School Committee: New Members Forecast Roles on Board

Photo: Murat Bicer being sworn in by Town Clerk Ellen Cushman.
The April 5 Town Election resulted in the selection of two new members of Belmont School Committee, Murat Bicer and Andrea Prestwich, who won three-year seats on the body that will decide the direction of the school district facing increasing enrollment pressure, the construction of a new high school, keeping the schools at a top level academically and facing future financial pressures.
The Belmontonian asked the pair questions on what they learned during their campaigns and the their future on the board.
[Some answers were shortened for length]
Belmontonian: What did you learn about Belmont and the residents perception of the schools during your campaign that may not have been on your radar?
Bicer: I was delighted by how engaged the residents were, even people who don’t currently have students in the system. About 25 people attended my campaign event; several sent me questions through my website, and one even sent me a letter in the mail. All totaled, I fielded dozens of thoughtful, difficult, and important questions.  As a first-time candidate for office, I didn’t know what to expect for direct engagement, and I learned that Belmont is a very politically active community.
Prestwich: I heard a lot about kids being stressed at school.  I was expecting this somewhat from the parents of high school kids but not so much from middle school or even elementary school parents. The main concerns were a lack of down time during the day and homework.
Belmontonian: What was the overriding concern of Belmont parents relating to the schools? What was your answer to those issues?
Bicer: The overriding concern kept boiling down to the same: How are we going to afford it all?  As many of our largest challenges are budgetary, it’s not a surprise that buried in peoples’ specific questions about class sizes, the shape of the new high school, and access to electives was a concern for monetary resources. So in answering resource questions about the schools, I emphasized that I’ll look over the budget, question assumptions, and work my hardest to stretch our dollars as far as they’ll go while thoughtfully reviewing options for additional revenues.

Andrea Prestwich.

Prestwich: Quality of the schools was the number one issue. People are worried about the impact of the enrollment, especially those with younger kids. I was also very pleased by the depth of support for starting school later. I share these concerns, and I will work very hard to maintain funding and transition to later start times.
Belmontonian: What subcommittee do you think you can contribute the most? Why?
Bicer: I hope to join the finance subcommittee. First, I’ve worked in finance for a decade and feel that this is a valuable experience that can add to the pool of talents already on the School Committee.  Second, Laurie Slap formerly chaired the finance subcommittee, and with her departure, I feel it’s important that the subcommittee is brought back up in number.
Prestwich: Probably the policy subcommittee, because I have the most experience in this area.
Belmontonian: What do you expect from yourself in the first six months on the “job”?
Bicer: In the first six months, I plan to review the budget in the context of enrollment challenges and come up to speed on discussions my colleagues have started about solutions. I’d also like to continue meeting and hearing from the community, and getting a sense of how to represent parents and non-parents in our decision-making processes.

Prestwich: A lot of learning! And I’d like to make significant progress to starting schools later.

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Unfinished Business: Caucus Set In Precinct 7 To Fill Still Empty Town Meeting Seats

Photo: Caucus to be held to fill remaining Town Meeting seats.

There is some unfinished business to complete in Precinct 7 as voting in the Town Election failed to select a pair of one-year Town Meeting seats in the district located in the southeastern section of Belmont which will result in a caucus being called to fill them, according to Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman.

First the good news. Despite only nine residents electing to run for 12 three-year slots to represent the neighborhood at Town Meeting, three residents received write-in votes that secured their places in the town’s legislative body.

They are: 

Kathleen Lowrey Bonnin, Sarah Jackson and Paul Nelson who received 26,25 and 22 votes. 

But only one of the three single-year seats was filled as write-in candidate Claire Crawford received four votes to win. (Crawford was not the Town Meeting member with the least number of votes to be elected; Elaine Alligood was elected to a one-year term in Precinct 5 with just three write-in votes cast.)

Since the two seats are known as “failure to elect,” a caucus for Town Meeting Members will be held on Tuesday, April 26 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall, Room 2.

Any voter of precinct 7 is eligible to run.

Letter To The Editor: Ruban Thanks ‘All Who Supported Me’


To the editor:

Thank you to everyone I had the pleasure of meeting along the campaign trail, and a special thank you to those who supported, voted and volunteered for me. I knew that Belmont was full of intelligent, talented, educated, dedicated people, but you surpassed my expectations. We could not have come as far as we did in such a short amount of time without that.

