Why I’m Running: Paul Rickter for Housing Authority

Photo: Paul Rickter
My name is Paul Rickter and I’m running for Belmont Housing Authority. I’m a Town Meeting member and I live with my wife on Cross Street. Professionally I’m a programmer and I work for a software company called MEDITECH in Westwood.
There are three reasons why I’m running for Housing Authority.
One is my commitment to safe clean affordable housing. Affordable housing is an important part of the fabric of our community.
Two is my depth of experience serving on non-profit boards. I’ve served for 25 years on various boards, including 10 years on the national board of the Unitarian Universalist Association. I’ve chaired boards; I’ve chaired finance committees; I’ve chaired staff search committees. My board experience has taught me several lessons about leadership. One is that, especially on a small board like the Housing Authority, every member can and needs to take a leadership role.
Three is that I can forge creative solutions that make a difference in people’s lives. Writing software is about assessing problems, breaking down the issues into their component parts, and devising solutions for them. Low-income families trying to make ends meet are not ones and zeros, but the discipline of working through a problem and finding a creative solution is a skill that is definitely applicable to the Housing Authority. 
I am sure that my commitment, experience, and ability to forge creative solutions make me an ideal candidate for Belmont Housing Authority. I ask you for your support on April 5.

Letter to the Editor: Variety of Reasons to Support Prestwich for School Committee

Photo: Andrea Prestwich.

To the editor:

We are writing in support of Andrea Prestwich for a three-year term on the Belmont School Committee. Her professional background makes her eminently well qualified for that position; among other responsibilities, she oversees projects and manages a multimillion dollar budget for the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and she serves on the committee that advises the Director of the Space Telescope Science Institute on policies about the Hubble Space Telescope. In these roles, she has demonstrated an ability to work in a committee context to formulate policy and to think critically about the implications of that policy.

We have known Andrea, husband Steve, and their twins for more than six years through singing in our church choir and many happy hours in various activities at our church. We have thoroughly enjoyed workshops she has led on aspects of astrophysics, where we have experienced first-hand her excellent communication skills in making complex topics accessible.  

Having two children in our schools, she has always taken a keen interest in issues before the school committee; she is passionately committed to Belmont kids. We believe Andrea’s depth of experience and skill in working with others, as well as her excellent communication skills, warm personality and understanding of current educational issues would make her an invaluable member of the Belmont School Committee. We will be enthusiastically voting for Andrea on April 5 and urge you to do the same.

David Warner and Mary Beekman

Kilburn Road  

Why I’m Running: Murat Bicer for School Committee

Photo: Murat Bicer

Hello, I’m Murat Bicer and I’m running for School Committee. My family and I deeply value public school education and I’m grateful that my children will benefit from Belmont’s excellent schools.

Over the next term of office, the School Committee will be faced with a number of important challenges.

Primary among these challenges are:

  • The need to manage rapidly increasing enrollment
  • The opportunity to build a new high school and share the costs with the Commonwealth
  • Teacher contract negotiations

Some of these challenges are structural which means we need to find long-term, sustainable solutions, and not just short-term fixes. We need to stretch our override dollars as far as they will go and question all the assumptions in our budget.

As an experienced venture capitalist and a father of two, I believe I’m uniquely qualified to do just that. And that’s why I am running.

I have over a decade of professional experience in financial management, strategic planning, and contract negotiations. Specifically, I have served on the boards of over a dozen companies. I routinely review and approve financial and operational plans. I have negotiated numerous employment contracts, as well as investment deals. And finally, I’ve served as the Treasurer of my children’s preschool for the last five years.

It is this range of experience that I can bring to the School Committee to make a difference for the future of Belmont’s schools.

I appreciate your support and, if elected, look forward to working hard for Belmont.

Letter to the Editor: In His Work On Override, Paolillo Deserves Our Vote

Correction: In my letter, I mistakenly attributed statements from supporters who are campaigning for Ruban to “the Ruban campaign.” Ms. Ruban did not make these claims. 

To the editor:

I care deeply about the Belmont schools. I rely on our town services. I feel strongly that we need to fix our crumbling infrastructure; roads, sidewalks, buildings, playgrounds, etc. 

The 2015 successful override advanced all of these priorities and provided greater financial security for our town.

We owe that to Mark Paolillo.

For me, it is a clear choice:

  • Choose a selectman with 22 years of experience on the Board of Selectmen, Warrant Committee, and Town Meeting.
  • Or choose a selectman in Alexandra Ruban whose only Belmont experience is voting in one town election.

This institutional knowledge that Paolillo brings to the Board of Selectmen is irreplaceable. 

Let’s take the override as an example of Mark’s knowledge and leadership. Most people only saw the seven-week campaign. We celebrated and congratulated each other for making it happen.

But I know, it wouldn’t have happened without Mark’s multi-year preparation, advocacy, and leadership.

