Deadline Looms For Residents Interested Joining School Committee

Time is growing short for residents who are interested in joining the Belmont School Committee as the deadline for applications to fill the vacancy after Kevin Cunningham resigned last month is Wednesday, Nov. 12 at 4 p.m.

The School Committee and the Selectmen will meet jointly five days later, on Monday, Nov. 17, to hear from and interview candidates before voting to appoint a new member.

The selected appointee will be sworn in by the Town Clerk Ellen Cushman before the School Committee’s meeting on Nov. 18.

Under state law, the appointee’s term only lasts until the next Town Election; in Belmont that occurs in April, 2015. The person elected for that committee seat will serve a two year term, which is the remainder of Cunningham’s tenure.

Those interested in seeking appointment should write a letter of interest that will include:

  • The reasons for seeking the appointment,
  • Expertise, skills and perspectives they will bring to the committee, and
  • Identify the most pressing issues facing the committee, both through the April election and beyond.

Letters should be sent to:

Cathy Grant

Belmont Public Schools

644 Pleasant St.

Belmont, MA 02478

or via email at:

Rising Enrollment, Structural Faults Puts Schools Half-a-Million in Red

It isn’t “the happiest news” the Belmont School Department wanted to give anytime, especially less than two months into the school year, said Laurie Slap, chair of the Belmont School Committee.

If expenditures and trends continue on their current trajectories, the fiscal year 2015 school budget will end the year approximately $500,000 in the red, according to the school’s Director of Finance and Administration Anthony DiCologero.

The forecast, present to the Belmont School Committee at its Tuesday night meeting on Oct. 28, “is not a deficit in any item,” said DiCologero. 

While there isn’t one specific cause, there is an overriding theme to the shortfall facing Belmont’s public schools: the well-noted increase of students entering the system. 

Kevin Cunningham, at his final committee meeting as he will be replaced by the next meeting on Nov. 18, said the expense spike is “enrollment driven” – with the surge of students has come the need for more services “that is driving costs.”

Due to the rapid rise in total enrollment in all grade levels, a jump in children who are English Language Learners and an increase in students requiring special education instruction has placed the budget under pressure as salaries are nearly $225,000 above the $31.4 million budgeted for the fiscal year, noted DiCologero. 

The deficit comes from adding instructors to address enrollment and ELL needs as well increasing the number of special education aides, tutors and occupational therapists.

The remaining $360,000 of the total deficit is the result of an increase in special education expenses such as $125,000 for tuition for six additional out-of-district students (Belmont pupils who are determined will be educated outside the public schools) and $60,000 in added transportation costs.

John Phelan, Belmont’s first-year school superintendent, said he has spoken to administrators, principals and staff on the need “slow down” expenditures such as bringing new technology into the schools and to “prioritize spending.”

But, said Phelan, the “big picture” is “what we need to do differently next year” to prevent repeating the same steps in fiscal 2016.

“These are structural issues,” said Cunningham. And while “this year we’ll strategically shrink it” the deficits will only continue unless expenses are placed in a more long-term context.”

Town, Schools Set Nov. 12 Application Deadline for School Committee Vacancy

Interested residents will have just about a month to submit applications for a place on the Belmont School Committee.

But the person selected by the Selectmen and the School Committee will have to keep their running shoes on because they’ll need to win their seat all over again five months later.

In a joint letter released today, Friday, Oct. 17, the chairs of the Belmont School Committee and Board of Selectmen announced the deadline for applications to fill the vacancy left when Kevin Cunningham resigned earlier this month will be Wednesday, Nov. 12 at 4 p.m.

The School Committee’s Laurie Slap and Andy Rojas of the Selectmen said the two boards will meet five days later, on Monday, Nov. 17, in a joint committee to hear from and interview candidates before voting to appoint a new member to fill the vacancy left when Kevin Cunningham resigned earlier this month.

The selected appointee will be sworn in by the Town Clerk Ellen Cushman before the School Committee’s meeting on Nov. 18.

Under state law, the appointee’s term only lasts until the next Town Election; in Belmont that occurs in April, 2015. The person elected for that committee seat will serve a two year term, which is the remainder of Cunningham’s tenure.