I embarked on this journey because I wanted to begin a dialogue about how Belmont government does business.  I am proud to say we have had that conversation, in particular, about building the new high school and Community Path; creating greater transparency for citizens to participate in town government; implementing rezoning and other vision plan recommendations, and streamlining business processes. I know that talking about these projects and bringing them to fruition are two very different things and understand Mark has a challenging job ahead of him. I want you to know that I support him in these endeavors on behalf of the town as he begins his next term as our selectman.

Thank you again to all who supported me. It was a tremendous honor to have your faith. I hope that now you will join me in helping our town government work to achieve the best Belmont for all of us.

Alexandra Ruban

Letter to the Editor: Tomi Thanks Voters, Residents’ Interests ‘Paramount’

To the editor:

I wish to thank all of my supporters for their support during my campaign for Housing Authority.  Your conviction evidenced by your hosting a sign, delivering and mailing cards, speaking to friends, getting friends out to vote,  and voting for me,  all added up to a victory.

I promise to represent our collective interests in housing and sheltering those less fortunate.  Our residents’ interests and our community’s interest will always be paramount in my decision-making.

I thank you for your confidence in me and I look forward to representing you and our community.

Tommasina (Tomi) Olson

Member Housing Authority

Town Election 2016: Paolillo Retains Selectmen Seat; Prestwich, Bicer on Schools, 18-Year-Old Tops Town Meeting Ballot

Photo: Supporters of top vote collector Dan Vernick on Election Day in Belmont.

Mark Paolillo will be returning for a third (and final) three-year term on the Belmont Board of Selectmen as he easily beat back a spirited campaign from political novice Alexandra Ruban in the 2016 Belmont Town Election held on Tuesday, April 5.

Paolillo received 2,432 votes to Ruban’s 1,360, from voters in the eight precincts in town to secure the victory on a day when 3,907 voters, 22.6 percent of all registered voters, took the time to make it to the polls. Paolillo won all but one precinct – falling behind Ruban by five votes, 165-160 in seven – while more than making up that difference by winning overwhelmingly in his home district, in Precinct 8, by more than 250 votes (438-185).

Obtain the unofficial results at the Town Clerk’s Web page here. 

In the contested school committee race, first-timers Murat Bicer and Andrea Prestwich secured three-year terms finishing first and second with 1,959 and 1,931 votes. They outlasted Kimberly O’Mahony, who come in with 1,662 votes in a tight race for the seats vacated by long-time members Laurie Slap and current school committee member Elyse Shuster, who returns for a single year position, finishing the term of Laurie Graham. While Prestwich won half of the precincts, Bicer (who won three with O’Mahony winning her home precinct, the 4th, overwhelmingly) was always just a few votes from her total, losing three precincts (2, 3 and 5) by a total of 16 votes. 

For the race to fill the three-year-term on the Housing Authority, well-known Belmontian Tomi Olson defeated Paul Rickter by more than 150 votes out of 3,200 cast, 1,680 to 1,523. 

Over on the Town Meeting side of the ballot, the top story is 18-year-old Daniel Vernick (Belmont High ’15) who not only topped the vote in Precinct 1 with 339 cast; he received the most votes of any Town Meeting candidate running. Vernick, Yale ’19, ran an impressive campaign using social media, local contacts and going door-to-door to win his seat in the town’s legislative branch, saying he would bring “my [BHS] classmates’ perspective both internally within the school administration and externally through the town.” No one should be surprised by Vernick’s enthusiastic campaign, having started his activism as a 7th-grade middle school student calling for the passage of a Prop. 2 1/2 override in 2010. 

Five incumbents did not retain their seats including a pair in both precincts 1 and 6, while new members will be taking their place in the 290 member body including Kristen Zecchi in 1, Michael Chesson in Precinct 4, Elizabeth Lipson (with an impressive fifth place) and Katherine Gardner Poulin-Kerstien, and Gi Hyun Yoon-Huang in 8. 

And over in the “couples district,” Precinct 4 is sending three sets of married couples, the Flewellings (Sheila topped her husband, David, 205-192), long-time town meeting member Kevin Cunningham just got by his wife, newly-elected Lisa Gibalerio, by one-vote and Sandra Occhino was 14 votes ahead of her husband, John.

And finally, Warren Committee Chair Michael Libenson is back in Town Meeting representing his home Precinct 1 after being voted off the body a few years back, essentially for not responding to the questioner from the Belmont League of Women Voters guide. And School Committee member Susan Burgess-Cox successfully changed precincts now representing Precinct 2 for the next two years.

