Belmont Schools Increasing Rents, Fees for BASEC, Swim Team and Kindergarten

Photo: Renting Belmont High School’s Higginbottom Pool will cost more if the Belmont School Committee approved fee increases. 

Saying that teaching positions should not be sacrificed if programs using its facilities are not paying a fair rate, the Belmont School Committee was presented a proposal to increase the rent for two non-profit programs and a jump in kindergarten fees in the coming school year.

“So now we will be we equitable with other areas and we’ll be getting more money,” said Belmont School Superintendent John Phelan at the committee’s meeting held Tuesday, May 26 at the Chenery Middle School.

Under the new fee schedule, two popular programs, the Belmont After School Enrichment Collaborative (the independent non-profit that runs the after school care programs at Belmont schools) and the Belmont Aquatic Team will see significant hikes in rental bills in the next two years.

Part of the impetus for a comprehensive review of the district’s rent and fee schedule came during the lead up to the Proposition 2 1/2 override vote in April, in which town voters overwhelming approved a $4.5 million tax hike to cover future deficits in the district’s budget.  

“We have not raised fees in five years and we’ve been talking about” revisiting the subject no matter the override’s outcome, said Phelan.

The overriding concern facing the district is that the current rates doesn’t meet the costs of “keeping the lights on,” paying utility costs, cleaning the areas, having maintenance workers on site and other demands on the district to keep the facilities up and running. 

Led by Tony DiCologero, the district’s Finance, Business and Operations director, the analysis calculated the cost-per-square-foot to operate a variety of spaces – the Higginbottom pool at the High School is far more expensive than a standard classroom – so the district could create a “baseline” cost to use a particular location.

DiCologero discovered the current sticker price for space did not meet the basic expenses required to manage the space. In addition, Belmont’s rental fees were well below the market rates of surrounding towns.

After the initial analysis was run, Phelan and DiCologero met with the two major users of school space – BASEC and BAT – to discuss the need for a “rethinking” on the fees.

“We see them as partners with the schools,” said Phelan. “They were expecting rate increases and were eager to refile contracts and we agreed to phase in the fee so not to pile on a burdensome expense in the next six month.”

Under the proposal, BASEC will see an increase of about a third to rent space in the six schools – 25 percent in fiscal 2016 and 7 percent in fiscal 2017.

In actual dollars, increases range from $7,400 to $5,900 over the two years with rental expenses reaching $29,425 at the Wellington, Butler and the Middle School, $23,406 at the Winn Brook and Burbank and $6,688 at the High School in fiscal 2017. The school district will see an increase of a nearly $36,000.

BAT will see a major increase in its rent over the two years of a proposed new contract. Currently, the squad pays what many consider a token fee of $13.28 an hour, using the pool for just over 500 hours for a total cost of $6,760.

Beginning in fiscal 2016, the rent increases to $50 an hour and then to $70 an hour in fiscal ’17. The increase will see rental fees jump by $28,000 over the two years to $35,000. 

In addition to the fees, the groups will also need to produce a certificate of insurance and have their employees submit to a CORI review. 

Phelan said he did not know what the rental fees would cost individuals as members of the effected groups, but he has heard the groups “will be able to absorb the new costs.”  

Parents of incoming full-day kindergarteners will see fees increase either $400 or $600, depending whether Gov. Charlie Baker is successful in passing through the legislature a cut in an annual state grant that facilitates full-day K. If the grant money is not restored by either the House or Senate, the higher rate will be imposed. 

Even with the higher fee – the first increase in four years – compared to surrounding town and private kindergarten, the cost for the program “remains a bargain,” said Phelan.

The proposal is before the School Committee and its financial subcommittee. It will be voted at the next meeting of the school committee on June 9.

Schools to End Year $536K in the Hole, But They Have a Way to Fill It

Photo: Red ink at the School District.

They scrimped and saved, cut and did without. But skyrocketing costs f0r special education and rapid enrollment expenses will result in the Belmont School District ending the fiscal year approximately half a million in the red, according to Belmont Superintendent John Phelan.