Those interested in seeking appointment should write a letter of interest that will include:

  • The reasons for seeking the appointment,
  • Expertise, skills and perspectives they will bring to the committee, and
  • Identify the most pressing issues facing the committee, both through the April election and beyond.

Letters should be sent to:

Cathy Grant

Belmont Public Schools

644 Pleasant St.

Belmont, MA 02478

or via email at:

Mahon Eyes School Committee Run? It’s On Facebook

After returning from a triumphal business tour of Portugal, Anne Mahon has told her nearly 1,350 internet friends she is ready to possibly run for Belmont School Committee.

The well-known Precinct 4 Town Meeting member, Democrat activist and successful real estate broker wrote on her Facebook account Sunday, Oct. 13 that she is interested in vying for one of the three seats – two will be full, three-year terms and the other two years due to the resignation of current member Kevin Cunningham – being contested in the April 2015 Town Election.

“I know I’m REALLY busy with real estate, but I’m thinking about running for School Committee in Belmont,” wrote Mahon who in the past fortnight was a featured speaker and presenter at a Century 21 convention for real estate sales people in Portugal. 

“Everybody knows I love and support the Belmont public schools and I think it could really use a cheerleader at those Warrant Committee meetings. Would you turkeys be willing to help me get elected? because I don’t have much time for the door to door campaigning,” said Mahon. 

This would be Mah0n’s second attempt at town-wide office; in 2010, she finished third for a seat on the Board of Selectmen, finishing behind winner Mark Paolillo and then incumbent Daniel LeClerc.

As of 5 a.m., Monday, Oct. 14, Mahon received 14 “likes” to her post.

Breaking News: Cunningham Resigns From School Committee

Belmont School Committee member Kevin Cunningham, known for his loquacious manner and attention to detail, is resigning from the committee effective when a replacement is found or by Nov. 15.

In a letter [see Cunningham’s statement below] to Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman, Cunningham said while he had hoped to complete his three-year term ending in April 2017, “I find that financial and family issues, long held in abeyance in favor of contributing to the schools, must now take priority.”

Cunningham and his wife, Lisa Gibalerio, are parents of three children in the Belmont schools.

Cunningham won re-election to the committee in April’s Town Election, receiving 3,501 votes as he and fellow incumbent Laurie Graham ran unopposed for the two open seats.

Cunningham won his seat when he topped the field of three with 2,101 votes as he and Graham beat out School Committee chair Ann Rittenburg for places on the committee. The year before, he finished a distant third with two seats available.

During his tenure on the committee, Cunningham directed most of his energy on budget and financial matters, work he won praise from colleagues and town officials for bringing an analytical, forward thinking approach to the school budget, using realistic, unemotional assumptions on revenue and spending.

He is also one of the architects of “One Town, One Budget,” a process Selectman Andy Rojas described at this year’s Town Meeting as creating a realistic budget “we all could support” through a collaborative effort between the school district and town government.

“I appreciate the movement of the School Department, and the Town generally, toward long-term financial planning, and I am so glad that all of us representing the public have worked together with respect and without rancor on the core issues of the district and town,” wrote Cunningham in his letter.

Cunningham also brought a natural inquisitive nature to the committee, which, at times, resulted in sometimes verbose “stream of consciousness” questioning that could approach Proustian lengths.

Yet each one of his questions brought to the fore important details to relative issues, from broad budgetary concepts to querying the need to send school trips overseas “when there’s just as much to see in Chicago.”

Cunningham’s replacement – to be selected by a joint committee of the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee – will fill the seat only until the Town Election in April 2015. Then the appointed replace, and any other registered voter can seek to fill the two-years remaining in Cunningham’s term.

With Cunningham’s resignation, three of the six seats on the committee will be open with incumbents Anne Lougee and Lisa Fiore expected to run.

Kevin Cunningham’s letter to Town Clerk Ellen Cushman dated Oct. 6. 

Dear Ellen:

I am writing today to formally resign from the elected position of School Committee Member, effective either when another qualified candidate is appointed jointly by the School Committee and Board of Selectmen, or by November 15, whichever comes first.