How did the override come to be?

  • Mark did his homework. He determined that a key reason for the failure of the 2010 override was that we didn’t adequately show the voters why we were asking for more money.
  • He laid the groundwork. He and the selectmen upgraded the town’s administrative and financial staff so we could properly do the analysis.
  • He made the case. He created and led the financial task force which exhaustively evaluated all avenues to address the town’s financial challenges. 
  • He got it on the ballot. Many obstacles could have prevented putting the override on the April ballot, but Mark made it happen.
  • He advocated for the override. Mark made presentation after presentation explaining why the town needed an infusion of new revenue.
  • And in the last seven weeks, we – the community as a whole – launched a vigorous campaign. I don’t underestimate the importance of the campaign. But I won’t overestimate it either.

Passing an override is hard work. No one wants to pay more taxes. Residents will not pass an override without believing that everything else has been tried. And that requires hard work, experience, knowledge and leadership.

Experience means you know how to get things done. You know who has the skills to solve complex problems. You know what has been tried in the past, why it worked, or why it failed. You are ready to act. In other words, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

It is not enough for our leaders to vote for our priorities. They need the experience to do the hard work that makes the vote possible.

I have only had one meeting with Ruban. I believe that she is smart and well-intentioned. But I also believe that she needs experience in Belmont town government before she is qualified to serve as a selectman.

I began my learning curve five years ago. After two years on the Warrant Committee, five years on Town Meeting, three years on the Underwood Pool Building Committee, and numerous other Belmont leadership roles (YES for Belmont, Joey’s Park, Winn Brook PTA, Belmont KidSpace), I am still on a learning curve. I do not believe it is possible to be the kind of selectman that Belmont deserves without prior experience.

Belmont has important challenges ahead: the high school project, continued enrollment growth, budgetary pressures, and quality of life projects that require Mark’s collaborative approach to complete. 

The future of Belmont’s children and seniors and everyone in between will be better served by retaining Mark Paolillo’s institutional knowledge, leadership and experience on the Board of Selectmen.

It is a clear choice.

Please join me in voting for Mark Paolillo on April 5.

Ellen Schreiber

Sandrick Road

Why I’m Running: Ellen O’Brien Cushman for Town Clerk

Photo: At work with Ellen Cushman.

I am proud to be Belmont ‘s Town Clerk for the last six years and look forward to serving for another three years, following in the footsteps of some extraordinarily dedicated women and men.  April 5 I run unopposed for re-election but I want to provide a quick summary of some of accomplishments and changes in the Town Clerk’s office over the past couple of years to let you know how we’re doing. The two main goals for the Town Clerk’s office are simplifying transactions so we can continue to handle  growing demands  and accessibility of records and: 

Here are some transaction statistics that may startle you. During the calendar year 2015:   

  • 15, 029 people entered the Town Clerk’s office per our electronic door counters.  No, that’s not a typo, it’s 15,029 people who came into the office looking for information, help, documents!
  • The Town Clerk’s staff of four sent and received more than 31,800 emails
  • There is no system to record the number of incoming phone calls but that’s one of the most popular modes of communication so we can only guess at that number.
  • Daily, we issue residency verification for Belmont families to register children in our schools, that’s every single day we’re open, in 2015 totaling  814 children from  521 families.
  • Licensed 2400 pets, more than 20 percent renewed their pet licenses by paying online.
  • Posted 634 separate meetings from 53 separate governmental bodies, all compliant with the Commonwealth’s Open Meeting Law, and received the related minutes. 
  • Our revenues for Town Clerk activities totaled $100,500 in FY15, up 4 percent from FY14, and the average fee we collect is just $20;  so the total number of fee-based  transactions 5611. 
  • Introduced electronic voting at Town Meeting, getting accurate, fast results and high levels of satisfaction.
  • We issued 195 free Yard Sale Permits online using our self-serve software, up from 13 in its inception year 2014.
  • We distribute materials to Town Meeting Members via email and the Town’s website; at this point, all but six of the 294 Town Meeting Members receive  their documents by email, cutting cost and getting documents in the hands of Town Meeting Members sooner.
  • In FY15, we issued 1774 absentee ballots to qualified Belmont voters and processed 7,650 individual family census forms. 
  • Have had 105 fully trained election workers in 2015, and have just recruited and trained an additional 48, ready to deploy in 2016, an exceedingly busy election year. We’ve standardized our training, provided election worker manuals and re-educated our long-term workers.
  • During the school year, we benefited from 300 volunteer hours from Belmont High School students and another 380 hours over the summer of 2015 to help us with filing and organizing.  We love our volunteers and count on them.

