Paolillo Named 2022-3 Select Board Chair

Photo: Mark Paolillo

Mark Paolillo was unanimously elected chair of the Belmont Select Board for the coming year in a vote during the board’s annual organizing meeting on Wednesday, April 6.

Adam Dash steps into the vice-chair role with Roy Epstein, who won re-election to the board the previous night, taking the role of member.

”I certainly appreciate [Dash’s] leadership over the past year and I look forward to working with both you in the upcoming year. We have a lot of work that we need to accomplish,” said Paolillo, who was the board’s vice chair over the past year.

The remainder of the morning meeting was taken up on the board’s liaison assignments with town committees and boards.

Vote! Town Election Day 2022 Is Tuesday, April 5: A Little Different Look To The Ballot

Photo: It’s election day in Belmont

Belmont annual Town Election is today, Tuesday, April 5!

Registered voters may cast their ballots in person only on Election Day; polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the traditional polling locations: 

  • Precinct One: Belmont Memorial Library, Assembly Room, 336 Concord Ave.
  • Precinct Two: Belmont Town Hall, Select Board Room, 455 Concord Ave.
  • Precinct Three: Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St.
  • Precinct Four: Daniel Butler School Gym, 90 White St.
  • Precinct Five: Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St.
  • Precinct Six: Belmont Fire Headquarters,  299 Trapelo Rd.
  • Precinct Seven: Burbank School Gym, 266 School St.
  • Precinct Eight: Winn Brook School Gym, 97 Waterhouse Rd., enter from Cross Street.

If you are wondering if you are a registered voter and your voting precinct, go to the Town Clerk’s web page or phone the Town Clerk’s office at 617-993-2600.

A list of the candidates for town-wide office and Town Meeting can be found in the League of Women Voters guide here.

The ballot for the 2022 annual Town Election will look a little different. In addition to the customary town-wide elected offices, a new elected Municipal Light Board has been created and five members will be selected.  

In addition, for Precincts 1, 2, 6, and 8, the voters will elect 36 Town Meeting Members instead of the usual 12. Precincts 3, 4, 5 and 7 will elect 12 Town Meeting Members. Belmont, like many other communities, was required to redraw Precinct borders to balance the population, as reported by the 2020 federal census, across the eight voting precincts.

Voters in Precincts 1, 2, 6 and 8 whose precinct number and voting location have been changed by the redrawing of the precinct lines have already been mailed a postcard with their new 2022 voting information.  Precincts 3, 4 ,5 and 7 are unchanged.

A view of sample ballots for each precinct can be found here.

Results will be posted after 10 p.m., Tuesday, April 5 on the Town Clerk’s web page.

Q&A With Jeff Liberty, Candidate For School Committee

Photo: Jeff Liberty

Jeff Liberty‘s background is an impressive collection of experiences in education. The Dorchester native has been classroom teacher, administrator, the inaugural leader of an in-district Boston charter school and currently works at an educational consultancy. He is running unopposed for the open seat on the Belmont School Committee. A 12 year resident of Worcester Street, Liberty matriculated at Brandeis University (History) and received his MFA in creative writing from Emerson.

Q: You have an unique background for school committee members being a multifaceted education careerist: You have been a teacher, administrator, charter school leader and now in education consultancy. How do you anticipate working and collaborating with your five fellow committee members who don’t have your practical experience in the field? 

A: I do have a lot of experience and I’m happy to share it with my fellow Committee Members and members of the BPS administration.  At the same time, all of the other Members bring tremendous skills and experience, including experience being on the School Committee and other elected offices, so I expect it should be very easy to collaborate with my colleagues on the Committee. I’m honored to serve with such a committed and intelligent group of humans and I expect to learn as much as I teach. 

Q: You have spoken about concerns you have as a parent and resident on how much students have “lost” educationally and emotionally during the pandemic. Is it possible for individual students to “recover” that gap in classroom learning and social emotional skills or should the district take a more holistic approach of moving grades forward with supports?