I am deeply grateful to my fellow citizens for having afforded me the opportunity to contribute to the Town of Belmont and our outstanding school system in this capacity for over three and a half years. It has been a privilege to work alongside so many people who are so skilled at – and devoted to – promoting excellent outcomes for all the students in town. I appreciate the movement of the School Department, and the Town generally, toward long-term financial planning, and I am so glad that all of us representing the public have worked together with respect and without rancor on the core issues of the district and town. I have been especially fortunate to serve along so many skilled School Committee members, current and past, and such highly qualified professionals throughout the school system.

I would truly prefer to continue to serve our town in my current capacity as School Committee member – I feel I still have much to offer, and serving feeds my soul. But I find that financial and family issues, long held in abeyance in favor of contributing to the schools, must now take priority.

And so I withdraw myself from my elected role. To the extent that I can still help the schools in a more limited way, I have informed the Chair of my availability.


Kevin Cunningham

Lougee, Fiore Set to Run for Re-election to Belmont School Committee

Incumbents Anne Lougee and Lisa Fiore indicated that they are preparing to defend their seats on the Belmont School Committee at Town Election in April 2015.

“I don’t see why not,” Lougee told the Belmontonian after the Belmont School Committee meeting last night, Tuesday, Sept. 23. Fiore also said she expects to run to return to the six-member board.

Both Lougee and Fiore will be seeking full three-year terms to the board.

Lougee, a Warwick Road resident whose daughter is a Belmont High School graduate, was appointed to the Committee in October 2011 to fill the reminder of the term formerly held by Karen Parmett who resigned. She won a full term in the Town Election in April 2012.

Like Lougee, Fiore – a Lesley University faculty dean with children in district schools – was appointed to the committee, in September 2013, to serve the term of Pascha Griffiths who also resigned. In the 2014 Town Election, Fiore was elected to fill the one year remaining on Griffiths’ term.

Helping Repair A Place in Belmont History

Nineteen-year-old Army Private James Paul White – known by his friends as “Whitey” – had seen his share of war in just the month he spent on the front lines in 1944.

White – a member of Co. G, 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, “The Big Red One,” – had fought as part of the US Army’s advance into the Huertgen Forest, “a miserable and treacherous affair” that lasted until the first week of December, recalled White’s unit commander, 1st Lt. August T. ‘Mac’ McColgan, in 2004.

It must have been a hard time for the replacement to a battle-hardened company

“All of the battles in the past were just rehearsals for what was yet to come” on Dec. 16, said McColgan, when some 24 German divisions, 10 of them armored, launched a massive counterattack in the Ardennes region of Belgium that began what was to be called the Battle of the Bulge. The 26th, known as the “Blue Spaders,” would fight on the northern edge of the enemy’s advance, near the small Belgium hamlet of Don Bütgenbach.

“The Battalion Commander finished his attack order with the statement, ‘Gentlemen we fight and die here.’ Many did die there, friend and foe alike,” wrote McColgan in 2000.

We established our defensive position astride the Bütgenbach/Büllingen Road. We, G Co., 26th Infantry established the “Hot Corner,” said McColgan in his war memoir, “The Battle of the Bulge – Part III – Hell at Bütgenbach.”

On Dec. 20, White – who was a veteran member of the outstanding 1942 baseball team of Belmont High School where he graduated in 1943 – would face with his fellow soldiers the might of the German Wehrmacht. Enemy tanks launched an attack on their position on “a dark, damp and foreboding morning,” many which succeeding in penetrating parts of the US line. Only through close-range combat was the attack propelled back.

Following a night and early morning which White and his comrades were subjected to an artillery barrage that was “by far the worse the defenders of Dom Bütgenbach had experience in the whole war,” a final all-out push with an ever greater armored force began at dawn on a foggy Thursday, Dec. 21.

Once again, the 26th successfully beat back the enemy’s attack in which infantry drove back the Germans. For his actions during that battle, the 26th’s Cpl. Henry Warner would be awarded the Medal of Honor posthumous.  

And in the snow and bitter cold of a field in Belgium on the day before winter, White laid dead, one of 19,000 Americans killed in the 10-day battle.