Speaking before the Belmont School Committee on Tuesday, April 28, Phelan said despite the district coming up with nearly $400,000 in new savings this fiscal year – including cuts in overtime, not filling positions and foregoing supplies and educational material – the school district found itself with a $536,000 deficit at the end of the third quarter on March 31. 

“It would have been much higher without if not for the work of our staff [and teachers],” said School Committee Chair Laurie Slap. 

The cause for the debt is due to an explosion in costs associated with special education. With the enrollment of more than 15 students and the related expenses in transportation and out-of-district tuition added approximately $1.4 million to the school district’s budget.

And while there remains “many moving parts” to the budget – such as an unexpected enrollment of special needs students until the end of the fiscal year – the deficit should remain stable until the end of the fiscal year, according to the district’s Director of Finance, Business and Operations Anthony DiCologero.

Since the shortfall was first identified in the second quarter, the town and schools have come up with a financial solution to resolve the shortage, according to Phelan. In June, the district will request from Town Meeting a transfer from the Special Education Stabilization Fund of the entire $250,000 in the account and a $285,000 conveyance from the Warrant Committee’s Reserve Fund.

The requests will require a 2/3s vote of Town Meeting to be accepted. 

While saying she is reluctant to request the entire SpEd Stabilization Fund to the used, “this is the year to do it,” said Slap.

Slap indicated she would seek to replenish the $250,000 by asking Town Officials for a portion of any one-time funds which could be coming from the sale of town-owned property in the near future. 

“We have to be prepared for a similar event in the future,” said Slap of SpEd costs.

Letter to the Editor: Vote Yes on April 7

To the editor:

Vote “YES” on April 7th

The need is clear: rising enrollment and costly mandates necessitate additional funding if we are to continue to offer our children a quality K-12 education. The statistics are compelling: 

  • the total number of students has risen by 317 in the last five years.
  • Belmont High’s Class of 2014 had 270 students; there were 350 Kindergarten students last fall.
  • two sub-groups of students with higher needs and costly mandated services have increased rapidly: 
    • the number of English Language Learners has climbed from 95 to 222 in the last six years
    • the number of students needed specialized schooling outside the district has increased from 81 in June 2013 to 97 in January 2015 (the average annual cost for an out-of-district placement is $65,000). 

Patching the school budget with one-time funds as we’ve done in recent years is no longer a solution.  If we don’t pass an override to meet these new realities, the steps needed to balance next year’s budget and beyond will without question degrade the quality of Belmont’s Public Schools, including fewer teachers, increased class size, and cuts in programs and electives.

Passing the override will enable us to maintain our existing programs and address the enrollment increases. The override is designed to stabilize the budgets for at least the next three years; and the School Department and School Committee have every incentive to continue to work hard to control costs so that stable and predictable budgets extend well beyond that horizon.

Operating overrides are in Belmont a rare occurrence; and continued tight cost control will be necessary to preserve a stable and predictable budget outlook so that we can retain top teachers, key electives, and reasonable class sizes in the years ahead.

Please join me in voting “YES” for the override on April 7.

Laurie Slap

Long Ave. 

(Note: Slap is the chair of the Belmont School Committee.)

Belmont School’s Calendar Could See Changes, Adding Jewish Holiday, Earlier Start to Year

Photo: The Belmont school calendar could see changes on adding religious holiday and the start of school. 

Every year since she’s had children attending the Belmont schools, School Committee member Elyse Shuster has been in the same situation as so many Jewish parents at the beginning of every school year: should we keep the kids out of school during the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?

Even under the district’s current policy – the system officially doesn’t recognize religious holidays – that allows students to miss a day or two without penalty (and teachers are advised not to schedule tests on those days), Shuster and others have feared their children will not be fully caught up with their school work during the important first days of the school year as the important holidays occur between September and early October.

“It’s extremely hard to miss those days especially for high schoolers,” Shuster told the Belmontonian.

“The teachers will say that students won’t be penalized for missing class, but they also won’t hold up teaching for those days. Those kids are on their own,” she said.

For some families, the choice is one of education rather than faith.