A: When it comes to foundational academic skills and human development/social-emotional skills, students must be supported to recover from lost opportunities to learn and grow.  Otherwise, we do not afford them the opportunity, as a generation, to achieve to their fullest potential. At the same time, the pandemic has shown us, in every facet of our lives, what is truly important. In that spirit, I don’t think it’s essential to obsess about going back and trying to “cover” every bit of content that was missed.  That ship has sailed.  The most important skills and content are the ones that are essential to student success at higher levels.  There should be an effort to quantify and communicate, both in the aggregate and at the individual student level, where we are in terms of meeting those benchmarks and what we will commit to do to support students who have not yet reached the grade-level standards of academic performance and/or social-emotional growth. The Committee and the public will need to hear from the Superintendent and his team soon about what we have learned about students’ progress and what resources and programs are being developed and put in place to help students to accelerate their learning and personal development before the start of the next school year.     

Q: Could you see anytime that you could support a return of mask mandates? Why or why not.

A: The pandemic has taught us that it is difficult to say for certain what the future holds.  If the Board of Health and the School Committee determine that, by metrics we can all agree to, that the continuation of in-person instruction requires all educators and students to wear masks for a period of time, I would be open to supporting that policy for a limited period and with very clear benchmarks for when mask-wearing would be made optional again.   

Q: You wrote a letter to the editor saying that you were angry – about who the school committee and district could not manage the system through COVID, how the town was unable to come up with a plan to manage the structural deficit and the pot holes on your street – but was still going to vote for the override. Are you still angry?

A: I would not describe myself as an angry person generally (I try not to be–life is too short!).  At the same time, it has been very challenging as an educator and as a parent to watch our town fumble our way through policies and processes that have had a detrimental effect on students and families.  That would make any reasonable person angry.  I continue to see some of the same behaviors and habits that manifested themselves during the worst days of the pandemic like a lack of data-based decision making and un-rigorous assessment of the efficacy of programs and initiatives.  This frustrates me but it also motivates me to make improvement in those areas a central focus of my work on the Committee in the years ahead.  We can and we must do better to regain the public’s full confidence in our schools.  

Q: The majority of what school committees does is deal with the everyday “mundane necessities” of a district: reviewing elementary school curriculum, professional development for teachers, hearing concerns of coaches that they are not being paid the same as their peers. What “mundane necessity” will you champion as a member of the committee and why is it important?

A: I don’t think any of the things you listed are mundane.  I do think we need to prioritize the work of the Committee so we stay focused on our most important statutory responsibilities–supervising and supporting the Superintendent, creating and revising policy, overseeing the budget and ensuring it aligns with educational priorities, negotiating contracts that are fair and sustainable, and approving the program of studies.  If we manage to do this–and to celebrate our successes along the way–nothing we do will be mundane.

Q: What will get you excited about coming to a school committee meeting on a cold and snowy Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.?

A: In the 12 years our family has lived in Belmont, I’ve met hundreds of wonderful young people and their parents and caregivers. I am highly motivated to bring purposeful, transparent, and ethical leadership to my work on the Committee on behalf of my fellow Belmontians, no matter what the weather might be.  To me, public schools are just about as sacred as secular institutions can be. When they are good, they are the best examples of excellent civic life and hope for our future that we have. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

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]

League Of Women Voters’ Virtual Candidates’ Night 2022 Thursday, March 24 At 7 p.m.

Photo: The good ol’ days: the parade of Town Meeting members candidates in 2019

The League of Women Voters of Belmont is holding its annual Candidates’ Night on Thursday, March 24 at 7 p.m.

The event will take place virtually via Zoom, over the internet and live on Belmont Media Center.

The night will start with the popular Town Meeting Member “parade” to be followed with short speeches and questions and answer with each of the town-wide candidates.

Just a reminder: Town Election takes place on Tuesday, April 5.

Your viewing options include:
• Zoom meeting webinar: 827 7506 4862
https://uso2web.zoom.us/j/82775064862
• Live broadcast: Belmont Ch 8 (Comcast); Ch 28 (Verizon)
• Livestream or on-demand: belmontmedia.org/watch/govtv