In May 1948, a year after White’s body was sent from Europe for burial in the US, Belmont honored White by naming the athletic field house on Concord Avenue for him.

A bronze plaque reads that White was “[a]n athlete trained on the Belmont playgrounds” who was “representative of the youth of Belmont who served their country in World War II.”

“Freedom lives and through it he lives.”

The memorial, which hangs just inside the front door of the 82-year-old structure, is more than simply an aging tablet to the long dead. It became one of the reasons inspiring Woodfall Road resident Frederick Jones to move towards “refurbishing” the interior of Belmont High School’s athletic facility used by numerous teams which play on Harris Field or the Viglirolo Skating Rink during the school year.

“The plaque is quite moving,” Jones told the Belmontonian before attending the Belmont School Committee’s meeting on Tuesday, June 24. “It’s well worth reading by every resident.”

Jones said the structure is a state-recognized historic building – that is owned by the School District – that “we all drive by every day on Concord Avenue which also has an interesting architectural history.”

“But it’s also a historic memorial for a town figure. It makes you feel that there should be something better to continue this memorial to this hero and to all veterans,” said Jones, whose son plays football and was a finalist in the 200 meter dash in the All-State meet earlier this month.

Yet for anyone who has entered the field house can observe, the interior – which has four locker rooms – hasn’t changed much since the day it was renamed more than 65 years ago. The lockers are circa 1940s, “old, battered and far too small and narrow for modern equipment,” said Jones, forcing hockey and football players to leave large bags and personal items on the floor or on top of the lockers. The paint is old, the emergency lights don’t work and the communal showers harken back to the YMCAs of a bygone age.

“It is quite remarkable the conditions inside the field house,” Jones lamented.

“We know how hard the athletes work … and it seems right to give them a better facility,” said Jones.

Yet years of delayed maintenance has taken its toll on the structure as capital spending is limited and greater priorities for the Capital Budget Committee arise on an annual basis.

Knowing the challenges facing any facility needing long-term funding in Belmont, “our idea was to step in and do some simple things that will refresh it,” said Jones.

The result of many brainstorming sessions by Jones and a core committee he set up resulted in raising nearly $40,000 in outside pledges of the $50,000 they are seeking to raise along with contacting contractors who can do the job.

The project is divided into several “discrete modules” that were ranked in order of importance with the lockers being the most pressing need. Next will be replacing the electrical system and updating the lighting fixtures and emergency lighting system, performing a top-to-bottom cleaning, repaint the inside and then place partitions in the showers for privacy.

And work is currently underway inside the field house with material begin stacked up in the ground floor entry way.

Jones and his group will be working with the town’s Facilities Manager, Gerry Boyle, and the school’s Athletic Director James Davis as well as the Brendan Grant Foundation which will allow anyone donating to the effort to receive a tax deduction for their contribution.

“The support we have receive has been very encouraging and has helped our fundraising,” said Jones.

Yet what this one group of parents and supporters has done is expose the inability of the town to sufficiently fund what is required from either the school or capital budgets, said the School Committee’s Kevin Cunningham.

“I’m not sure what the moral of that is except that an additional amount of effort is not coming from the core fund but from volunteers and donations,” said Cunningham.


Belmont Schools, Teachers Union Sign Three-Year Deal

Limitations to Belmont’s financial future and job security trumped demands for big pay increases as the Belmont School Committee and Andy Rojas, chair of the Belmont Board of Selectmen, approved three-year labor agreements with the four bargaining units represented by the Belmont Education Association on Tuesday, June 24.

“There’s been a relationship of honest communication and trust established that we can build upon,” BEA President John Sullivan told the Belmontonian after the committee’s regularly scheduled meeting held at the Chenery Middle School.

“We hope that the process producing these agreements has helped deepen relationships based on trust and mutual understanding that will support teaching and learning through the life of these contracts,” said a press release dated Wednesday, June 25 that was signed by Belmont School Committee chair Laurie Slap and Sullivan.

After a year-long negotiation, the union and the committee reached the tentative agreements on Thursday, June 12 with the BEA units approving the four respective agreements on Wednesday, June 18.