“The [observances] are important to us, but I’ve known families who have sent their children to school rather than miss two or three days of class,” Shuster said.

Elected to the committee in 2013, Shuster was approached by parents and friends on the subject.

“People would come up to me to ask, ‘When are you going to bring it up?'” said Shuster.

That time came at the Belmont School Committee meeting held Tuesday, March 10 at the Chenery Middle School when Shuster received the handout with the draft 2015-16 school calendar.

On the sheet, in March, was scheduled an early release for Good Friday.

“If the district’s rule is not to observe religious holidays, why are we having a half-a-day on Good Friday?” asked Shuster.

For the next half hour, the school committee and district officials discussed how to put into effect either including those observances and how it could affect future discussions.

“I’m glad you’ve brought that up because this comes up, and we then forget about it,” Lisa Firo

Shuster is not asking to strike a sacred Christian day from the calendar, “that a religious holiday is … only being taken away in a tit-for-tat way,” said Shuster. In fact, she was hoping to draw interest in adding a holiday – most likely a day set aside for Yom Kippur which takes place on Wednesday, Sept. 23 – for an important observation to a sizable minority in the school population.

“If it’s all or nothing, then I think that’s fair. But I want to us to think about the High Holidays of the major religions in this town and have a dialog in this town,” she said.

Belmont Superintendent John Phelan said Belmont should not look how other cities and towns have broached he matters since every community is made up “of folks who have … different experiences and religious backgrounds and be respectful of where our local community feels is important and then try to reflect that.”

Just this week, the Easton School Committee voted to eliminate three religious holidays – Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Good Friday – from its calendar.

What Shuster is attempting to change is, at times, harder than discussing religion or politics with your relatives; the status quo. For as long as anyone can remember, the school year in Belmont begins after Labor Day and there is a half-a-day of work on Good Friday. When presented to past school committees, calendars were approved after a curtsey look.

“It alway seems like it’s the status quo and even when we bring it up, how does it change? I hope that people … will appreciate that this discussion is happening about religious holidays,” said Shuster, inviting people to the next school meeting to discuss this issue.

With Schuster opening the door to altering the calendar, Phelan said he wants to re-examine the long-standing tradition of a post-Labor Day beginning of the school year.

“If we start going down the path of additional days recognized, we may also simultaneously entertain starting school before Labor Day,” he said, a change that could led to schools opening in August.

Current school policy is that Belmont schools open on the first Wednesday in September. Under the proposed 2015-16 calendar, the school year does begin before Labor Day – tentatively a full day for 1st to 12th grades on Wednesday, Sept. 2 – due to the late date of the holiday, falling on Monday, Sept. 8.

“I think it’s good for the kids, and I just want to make sure that is discussed,” said Phelan.

School Committee Chair Laurie Slap said she was eager to start that conversation “when we have that opportunity.”

Other important dates in the draft calendar are the winter recess beginning on Thursday, Dec. 24 and running through Monday, Jan. 4; February break begins the week of Feb. 15 and a late Spring break week starting April 18.

The earliest the last day of school will occur will be Tuesday, June 14, that is if no snow (or any other weather/emergency) days are declared.

Approving changes to the calendar will need the cooperation of the Belmont Education Association, the bargaining representative of teachers, aides and staff. Language in the teachers’ contract pertaining to the calendar will need to be reviewed by all sides before action can be taken, said Phelan.

With more research needed and with Phelan meeting with other superintendents this week where he will bring up the subject, Slap said the committee will take up the issue at its next meeting on Tuesday, March 24.

Mark it down on your calendar.

Schools Budget Deficit Fix: Teacher Layoffs, Increased Class Sizes, Lost Ground

Photo: The Wellington Elementary School will lose a third-grade teacher with the acceptance of the available revenue budget in fiscal year 2016.

When asked her reaction to the presentation by Belmont School Superintendent John Phelan on the details of cuts facing the district, Jamie Shea at first just shook her head.

For Shea and others who attended the Belmont School Committee meeting Tuesday night, Feb. 24, the impact on education in bridging the anticipated $1.7 million facing the district in the coming fiscal year was akin to listening to an eulogy for the reputation of a proud district.