Accessibility of Records: 

  • Pet Licensing System: We maintain all records electronically, in real-time and allow online payments for renewals. We make our data system available to the Animal Control Officer and Belmont Police.
  • Business licensing System: For licenses issued by the Board of Selectmen, we created an online licensing system that allows departments to review, share information and approve or deny a license online, cutting significantly the time from application to approval. In fall 2016 we will allow businesses to apply and pay online and the application processing fee will be waived for businesses do so.
  • Town Meeting Votes: The Town Clerk’s office is daily asked for information about votes by Town Meeting on an array of topics, often from decades ago. We have created an electronic index of the Town Meeting votes to show the result and allow us to locate the transcript of the specific Town Meeting article. At this time, the index covers 3,200 votes from 1955 to 2016; we continue to add votes every chance we get with the goal to have ALL votes back to 1859 indexed and available.
  • Public Records Requests: Under the Massachusetts Public Records law, we receive hundreds of these requests each year, some requiring quick responses, some require extensive research. We’ve formalized the process to keep track of the requests and responses with the goal of never missing a deadline. 
  • Archiving: One way to make records more accessible is to know what you have and where it is before you’re asked to produce it. We have created an online data system to help us keep track of all of our archive items.
  • Our project under the Community Preservation Act has allowed us to digitize Belmont’s more than 70,000 vital records of birth, death and marriage to preserve them, index them and allow us to issue images of these records upon demand. In addition, we are preserving the bound books of these original documents to assure they’ll be around for future generations of Belmontians.

I hope you’re happy with the service the Town Clerk’s office provides for Belmont. Feel free to send me your comments, good and bad. That’s how improvement happens. I would appreciate your vote on Tuesday, April 5. 

Ellen O’Brien Cushman, Town Clerk

Scott Road

Letter to the Editor: Mike Crowley for Town Meeting, Precinct 8

Photo: Vote on April 5.
To the editor: 
I’m asking for your support for Town Meeting member for Precinct 8 on April 5. My family is relatively new to Belmont, but we love our community and want to see it improve.
We need to continue investing in our schools and attending to critical infrastructure needs, including a new high school building and the repair of streets and sidewalks. We should support and expand green commuting options and recreation by constructing the Belmont Community Path. We need to attend to our long-term liabilities like pensions and retiree benefits without resorting to risky, quick-fix solutions like pension obligation bonds that have injured the financial health of so many communities. We can be more attentive to business development in our commercial districts, and more creative about improving town revenues through ideas like fee-based overnight parking on neighborhood streets. Finally, we need a community preservation focus to ensure the continuity and livability of our neighborhoods; therefore, I would support a temporary moratorium on teardowns and new home construction in Precinct 8 until we can institute a review process to ensure construction appropriate for our community.
I enjoyed a career in Washington, DC that included almost 25 years with the White House Office of Management and Budget. I bring a unique view to town governance, including a focus on the budget, revenue, and government efficiency from my time in government. Since 2013, I also have been consulting and serving on the boards of organizations focused on improving criminal justice policy and our society’s responses to violence. 
Please consider me on April 5 and be sure to vote!
Mike Crowley
Farnham Street

Letter to the Editor: Prestwich Professional Experience Value to School Committee

Photo: Andrea Prestwich

To the editor:

I met Andrea Prestwich and her husband Steve Saar ten years ago. Our kids have sung in the choir and attended Sunday School together, and more recently participated in Chenery Middle School’s extraordinary instrumental music program together. We have become good friends as our kids have aged from 2 to 12.  

That’s why I was delighted when Andrea told me she was running for Belmont School Committee.  She has a fascinating career in astronomy, and in her time at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Andrea has taken and active role in STEM education. She has been involved in science outreach, writing articles and giving presentations to the general public on all aspects of astronomy, making complex concepts understandable for people untrained in the discipline.   

She was instrumental in starting a highly successful Research Experience for Undergraduates  program at the Smithsonian-funded by the National  Science Foundation. She has supervised graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, and for several years, she was director of the NASA Einstein Post-Doctoral Fellowship Program.  

Andrea has a “top down” view of STEM education that would be very valuable on the School Committee. She has an analytical mind and professional experience that make her uniquely qualified to serve on curriculum and policy subcommittees. I urge you to vote for Andrea on April 5.

Kate Searle

Beech Street

School Committee QW: Where Do You Stand on High Stakes Testing?

Photo: The candidates: Bicer, O’Mahoney, Prestwich.
The Question of the Week (QW) for the School Committee candidates:
There is a bill in the legislature (H 340) sponsored by the state’s teachers union to halt statewide student testing, calling for a three-year moratorium on the implementation of PARCC – which Belmont has been a test community – and to remove the “high stakes” nature of the existing MCAS tests, ie. in which high school senior would no longer need to pass MCAS to graduate. Teachers say tests take too much time away from educating and don’t reveal just how much a student has learned. Opponents say removing MCAS and other tests could lead to a return of lack of standards and accountability. As members of the school committee, you may well be asked your opinion on this measure. Question: Where do you stand on high stakes testing?