The four units comprise teachers (Unit A), directors and assistant principals (Unit B), clerical employees (Unit C) and paraprofessionals (Unit D).

On the salary front for teachers – that makes up the largest BEA unit with approximately 300 members – most of the increases over the next three years will be going to the most senior of the teachers. Those with 14 or more years of service, known as “top spots,” will receive the bulk of increase:

  • Year one, only the “top” educators will receive a 1 percent increase,
  • Year two a 2 percent increase for the top educators while those with 13 years or less will receive a 1 percent increase, and
  • Year three, top step educators will get a 2.5 percent with the less-senior educators receiving 1 percent again.

Yet those increases have been tampered down by the effective dates of the jump in salaries; increases in the first year will not begin showing up in pay packages until the 113th day of the year, with similar delays in the subsequent years; 109 days in year two and 121 days in year three.

“So the one percent increase in the first year is really about 80 cents to the dollar,” said Sullivan, a teacher at Belmont High School who led the union’s 10-member negotiating team.

“We believe the compensation picture has stayed within the projected available revenue that will be coming to the school department over the next three fiscal years,” said Belmont District Superintendent Dr. Thomas Kingston who participated in his final committee meeting before department from his three year “interim” position on June 30.

While the contract’s pay compensation increase is sparse for most teachers – two percent over two years – the membership approved the union’s package overwhelmingly, said Sullivan.

“We had a lot of questions on salaries in our meeting last week,” said Sullivan, having met with his membership for an hour before the votes was taken last week.

Modest increase in salary

“There was faith in the team and trusted the work that we had done with the school committee. … [the] compensation package allows Belmont to say competitive in retain and attract highly-qualified teachers,” said Sullivan.

In a recent Boston Business Journal report, Belmont teachers ranked 30th in state according to salary information from 2011 with an average teacher’s salary of just lower than $80,000.

“We remain on that upper level of compensation with other towns so we are competitive,” said Sullivan.

The relatively modest pay increases for Belmont teachers in this contract is based on the acceptance by both sides that the town is unlikely to see any appreciable increase in available revenue for the foreseeable future.

The realization Belmont relies heavily on residential property taxes – whose increases are limited to 2 1/2 percent annually – while lacking the capacity to generate tax revenue from new growth such as commercial real estate or fees restricted what the union could ask for and the town to give.

“The agreements provide for compensation in line with projected annual School Department revenues for fiscal years 2015, 2016, and 2017,” said the School Committee press release.

Both the committee and Sullivan said the most important issue facing the sides was that the district “remains committed to attract and retain a highly qualified staff that meets the needs of our students,” according the committee’s press release.

The other major agreement achieved in the contract is job protection for paraprofessional such as teacher’s aides. The new contract states that at the end of the 2015-16 school year, no [paraprofessional] who has successfully completed five years of service can only be dismissed with “good cause.” In addition, a new evaluation system will be jointly negotiated during the upcoming school year.

“We have a highly-dedicated group of professional aides that does a great job supporting students. It’s a sign of respect and [they] feel better with their position within the district,” said Sullivan.

In addition to the job protections for the aides, the agreements also provides the standardization of clerical personnel job classifications and pay-for-performance benefits to directors and assistant principals, said the press release.

The agreement continues the “step and lane” salary schedule in which teachers receive pay for years of service and education level they achieve.

Kingston said while he continues to believe “step and lane” compensation is “unsustainable,” he said this contracts mitigates the formula by acknowledging the limits on revenue growth.

Both sides agreed that employing in part the principles of interest-based bargaining – in which both sides expressed their underlying interests for each request – greatly assisted the negotiation process.

The committee and the town will also be created a Joint Labor-Management Committee to “continue addressing district-wide issues of mutual concern,” said the press release.

“It’s building on the relationships we’ve established so we won’t have as many items in three years with the next contract,” said Sullivan.

“We don’t want to put everything on hold for three years,” said Slap.

The specific details of the agreements are available on the Belmont School Department’s website under the School Committee tab in the next few days.