Letter to the Editor: Vote for Burgess-Cox for Precinct 2 Town Meeting

Photo: Vote on April 5. 

To the editor:

Belmont voters should head to the polls on April 5. Those in Precinct 2 should vote for me, Susan Burgess-Cox, for Town Meeting Member.   

I grew up on Lawrence Lane and moved to Radcliffe Road earlier this year after living on Hull Street and serving as a Town Meeting member in Precinct 4. I am currently a member of the School Committee and the Capital Budget Committee. My five-year-old twins, Maggie and Matthew, are in Kindergarten at the Butler School and will be enrolling at Winn Brook in the fall.    

Over the years, I have served Belmont as a member of the Disability Access Commission, the Senior Center Building Committee, Precinct 4 Town Meeting Member, the Wellington PTO and the Butler PTA. As a current School Committee and Capital Budget Committee member, I am working to address financial and policy issues related to increased enrollment in the schools and the capital needs of the town. Like many towns, Belmont faces challenges that require thoughtful planning. I would like to continue to address these challenges not only as a member of the School Committee but also as a Town Meeting member representing Precinct 2.

I would appreciate your vote on April 5.

Susan Burgess-Cox

Radcliffe Road

Letter to the Editor: Town Meeting Needs a Youth Perspective

Photo: Daniel Vernick

To the editor:

I’m running to bring new energy and a youth perspective to Town Meeting for Precinct 1. I’ve lived in Belmont for the past 18 years, attending Belmont Cooperative Nursery School and then the Belmont Public Schools from Kindergarten through 12th grade. I’ve been involved in the Belmont community and town government throughout middle and high school, from establishing Chenery Green Week and Multicultural Night in 8th grade Student Council to planning the MLK Breakfast and expanding high school representation on the Human Rights Commission as a Commission member.

I’ve often seen a disconnect between students and town leaders. The youngest of 294 Town Meeting Members is more than 30 years old; college and high school students have no representation on Town Meeting. That’s unacceptable. Leading the high school override effort made me realize that many in town just don’t understand where we’re coming from. There are so many issues that young people are uniquely impacted by and have an important perspective on, from social justice to a new high school to the latest technology and its integration into education. As an 18-year-old BHS graduate, I’ll make sure that the voices of Belmont’s youth are heard, and that students’ ideas are integrated into town policy.

I’ve seen firsthand the problems facing our schools and the need to maintain the highest quality education. I first became involved in activism with the 2010 override in 7th grade. Last year I again organized my classmates for an override, connecting energy at Belmont High School with activism in the community. As Belmont High School Vice President, my work included successfully advocating for library renovations and new study areas, evaluating candidates for superintendent, and planning events such as Senior Service Day. I have experience representing my classmates’ perspective both internally within the school administration and externally through the town. I’ll have unique insight on the new high school, working to connect students’ ideas with the broader Belmont community.

I envision a bold Belmont at the forefront of progressive change. A few priorities:

  • Schools. Build on the progress of the override. Our schools remain underfunded and often improperly managed. Belmont schools have done an enormous amount for me, and I’ll do everything in my power to preserve and improve them for future generations.
  • Environment. Belmont should be a leader in sustainability and clean energy. I’ll work to preserve conservation land, advocate for solar net metering, improve public transportation, and support the Community Path and other new recreation areas. I’ll also push for Belmont to follow the lead of cities from Cambridge to Framingham in divesting from fossil fuel corporations.
  • Teachers. The teachers I’ve had in Belmont are some of the most incredible people I know, and I’m certain I would not be here without their tireless work. Belmont must ensure that every teacher is treated with fairness and justice. I’ll voice the concerns of teachers and elevate their influence in the school administration. 
  • Innovation. Make Belmont business-friendly, and attract businesses to build the tax base. Improve town infrastructure and technological capabilities; Belmont’s restrictions on social media make its Web presence lacking and archaic. Resist town regulation of Airbnb and other new technologies.
  • Equality. Belmont doesn’t have an equal rights bylaw that officially states racial and LGBT equality. I’ll advocate for a comprehensive bylaw that includes equal transgender accommodations. We must do more to combat prejudice and create an inclusive community.
  • Responsive government. Stand up for greater transparency and hold town leaders accountable.