“It’s extremely sobering to hear the potential cuts we all are facing,” said Shea, who is the current president of the Foundation for Belmont Education, the group that supports excellence and enrichment in Belmont’s six schools.

“It would be transformative to the district. It will impact every single student in the district. Every single one,” she said.

Phelan said the district – which he has been in charge since July – will not be the same to the one which many families moved to Belmont to attend.

“The Belmont Public Schools will struggle deeply to meet the expectations of their students and families that they so rightly deserve. If there were a headline from this presentation, it would be ‘Available Budget Impact Students Experiences Negatively,” Phelan told the Belmontonian after the meeting.

The cuts are necessary due to a historic surge in enrollment, higher expenditures for special education and unfunded state mandates.

During Tuesday meeting, Phelan walked the committee and residents through the components in each school group – elementary, middle school and high school – where savings will be made.

The cuts, which were compiled by the Leadership Council – made up of school principals, senior staff and curriculum directors – are significant and deep by most measures.

(The presentation can be found on the school district’s website.)

Most of the retrenchment, $1.3 million, will come in personnel with the elimination of 22 full-time equivalent professional positions, with the remaining amount coming in less support for instructional material, personal development and facilities and increase fees for student actives and full-day kindergarten.
The cuts include:

  • In the elementary schools, the elimination of more than seven aides, the Butler, Burbank and Wellington will lose guidance counselors, a reduction in music education and physical education and the firing of a third grade teacher at the Wellington.
  • At the Chenery, there will be wholesale cuts to the long-standing team teaching model in English, math, science social studies and world language in sixth through eighth grades, the eliminate of all eighth grade music and art electives, cutting sections of small group reading and a large reduction in library services.
  • Belmont High School will see the elimination of English, math, social studies and fine and performing arts teacher while all the World Language teachers will be reduced to part-timers.

District wide, the science director will be let go as will a preschool teacher. A reduction of instructional material and supplies, facilities, and professional development while student and rental fees are increased.

In total, Belmont will lose more than 14 teaching positions and nearly ten aides.

For classroom teachers, the cuts will fundamentally change the relationship with their students, said John Sullivan, the president of the Belmont Education Association, which represents Belmont teachers and aides in salary negotiations.

“You can’t get to know [your students] personally, to know when they are upset about something and then reach out to support them. It changes the entire student experience,” said the Belmont resident who teaches at Belmont High School.

While the cuts in teaching staff and other savings will drain the system of its red ink, the impact on students will be significant, said Phelan. For example:

  • Three of every four elementary students, about 1,300, will be in taught in classes exceeding the school committee’s guidelines for effective education.
  • Junior and seniors in high school – more than 600 pupils currently enrolled – will be limited to five courses in a seven-course schedule.
  • The average class size for math and English at the high school will be more than 27, effecting 1,250 students.
  • More than 300 seniors will be unable to take courses that will impact their chances being accepted at high-performing colleges and universities.
  • More than 300 students in the middle school will be heading to study halls due to the cuts in fine and performing arts.

The cut of the science director will seriously delay the district’s plan to move forward with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)-related courses which national leaders are calling crucial for all citizens to know.

And the loss of aides and guidance councilors in the four elementary schools will reduce the effectiveness of the district’s Response to Intervention services that identifies educational challenges for young students as well as addressing the social and emotional needs of students.

The magnitude of the cuts was unsettling for those who oversee education in Belmont.

“I think it has the potential to really decimate the system,” said Laurie Slap, School Committee Chair.

“What struck me was that one of our colleagues said that it was so sad to see educational opportunities just shrink for our students from K to 12 especially in the high school. Five courses? That isn’t what anyone expects from this district.”

Phelan said the district, and especially Belmont High School, has been worn down over time by trimming courses and reducing staff. With this major hit

“The reductions we are proposing and the elimination of positions are rooted in the methodology in what we need to do first and what we would like to do second. Our ‘likes to do’ are now are stables and cores – the everyday things – in districts that surround us. We will lose even more ground with the proposed budget,” said Phelan.

