School Committee Candidates QW: The One Issue The Board Should Focus On

Photos: (from left) Murat Bicer, Kimberly O’Mahony, Andrea Prestwich.

Welcome to the first QW (Question of the Week) for the three candidates seeking to fill to two open three-year seats on the Belmont School Committee at town election on April 5. The order in which the candidates answered this week is by alphabetical order. 

Name the one issue you believe the board should focus on in your tenure on the school board?

Murat Bicer

I believe the most important issue facing the school board over the next three years is increasing enrollment. Families with school-age children are moving to town as housing comes to market, and new multi-unit developments are likely to bring additional students. A growing number of students require mandated English language learning and special education. These two factors put pressure both on our school budget and on our facilities.  

In the fall of 2012, the town convened a task force to study the issue of increasing enrollment and recommend strategic solutions. While a number of viable solutions were proposed, there was little budget to affect the changes. Since that time, two very important developments have occurred.  First, Belmont residents passed a $4.5 million Proposition 2.5 override. Second, the Massachusetts School Building Authority voted to move Belmont High School forward in its process, which will provide state cost sharing in the construction of a much needed new campus that can reflect our current and future needs.  

As a school committee member, I will use my deep experience in financial management and operational planning to ensure that the best decisions are made for immediate impact as well as future stability for our excellent schools. I will look to recommendations already made by the task force and welcome new ideas, while measuring each against the fiscal cost to our community. It is imperative that every dollar we spend on our schools has a direct, positive impact on the education of our children. Our focus needs to be on building a high school facility that can last us another 50 years, and enough flexibility in our lower schools to respond to enrollment fluctuations.

The most pressing issue facing the Belmont Public Schools over the next three years is the management of increasing enrollment. There is a lack of space throughout the district and the population of the town is ever-growing. The quality of our education system is the reason that people come to Belmont and is why they will continue to come; it’s why my husband and I moved here 12 years ago! We knew the reputation of the schools in Belmont and wanted our family to be educated in the best public schools in the area. 

In order for our town to uphold this reputation, we have an obligation to ensure every child is supported, especially at the elementary level where many children are learning to speak English. Belmont has a very diverse community, which makes living here so rich and rewarding.  With that diversity, though, comes more responsibility – especially in supporting and scaffolding children’s abilities.

As a first step, the School Committee voted unanimously to decline participation in School Choice at last Tuesday night’s School Committee meeting. Participating in School Choice would only add to the enrollment pressures that we already feel with the population that resides in Belmont. The School Committee will be critical in identifying solutions that will bring about positive change to alleviate the pressure of this issue.

Andrea Prestwich

The most critical issues facing Belmont schools are spiraling enrollment and the need for a new high school. Both of these issues require careful strategic planning by the School Committee and a willingness to advocate for an override to fund the new high school. These issues must be addressed otherwise our schools will fall apart (almost literally in the case of the high school!

We also need to transition BHS and Chenery to healthier (i.e. later) start times. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control both recommend that middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. to allow adolescents to get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation among adolescents is a serious public health issue. Although there is an overwhelming medical consensus in favor of later start times,  this issue seldom gets to the top of a School Districts’s  priority list – there are always competing issues! If elected to the School Committee, I will devote time and energy to working for healthier school hours. I will not let later start times be squeezed off the agenda by managing the enrollment and a new high school. Enrollment and a new high school are critical, but so is sleep. We must work on all three.  

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