Opinion: Vote ‘Yes’ Tuesday to End Cycle of Underfunding Education

Photo: Campaigners at a recent Precinct Meeting.

What are the schools our students deserve? That is the question facing our community next Tuesday.  

As an educator, union member, taxpayer and resident of Belmont all my life, I have seen a cycle of underfunding education that has brought us to this point.  The response now from those against the override sounds familiar; they simply say we can solve the problem without an override. That solution, however, simply places greater burdens on students and educators.

Our town has one of the state’s best public school systems, and it is essential to invest in our students’ future to maintain that excellence. Attacking educators’ compensation is deceptive and ignores how hard the Belmont Education Association and Belmont School Committee have worked together to operate within the town’s means.

An override is needed to sustain the schools and address increasing enrollment over the next three years. We need to support the children of Belmont and to support the town’s Financial Task Force, which is recommending passage of the override.

Since 2009, an additional 317 students have entered into grades K-12. Even with a highly trained and capable staff, larger class size means less individualized attention for our students. Class sizes have increased beyond School Committee-recommended maximums. Without additional staff and resources to address these concerns, students will not have the same learning opportunities and programming as this year’s graduates.   

Belmont is a residential community, and homeowners bear much of the funding for our schools.  This is a choice we make to maintain Belmont’s character and ensure our students continue to perform to the best of their abilities. If we do not want commercial development, then we need to be prepared to pass this override to address increasing enrollment.  This override is an essential investment to maintain the value and quality of the entire community.  

Over the past six years, teachers have forgone compensation to support our students. Your child’s teacher has given back salary increases to fund the schools and prevent the need for an override. It is erroneous to characterize our agreement as expensive and our methods as “more aggressive.”   

While some choose to criticize teacher salaries, ours are lower than competitive communities. In a state analysis of average teacher salaries in towns with the top public high schools, Belmont places last behind Concord-Carlisle, Wayland, Weston, Dover and Wellesley.   

As educators, Belmont teachers strive to provide the best possible outcomes for all students. We have been doing more with less for too long. Based on comparable communities, our salaries are not the issue.  

As residents we must place our children at the center of the conversation and this decision.  Please raise your hand to support our students and vote “Yes” next Tuesday.

John Sullivan

Palfrey Road

(Editor’s note: Sullivan is the president of the Belmont Education Association, the negotiating agent for Belmont’s educators.) 

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  1. Tony Oberdorfer says

    Mr. Tucker completely misses my point in referring to various Belmontians with a vested interest in METCO who want the town’s participation to continue. He intentionally ignores my suggestion that at a time when school overcrowding has become a serious issue in Belmont it makes no sense to expect Belmont taxpayers to pay still more in property taxes for programs like METCO when they had no say at the time METCO was introduced. Yes, it’s true that Arlington and Lexington have METCO programs but our neighbors Watertown and Winchester do not and they seem to be doing just fine without it.

  2. Tony Oberdorfer says

    I continue to bemoan the fact that in a supposedly intelligent community like Belmont absolute nobody on either side apart from myself has been willing to question Belmont’s continued participation in METCO. Even ignoring the fact that Belmont taxpayers were never asked about the program to begin with, it is simply ludicrous that at a time when override proponents are screaming about the burden of large school enrollment increases now and in the future, the town should continue to pay to educate about 120 children from other cities with no connection to Belmont whatsoever. There is no longer any legitimate educational reason for this if there ever was and it is a sad commentary on the political climate of the day that the issue is still treated as a hot potato which normal sensible but overtaxed people should not be permitted to discuss. This alone should be cause enough for fair-minded people to vote against the override.

    • says

      Mr. Oberdorfer:

      I am giving you the telephone numbers of Diane Wiltshire, the METCO director in Belmont, who can help you understand the program and how it benefits both the students to come to Belmont each day and the greater community. Her number is 617-993-5850. I will also give you the telephone number of School Superintendent John Phelan, 617-993-5400, who supports continuing the program as does the Belmont School Committee. I could also introduce you to a number of METCO students who can speak to you, one-to-one, on the topic. They believe there remains “legitimate educational reason(s)” for the program to remain. You should ask them.

      As you know, the METCO allocation, which was $530,372 in fiscal 2015, is in the school budget and it requires Town Meeting approval. You can ask one of the Town Meeting Members – your representative in our community’s legislative branch – to ask that the allocation be taken out of the budget. Or you can request to speak before Town Meeting on Belmont’s continuation participation in METCO. I would be enlightening to see the topic – which you have been bemoaning for decades – brought to a “secret” ballot (that can be done under electronic voting).

      It’s not that other residents are reluctant to pick up this “hot potato” – there are many contentious issues that residents take up each year. It’s the motive behind it. – ed.

  3. Dawn macKerron says

    Neither committee disagrees on funding Education in Belmont. The Vote No on Ballot Question 1 Committee has expressed to the Selectmen and to the school leadership that Belmont needs to and will support the School Superintendent’s identified budgets – no reason to question. The “Projected” town revenues show a $1.7MM Education deficit next year. How we get there is where the difference lies.

    The Vote No group urges the Town’s leadership to manage a budget that is fiscally responsible. Absent a clear financial roadmap, the $4.5MM Mega Override is more than the town needs next year and it is Permanent. After the first year (of which 1/2 the amount is undesignated), the Un-Used Portion of the Money from the Override goes in to a “Stabilization Fund”. That stabilization fund does not exist until Town Meeting votes to approve such a fund. Is anyone comfortable that you will see that money spent where we’d like it to be spent? Don’t we want to see Accountability in how taxpayer dollars are spent? The MEGA $4.5MM Override is an excessive amount to ask the taxpayers for in relation to the need. Let’s remember how towns operate – they budget year to year while having long range planning alongside. This is the responsible and accountable way to run things.

    Providing a large, ongoing bank account to draw from “as needed” for “TBD” throws Accountability out the window. The Selectmen have stated that their Revenue projections for next year are admittedly “conservative”. In a growth economy, it seems unreasonable to have projected next year’s revenue growth at half of what Belmont has averaged for the past 10 years.

    Had a reasonable override tied to actual need been put forth in the first place, there would not even be a Vote No Committee. The real risk to the schools/education department was the decision to put forth a bloated, unnecessary, permanent Mega Override that has a true risk of being defeated rather than a fiscally responsible one that would easily guarantee we give the Superintendent what he needs to continue his fine work.

    The Vote No position has stated publicly that if the override fails they will work together immediately to close the Education gap (est. 3-6 weeks). The Vote No committee has seasoned veterans who have worked on the budget at the line-by-line detail level. Not one person on the Vote No committee has any interest to present to the Town an irresponsible position that “the sky is falling” to the public. On the contrary we have been quite public that our perspective is that Belmont needs an informed presentation of the facts with a balanced approach. Not rhetoric that employs scare tactics and hatred of fellow residents.

    With building projects on the horizon that include a high school, DPW, police station, etc., we cannot accept a Mega Override without a long-term plan that serves as a roadmap and arrives at a destination of a Town that values excellent public services.

  4. Jonathan Birge says

    I plan to vote for the override, but I became less convinced, not more, after reading this. How is it that a one time chunk of funds will address a long term cycle of underfunding education? Why would three to four years of spending even further beyond our means help us spend within our means in the long run?

    I’m not sure it matters what Weston pays. We’re not Weston and we don’t have the same tax base and there is no way for us to get there, thanks to 2 1/2. What matters is what we can afford, and I’d be more interested in what you propose we cut to keep paying our excellent teachers than meaningless comparisons to towns whose finances we can’t possibly match.

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