For Phelan, the School Committee and many attending the meeting, the only way to preserve the district’s reputation is for the passage of a $4.5 million Proposition 2 1/2 override recommended by the Financial Task Force in January.

“I support the Task Force’s recommendation for the fiscal health of the entire town. If that fiscal health is brought back to a certain level through an injection of funds that goes to sidewalks streets police, fire, and schools, the whole town is a better place,” said Phelan.

At the end of the meeting, Slap said that everyone in town needs to know what the choices they face and everyone needs to get informed to understand what the cuts means to the district.

“It’s important that people get informed and understand what the reductions will bring if we do not pass the … override and get to the polls,” Shea told the Belmontonian.

“Hopefully we can get a coalition of different coalition of different constituent groups that can work cooperatively to make sure our students get the best education they can,” said Sullivan.

Belmont Schools Face ‘Significant, Negative Impact’ in Fiscal ’16 Budget; Loss of 22 Positions, Larger Class Sizes

Photo: Teacher and staff represented by the Belmont Education Association listening to District Superintendent John Phelan present the fiscal 2016 school budget to the Belmont School Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 11.

Belmont students will face “significant and negative impacts” if the Belmont School Committee approves an available revenue budget for the next fiscal year leaving the town’s top-rated schools with an anticipated $1.7 million shortfall, according to Belmont District Superintendent John Phelan.

The current budget would force Phelan to eliminate up to 22 full-time positions including teachers and staff, allow classroom sizes in all grades to exceed the School Committee’s own benchmarks for effective teaching and increase the number of “frees” and study halls for middle and high school students.

“It would be problematic for the district to function as a Tier 1 district under this budget,” Phelan told the Belmontonian Thursday, Feb. 12.

Making the first public presentation of the fiscal 2016 budget before the School Committee and approximately 75 teachers and staff at the Chenery Middle School, Phelan presented an overview of its fiscal year 2016 budget in which the district would run on the best estimates of the available revenue from state and town sources.

Under the town’s estimates, the schools will receive $47.5 million in fiscal ’16 under the current Town Meeting approved 58/42 budget “split” in which the district receives 58 percent of total revenues.

Belmont is already doing a great deal of what it has, said Phelan. Where the average annual expenditure per student statewide is $14,571, Belmont has become an educational destination for homebuyers spending roughly $12,800 a year.

In the presentation, Phelan told the committee the district finds itself facing several “pressure points,” the most immediate is the skyrocketing increase in enrollment. In just the past five years – 2009 to 2014 – the student population in kindergarten to 12th grade has increased by 317 students to 4,222 in October, 2014.

And the forecast is that an additional 408 students will enter the district by 2019, a ten-year increase of 723 pupils. For comparison, the Wellington Elementary School has approximately 440 students.

Phelen said the increasing population has also bumped up the number of students requiring assistance in English Language learning by nearly double in two years, 117 in 2013 to 222 in 2015. Because about 80 of those students are not very proficient in English, the state requires Belmont to hire new staff to provide 2.5 hours of “small group instruction.”

Also in the overall population is a growing number special education students. The major component of the current year’s $500,000 school deficit is nearly $950,000 in unanticipated costs associated with special education. And those costs will increase in fiscal 2016 with the rising number of students entering the district.

When calculating the new costs required to the current “pressure points” and moving the current level of staff and teachers into the new year, the schools will need $49.2 million just to “stay current.”

But with rising costs and stagnate revenue, Phelan said schools will be unable to meet the demands of the residents and students for a top-tier education as it attempts to fill the $1.7 million gap.

“With enrollments going up, and the number of positions staying steady if not being reduced, I would be hard pressed to say we can continue what we are doing,” Phelan told the Belmontonian.

The cuts would be deep and substantial: 22 full-time positions from teaching, staff and aids would be cut, a further reduction in material and supplies, trimming professional development, forego building maintenance, increase the fees to rent school property and a large increase in student and family fees for sports, clubs and full-time kindergarten.

What isn’t seen in the cost cutting will be more students in each classroom, less programs and idle teens “sitting on benches in the high school and in study halls at the Chenery,” said Phelan.