I was inspired to run by beloved 15-year Belmont teacher John Sullivan, who was unjustly fired last June. I organized students to resist the termination; we organized more than 50 students to attend a School Committee meeting in protest and wrote a petition that obtained 650 signatures. Sullivan was a mentor, a leader, and the definition of a 21st-century educator. His philosophy of learning is exactly what Belmont needs more of. I’ll never forget Sullivan, and I’ll never stop fighting for the respect and dignity that my teachers deserve.

Town Meeting should make Belmont a leader. We must stand out not just in education but in everything from infrastructure to sustainability. My goal is to expand youth involvement in town government and to get more students to run for town office in the future.

I’ll bring a fresh voice and new ideas to Town Meeting. With 17 candidates running for 12 seats, this will be a tight race and every vote will make a difference! Feel free to reach out to 781-697-9732 or if you have any questions or can help out with my campaign. Join me in the fight to empower young people and to make Belmont a leader. It would be an honor to have your vote this Tuesday, April 5th.

Daniel Vernick

Fairmont Street

Letter to the Editor: Join Me Voting For Kim O’Mahony on Tuesday

Photo: Kim

To the editor:

On Tuesday, April 5, I will be voting for Kim O’Mahony, a 12-year Belmont resident, for School Committee. Here’s why.

  • First, Kim has a business background and is well equipped to deal with the budget, to oversee the upcoming contract negotiations, and to understand the constraints of managing expenses in a Prop. 2 ½ climate.
  • Second, Kim has professional experience in early childhood education. In fact, she runs a child care center.  She clearly understands the diverse needs of Belmont’s children.
  • Lastly, Kim is an energetic, committed, and approachable member of the community. She will deal with the matters at hand in a civil, balanced, and heartfelt way.

When I think of the ideal candidate to serve on the School Committee, I think of Kim. A business background, an expertise in education, and a long-standing member of this community.

Please consider joining me in casting a vote for Kim! Thank you.

Lisa Gibalerio

Chandler Street

Candidate’s Final Pitch: Andrea Prestwich for School Committee

Photo: Andrea Prestwich

Belmont schools are world-class. I’m in awe of our teachers, the achievements of our students and families who support them. I hope to serve on the School Committee because I’m committed to maintaining excellence in our schools. Belmont schools face tough challenges over the next few years, including a space crunch, increasing enrollment and a new high school. The school committee needs to make smart decisions and look for creative solutions to these problems. Most importantly, the school committee should be unanimous in maintaining funding and take a leadership role in advocating for a new high school. 

Another important issue is school start times. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control both recommend that middle and high schools should start later to allow kids to get the sleep they need. Recently, superintendents in the Middlesex Athletics League, including Belmont, signed an agreement to transition to later start times. I totally support the superintendent’s initiative and, If elected, I will work very hard to make later start times a reality. 

My day time job is in astrophysics. I am a member of the team that manages the Chandra X-ray Observatory. I have learned how large organizations work, how to negotiate, how to work with diverse people with different perspectives. I understand how to work through the ramifications of policy decisions while keeping focused on critical goals. I have overall responsibility for a $10 million dollar budget. I believe that my policy and budgetary experience will be invaluable on the School Committee, which sets policy for Belmont schools and approves the school budget.

I would be honored to serve on the school committee and if elected will work hard for our schools and the health and well-being of our children. I respectfully ask for your vote on April 5. 

Letter to the Editor: Why Belmont Should Vote for Kim O’Mahony

To the editor:

Belmont voters should head to the polls on April 5, 2016 and remember to vote for Kim O’Mahony for School Committee. 

Kim is qualified to serve on the School Committee for several reasons. First, as a mother of three students, she has a deep understanding and commitment to the schools. Second, running her own early childhood education business provides a genuine understanding of budgeting and expenses associated with education. Finally, she has been attending school committee meetings and understands the role of the school committee in overseeing the budget, superintendent and establishing policies for the schools.

I first met Kim when she was one of several candidates for an appointment to the School Committee in the fall of 2014. Kim answered the questions posed by the School Committee and Selectmen well and understood the role of the school committee in town government at that time.  During this election season Kim continues to provide thoughtful answers that truly show her understanding of the functions and role of the school committee. 

While I will gladly serve with any of the three candidates, the one who I believe will thrive as a member is Kim O’Mahony.  I hope you all head to the polls and vote for Kim O’Mahony. 

Susan Burgess-Cox

Radcliffe Road