with her mentally ill father and her unfaithful husband whom she divorced, and sexual harassment and gender discrimination as a working single mom. Recently, I asked her, “How did you manage to get through all of that?”  Helen laughed and said, “I just thought of the story about the little engine that could and I told myself, I can, I must, I will.”  

Belmont needs a little of my Aunt Helen’s can-do attitude right about now. For the third school year in a row, we’ve struggled to maintain focus on where we want to be in the future and how to get there from a policy perspective. To be fair, the national political and scientific landscape is complex, dynamic, and divisive, and “guidance” from the state has been slow to come and sometimes unhelpful. As a consequence, our small town has become torn about the best ways to keep everyone safe and to return to a “normal life” whatever that means going forward.

We can and must do better. For starters, as it did with the universal indoor mask mandate, the Board of Health should follow the advice of the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics by enacting a policy that mandates vaccinations against COVID-19 among all BPS students who are approved for vaccines by the FDA, presently 16 and older. Based on recent data provided by Belmont Superintendent John Phelan, student vaccinations seem to be stuck at the 80 percent mark, which means that hundreds of students who are eligible for vaccines have not yet gotten them. This represents a significant risk to public health and must be addressed.  

A vaccine mandate for students who are 16 and older will not ensure that all age-eligible students will get vaccinated, but it will send a powerful message to students and families that vaccines are normal and expected for participation in the Belmont Public Schools for all age groups once the FDA determines that the vaccine is safe. The policy can be written in such a way that families will know that they need to prioritize getting their children vaccinated as soon as their age brackets are approved under Emergency Use Authorization because, eventually, all age brackets will be approved by the FDA. This kind of policy will make it unnecessary for the School Committee to make vaccine policy in an ad hoc way every time a new age group gets approved, leaving time to discuss other essential business, such as academic achievement and the social-emotional wellbeing of our students, both of which have suffered in the last two years. 

A vaccine mandate, especially if the policy is enacted with a deadline before Thanksgiving, will not only make schools safer for students and their families by reducing the number of students who will become seriously infected as we head into the winter, it will also be a sign of good faith to our school nurses, the members of the Belmont teachers’ union, and other bargaining units who have agreed to mandatory vaccines that the community cares about their workplace safety.  

More than anything, by using its authority to enact this policy, the Belmont Board of Health will help us take a step in the direction of a future we all want for our children and ourselves, a world in which our children can play and attend school largely without masks and without dread of serious illness and death. As a small town with a strong commitment to local governance, we don’t need to wait for the Massachusetts Legislature, which we heard recently from State Senator Will Brownsberger will defer to the state’s Department of Public Health, to issue this common-sense policy. We can and we must take this important step ourselves to protect our community.   

Jeff Liberty

Worcester Street

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

Letter To The Editor: Designate At Least One Day To Honor Indigenous Peoples

To the editor:

In third grade, my Winn Brook class went on a field trip to Plymouth Plantation. Furious that I got separated from my best friend, I stomped through the English village where costumed colonists wished us a “Good morrow.” At the Wampanoag Homesite, we watched Indigenous women dressed in deerskins cooking next to a bark-covered wetu (house). Exhausted, I breathed in the warm smokey air, recalling my preschool Thanksgiving crafts: the black Pilgrim hat and the colorful turkey shaped like my little hand. My teacher taught us that the Native people had saved the Pilgrims from starvation and celebrated the first Thanksgiving together.  

Four years later, I attended the first of many powwows – a large gathering of Indigenous people dancing, singing, and celebrating traditions – organized by the Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness. At Claudia Fox Tree’s workshops, my re-education about American history began. I learned about famous Indigenous people and contemporary issues like the struggle against denigrating Native mascots. As I watched Aquayah Peters in her vibrant jingle dress and the Edmond brothers’ joyful dance, I understood that the Wampanoags at Plymouth were not actors in historic costumes or relics of the past. They were living on their own homelands, preserving their way of life. 

For me, Indigenous Peoples’ Day is about the past and the present. It is an opportunity to acknowledge that Belmont is located in the homelands of the Massachusett and the Pawtucket. Reminders of Indigenous presence are everywhere: place names like Pequossette Park on Trapelo Road, Native artifacts discovered near School and Grove Streets, and a burial mound on land bordering Pleasant Street. Indigenous narratives were mainly absent from my Belmont education. On my own, I read about the devastating violence of colonial history like the Pequot massacre of 1637 celebrated at the first officially proclaimed Thanksgiving, and ongoing harms to Indigenous communities. The poet Mary Ruefle observes: “[L]istening is a kind of knowledge, or as close as one can come.” The students of Belmont deserve to hear truthful historical narratives.

We can also celebrate the knowledge of Indigenous peoples who have lived in harmony with the natural world for centuries and are at the forefront of climate justice. Belmont readers can discuss books by Robin Wall Kimmerer, Dina Gilio-Whitaker, Terese Marie Mailhot, and Tommy Orange. We can choose to honor Indigenous people on at least one designated day.

Natalia Freeze, Leicester Road

Letter To The Editor: Vote ‘Yes’ To Secure Our Shared Future

To the editor:

I’m a Belmont parent who likes clear and simple. For me, Tuesday’s override ballot question can be reworded simply: Do you support funding smaller classes for students?

After a long, hard year, my son goes back to school in-person full time on Monday. Finally. He will have 23 students in his class, less than five percent of his teacher’s divided time. Without the override, smaller classes are impossible, there will be fewer teachers, and no math coaches. The past year has been hard, hard, hard. I’m exhausted by the slow pace of return-to-normal, and how it has affected us all. Yet the forward looking question remains: do we support smaller classes for all our students in 2021 and beyond? I say YES.

As a member of our connected community, the override could also be worded as: Do you support hiring a social worker for the senior center?

I say YES. Without the override, our seniors get even less support. I will be a senior one day in Belmont.

I’m hopeful for our future, and want to invest in our community. I like running our streets and trails, being outdoors, and the smell of grasses and pine trees on Lone Tree Hill. The override might be rewritten as: Do you support finding more green infrastructure opportunities in our town?

I say YES. Without the override, we will underinvest in sustainable infrastructure and our shared outcomes.

In running every street in Belmont, I’ve unblocked storm drains, tripped on too many sidewalks, and carried home the trash I found along the way. You might read the override as: Do you support hiring more DPW workers to help maintain our community? How about Police, and Fire?

I say YES. Without the override, we will fall farther behind in essential maintenance and public safety resources.

Many of those most affected have no choice, and no voice. Our school children cannot vote for smaller classes and more teacher time. Our non-US citizen neighbors cannot vote. We can choose. They are counting on us to invest in our shared future. Please vote YES with me on Tuesday.

Matt Taylor, Edgemoor Road