“This can only negatively impact student learning.”

The solution in Phelan’s eye and, in previous discussions with the School Committee, is to enthusiastically support the proposal outlined last month by the Financial Task Force to request the Board of Selectmen to place a three-year, $4.5 million Proposition 2 1/2 override on the ballot to fund the enrollment issues facing the district.

“That is the solution,” he said.

John Sullivan, a Palfrey Road resident, Belmont teacher and president of the Belmont Education Association which represents district teachers in union negotiations, told the board that despite a highly trained and capable staff, class size impacts the day-to-day experience of students.

“If Belmont wants to maintain a high-quality student experience, one that puts Belmont High in the top 10 percent of high school state-wide, then the fiscal year ’16 budget, and future budgets, need to address the increase in enrollment,” said Sullivan.

Belmont Schools Deficit Hits Half-Million Dollars Due to Rising Enrollment, Special Ed Costs

Belmont School District Superintendent John Phelan said the ballooning budget deficit facing the district could be explained by rewording a statement made famous by Bill Clinton’s political advisor, James Carville.

But mindful of the cable audience watching at home, “I won’t say it on television,” said Phelan at the Belmont School Committee’s meeting held Tuesday, Jan. 20.

But it wasn’t hard to decipher what Phelan wanted to say:

“It’s the enrollment, stupid.”

The exploding number of new students – 317 in the past two years as of Oct. 1 – entering Belmont’s six public schools is not just straining the system’s physical assets with classrooms busting at the seems but now is disrupting its balance sheet. The district is struggling to handle a half-a-million dollar deficit in the first six months of its fiscal 2015 budget ending on Dec. 31, according to Anthony DiCologero, the district’s finance, business and operations director.

And there is every indication the red ink the district is wading in has not stopped rising.

Looking at a worksheet DiCologero presented to the committee, it’s easy to identify the single largest budget busting item as costs associated with special education – including tuitions, salaries and transportation – which is running behind the fiscal ’15 budget projections by nearly $1 million, at $945,000. While other line items have seen increases, special ed expenses are by far the budget’s most significant cost driver.

For Phelan, the growing budget imbalance is traced straight back to the skyrocketing student enrollment figures “that is front and center” the towering issue facing the district.

And while the number of children entering the system is rising, the percentage of students requiring mandated student support – subgroups including those not proficient in the English language and SpEd students – is outpacing that number, Phelan told the Belmontonian.

A year ago during the formation of the fiscal ’15 budget, the district forecasted between 81 to 85 SpEd students in Belmont. The current number is 95 students, many requiring a wide array of individualized teaching and learning assistance.

And those expenses are staggering; a look at one-line item, Special Ed tuitions, relays the expenditure pressures in front of the district. A certain number of Special Ed students are placed in an educational setting outside the Belmont and the other municipalities within the multi-town collaborative (LABBB) the district is a member. Those tuitions are a mandated cost the district is required to pay.

Due to the increase in Special Ed students now living in Belmont, a deficit of $125,000 at the end of September has risen to $384,000 in just the subsequent three months, a jump of $269,000 in unanticipated expenses.

Yet effectively predicting future special ed costs is like capturing smoke. School Committee member Laurie Graham said while the actual percentage of student’s needing some special education services have remained relatively level at 13 percent, the actual number has not just risen but is such a moving target that budget planners are making best guesses on how many students will require services.

DiCologero said the current level of students requiring services has been fluctuating on the high end of the estimates and could fall back in line with previous assumptions in the next years.

Nor is there any assurance the deficit has stabilized; in fact, Phelan said the district could see an additional five students requiring special education entering the system in the near future.

The impact of the exploding cost of special education expenses has placed the district “on the razor’s edge” where the shortfall could soon impact teaching, said Phelan.

“It is starting to hit the classroom a bit,” he said.

Phelan said he and DiCologero review every purchase order from teachers and administrators requesting material with the aim of only signing those requests that impact direct classroom instruction.

“We are saying ‘no’ to most $20 requests,” said Phelan.