School Committee, Teachers Set to Sign Three-Year Contract Tuesday

After nearly a year of weekly negotiations and late-night meetings, the Belmont School Committee and the Belmont Education Association, the agent for Belmont’s classroom instructors, will sign a new three-year memoranda of agreement at the committee’s regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, June 24.

The contact will be signed by BEA President John Sullivan. The BEA represents the district’s school teachers, assistant principals, coordinators, teacher aides/instructional support staff and campus monitors.

Sources contacted by the Belmontonian would not go into detail on the specifics in the contract including the percentage salary increase or whether the two sides have agreed to continue the “steps and lanes” salary schedule. Steps refer to how many years a teacher has been teaching, and lanes refer to how much education the teacher has.

Under the current three-year contract, set to expire on Aug. 31, first year teacher with a bachelor’s degree received $46,546 in fiscal year 2014 while a first year educator with a PhD would earn $55,788. At the top end, a PhD with 15 years of work experience makes just under $100,000.

Belmont School Superintendent Dr. Thomas Kingston – who is leaving his position on June 30 – has been publicly critical of the steps and lanes schedules as pay increases are automatically given to educators without consideration for performance. Other critics contend an across-the-board pay increase would be a fair substitute of the current structure.

Supporters of the current pay schedule say that it provides transparency as they are based on easily quantifiable measures ensuring equitable salaries without biases towards teachers and allows those educators to plan for the future by giving them a reasonable assurance of their yearly income.

Honoring Six Who Served In Belmont’s Schools

They taught, administered, kept the snow off outside stairs and brought the always interesting Belmont School Committee meetings to the public.

For six members of the greater Belmont Schools family, their long service for or to the district were honored by the Belmont School Committee on Tuesday, June 10 at the annual ceremony saluting their careers at their retirement with salutations and cake.

(from left) Paul Carey, Meg Hamilton, Gwen Irish and Robert McCorkle at the Belmont School Committee's annual reception for educators, staff and the public retiring from working for the public schools.

(from left) Paul Carey, Meg Hamilton, Gwen Irish and Robert McCorkle at the Belmont School Committee’s annual reception for educators, staff and the public retiring from working for the public schools.

The first person honored was a non-educator who brought the schools and the committee to the greater community. Paul Carey, who was the government and community producer at the Belmont Media Center, was faithfully behind the camera at nearly every School Committee meeting. Carey, who had a long career in media and advertising before becoming a producer, will be best known for his booming voice requesting both committee members and the public “to speak clearly into the microphone.”

Steven Chung Hau Wongassistant custodian at the Burbank Elementary for 12 years, will best be remembered for clearing snow from the back stairs leading to Gale Road. He was noticeably pleased when the stair were condemned a few years ago. 

A teacher in Belmont since 1981, Robert McCorkle, whose last position in the district was teaching third graders at the Winn Brook, brought poetry into the classroom and made it a regular ritual while being the school’s grammarian, a math whiz and history buff. He will end this years as in the past, leading a play in which “children behave as children; singing, giggling and assuming the identity of folk tale characters and occasionally forgetting a line … as Bob sings along.”

Gwen Irish has held just one position in her 42 years serving the Belmont School District: second-grade teacher at Wellington Elementary. There is no one who has as much tacit history about the schools or the town as Irish. Her knowledge in teaching and how to teach has been an ongoing asset to the children she taught and to the countless colleagues she has helped over the years. “She has always been willing to go the extra mile … and after 42 years that still rings true.”

Carol Cormier had two swings of the bat with the district, first as an office manager, then, after raising her family, coming back in 1994 first as a financial clerk where she processed the weekly accounts payable warrant entering $15 million of invoices over the year. She also lead the way in installing and using new financial software systems. 

Preschool Coordinator Marguerite “Meg” Hamilton began her service in the district in 1989 working part-time before becoming a preschool teacher for a decade. She then became a inclusion specialist, helping to create and implement the elementary autism inclusion program. In 2006, Hamilton became the early childhood coordinator working tirelessly to instruct educators and the public on the issues facing students.

“Most of all, Peg has represented what is truly best about special education; efforts to intervene early, efforts to include all children into the educational process regardless of challenges … and consummate dedication and professionalism working not only with some of our most vulnerable students but also their families.”