The tightening will also force the district not to stockpile projections for the district’s interactive SMART Boards – which were brought into all classrooms by a multiyear initiative from the Foundation for Belmont Education – but rather order when they need replacing which could force some classrooms to be without this standard learning device during the wait. In addition, computers will likely be kept for seven years instead of being replaced in five along with other measures limiting technological purchases.

That diligence, along with, not filling sone teaching and staff positions, cost cutting, and other expense controls, has saved the district about $250,000 in the second quarter alone. If not for those efforts, the deficit would have been closer to three-quarters of a million dollars at the end of December.

Moving forward, Phelan and DiCologero said the district will continue with its belt-tightening, knowing that unexpected expenses – a colder than expected winter heating season or emergency repairs to buildings – and more students entering the system will not be offset by any cushion in the budget.

The effort to hold the line on funding is hampering Phelan’s ability to lessen the burden on teachers who have, in both the elementary schools and at the Chenery Middle School, been forced to teach to classrooms with nearly 30 students.

“I believe it is not acceptable to have 25 children in a first-grade classroom. That is the most important grade,” said Phelan, projecting to the 2015-16 school year when this level of students will likely occur.

Speaking to the Belmontonian, Phelan said restrictions on basic supplies and materials along with added requirements for new assessment evaluations and ever increasing student/teacher ratios, “has made the job of teaching much more pressurized and we are seeing that.”

Lougee Will Not Seek Re-election to School Committee

After three-and-a-half years, Anne Lougee has decided to end her service on the Belmont School Committee by not seeking a second term at Town Election in April 2015.

Lougee’s announcement will create a second open seat on the Committee in the coming election. Also on the ballot will be incumbent Lisa Fiore, who is seeking her first full three-year term after serving the unexpired time of Pascha Griffiths, who resigned in 2013.

Lougee decided not to pursue re-election after the evaluation and selection process in November to replace School Committee member Kevin Cunningham, who resigned in September.

“It’s hard to walk away from a group of wonderful colleagues but I was encouraged by the number of well-qualified candidates who came before the committee and selectmen last month for the position,” Lougee told the Belmontonian.

Thomas Caputo was selected from eight residents to replace Cunningham. His term ends at Town Election. Caputo can file to run for the remaining two years of Cunningham’s term, challenge Fiore for her seat or decide not to run.

At his appointment, Caputo said he would seek election to the board.

Fiore, a Lesley University faculty dean with children in district schools, was elected in 2014 to fill the one-year remaining on Griffiths’ term. She told the Belmontonian in September she would likely run for re-election in 2015.

Nomination papers are currently available at the Belmont Town Clerk’s office; the deadline for their return is 5 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015.

Lougee, whose daughter is a 2011 Belmont High School graduate, was appointed to the committee in October 2011 to fill the remainder of the term held by Karen Parmett, who resigned. She won a full stint in the 2012 Town Election.

Lougee said the selection of Belmont Schools Superintendent John Phelan and promoted social/emotional learning throughout the district was two of her accomplishments serving on the committee.

In addition, Lougee emphasized from the time she was on PTOs that parents and officials must not take a myopic view of the town’s schools.

“You have to look at the whole system. It’s K through 12; you can’t separate it by school building or class,” said Lougee, a native midwesterner who came to Belmont in the 1980s and lives on Warwick Road with her husband, Roger Colton.

“You must know how it all works together for your child because they will be a graduate one day,” said Lougee.

In addition to the collegiality of the committee members, Lougee said she’ll also miss witnessing the growth of students in the classroom, in athletics and the arts.

“I love watching the kids test themselves and build their confidence,” she said.

Tom Caputo Named to Fill Vacancy on Belmont School Committee

Photo: Newly-appointed School Committee member Thomas Caputo (right) is congratulated by Belmont School District Asst. Superintendent Janice Darias. Belmont Superintendent John Phelan is in the center of the photo. 

Technology expert Thomas Caputo was appointed to the Belmont School Committee this morning, Monday, Nov. 17 to fill the vacancy created when Kevin Cunningham resigned from the six-member board last month.

“This is a great honor and I’m proud to have been selected,” said Caputo, who has been for the past two years the Chief Product Officer at FIKSU, a technology start up providing mobile marketing technology to app developers, game publishers and advertisers.

Caputo will serve on the committee until the Belmont Town Election in April 2015 when he can seek to fill the remaining two-years of Cunningham’s term.

The Richmond Road resident – who has lived in Belmont with his wife, Sarah and their eight-year-old, third grade twin daughters for the past seven years – was selected by a joint committee of the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee from eight candidates who had applied for the position.

What guided the majority of the Selectmen and School Committee to Caputo was his experience in finance and technology.

“I think the entrepreneurial and tech specialization along with the venture capital … [is the type of] analytical study of these important issues, particularly around enrollment, [is] critical for the school committee,” said Selectmen Chair Andy Rojas.

“It is the nexus of the technology and business solutions that really spoke to me,” said Laurie Slap, school committee chair.

A dual major (graduating with a BA in computer science and biophysical chemistry) while matriculating at Dartmouth, Caputo also has a MBA from Stanford.

After working in finance in Boston and London, Caputo became a group product manager at Microsoft’s main office in Redmond, Wash. for four years. He come back east to work in venture capital, product management for a software startup in New York before joining the senior execution team at Boston-based FIKSU.

“There is an incredible wave of really interesting start ups as well as established companies that are bringing new education technologies to the market that are … helping school districts across the country to find more efficient and effective ways to educate students,” Caputo told the Belmontonian.

“I do believe that, much the way we’ve seen technology disruptions shaping a lot of industries … Belmont needs to be on the forefront of finding ways to pick the best technology programs, bring them into the school system, train the teachers and administrators to use them effectively and executing all that for the benefit of the students,” said Caputo, who looks the part of the tech pro; wearing a smart blazer over a tie-less pattern shirt, skinny jeans and nifty shoes to the joint meeting.

But Caputo told the Belmontonian that bringing technology to the classroom is not simply “supplying everyone an iPad.”

“It’s great to have the infrastructure but that alone will not solve the issues we’re facing. It’s really about … the iPad and its integration into the curriculum, the selection of the right application and tools and the manner in which it’s all used,” he said.

Caputo pointed to his background in start ups as a plus when the committee faces the challenges of finding adequate funding to maintain the district’s first-rate education reputation.

“What start ups are able to do is find efficient, creative solutions to addressing otherwise challenging problems. I will bring a little bit of that culture to the school committee; to find ways to collaborate, to identify solutions and to look at things in, maybe, a little different way,” he said.

“It won’t be easy. It will require contributions from many different groups and constituents from across the town to make that effective. I hope I can contribute in that way,” Caputo said.


Eight Residents In the Running to Fill Vacant School Committee Position

A past candidate and seven other residents were named by the Belmont School Committee on Friday, Nov. 14 as the applicants seeking to fill the seat left vacant after Kevin Cunningham announced his resignation from the committee last month.

The eight candidates are:

  • Susan Burgess-Cox
  • Tom Caputo
  • Tara Donner
  • Maura Fennelly
  • Jamie Kang (who ran for the committee in 2013)
  • Kimberly O’Mahony
  • Ike Papadopoulos
  • Erica Zidel

The collection of applicants will be presented to and interviewed by a joint meeting of Belmont Board of Selectmen and School Committee on Monday, Nov. 17 at 8 a.m. in the Selectmen’s Room in Belmont Town Hall.

After the candidates are interviewed by the panel, the joint committee will vote for the appointee they feel will best fill the seat during the very busy five months until the April Town Election.

Under state law, the appointee’s term lasts only until the Town Election when they will have the opportunity to seek election to serve the remaining two years of Cunningham’s tenure.

While there will not be time for questions from the audience, suggestions or comments can be sent to School Committee Chair Laurie Slap at

“Each candidate brings strengths and accomplishments and we are all pleased that this vacancy has elicited such interest. We are looking forward to the interviews on Monday and are excited to welcome another colleague at the table to help us as we continue the very important work of providing the best educational experience for all of our students,” said Slap.