Andrea Prestwich

The MCAS has been to used fulfill the requirements of the Federal No Child Left Behind act (NCLB). NCLB was enacted with the best of intentions: to use rigorous standardized tests to ensure that all children receive a good education. Tests were used to track individual students progress, evaluate teachers and identify “failing” schools. The stakes were high: schools that did not make sufficient progress were closed, teachers fired, and students prevented from graduating.

Unfortunately, NCLB was a failure. Kids from wealthy families did better on the test than poor kids. Teachers were penalized for working with disadvantaged kids! To improve scores, teachers would focus on test preparation to the extent that other areas of the curriculum suffered. There were reports that struggling high school students were pressured into dropping out to make the average scores better. The tests are extremely stressful for students.

One of the few issues our hideously divided congress could agree on is that NCLB is a failure. Last year congress replaced NCLB with the Every Student Succeeds Act with overwhelming bipartisan support. The ESSA maintains the requirement for states to test, but gives states more freedom to define “school quality” and “accountability”. Given the new responsibilities under ESSA, I support the H340 requirement that the Commonwealth establish a task force to review the use of MCAS or PARCC data. Previous policies have failed, and it is time to re-evaulate what use we make of standardized tests. I also support the moratorium. Test results should not be used for teacher evaluation or student graduation while the task force does its job. To clarify: I fully support standardized testing. Standardized testing is crucial to identify problem areas and measure progress. However, we need to take a break and think about how test data is used in view of the failures of the past decade.

Murat Bicer

I am not generally in favor of standardized testing. Research shows that test results correlate above all to socio-economic conditions and may be unable to parse the quality of education at the individual or classroom level.  Many tests are criticized for being biased and the system of test taking disadvantages students who have difficulties with structured, timed activities. I believe that multiple-choice tests are not a good indicator of how much a student has learned, or whether that student has the qualities that good students should have – like creativity, critical thinking, and curiosity. Any student who is struggling with basic skills should be identified and supported well before a test result points out his deficiencies. It is true, however, that Belmont has in the past used test results to identify areas of relatively weaker performance and make positive changes in those areas.  

The Massachusetts Education Reform Laws of 1993 necessitate “a variety of assessment instruments” whose purpose is to evaluate student performance and to “improve the effectiveness of curriculum and instruction.” Tests have been credited with ensuring a certain quality standard across the state, but they’re imperfect. Unfortunately for all, many of the other “assessment instruments” such as descriptive reporting and subjective, essay-based testing are more difficult to administer and often put additional burden on the teachers, and that’s likely why testing has become the primary “instrument.”  

We can probably all agree that accountability and adherence to a basic standard curriculum is necessary, but that needs to happen on a day to day basis within the school community, not as a result of, or in pursuit of, a test score.

Kimberly O’Mahoney

Personally, I have never been a big fan of standardized tests,  but my only experience has been in the seat of a test-taker.  I never felt that the tests provided the “bigger picture” of my educational experience and abilities. The testing also is narrowed to only include certain subjects, leaving behind the notion that a well-rounded educational experience (including extra-curricular areas) is most beneficial to the children. That being said, there are also benefits to the testing that is being administered. It does help support accountability and possibly identify those areas in the curriculum that may need review and reinforcement. Belmont, though, has always prided itself on the high quality of education that it affords the children in the District. With or without standardized tests, Belmont will keep this a priority. I don’t believe that the high standards that our educators are held to will diminish if this moratorium is put in place. It may allow for greater flexibility in instruction and allow classes to delve further into subject areas without the constraints of focusing on and preparing for the “test material.”

Letter to the Editor: Rickter Brings Commitment, Passion to Authority

Photo: Paul Rickter
To the editor:
I know Paul Rickter as a vocal, engaged Town Meeting Member and a supporter of and volunteer for a number of campaigns here in Belmont. These include hands’ on contributions to the building of Joey’s Park, work on last year’s override which provided essential funding to meet town and school needs, as well as support for a range of environmental initiatives and social justice causes.
I also have come to know him as someone with years of experience as a member and chair of non-profit boards similar to that of the BHA. Paul has the planning and budgetary expertise needed to provide fiduciary oversight of the many units of rental housing managed by the BHA. He has experience working with board members and other agencies to come up with innovative solutions to meet the needs of those they serve.
Even more importantly I know, that along with these professional skills and his experience, Paul will bring commitment and passion to ensure that current tenants of properties managed by the BHA are not only living in safe and secure housing but that the future housing needs of the most vulnerable in our community are met with fairness, equity and dignity.
I urge you to join me in supporting Paul Rickter for the three-year seat on the Belmont Housing Authority.
Laurie Graham
Warwick Road

Letter to the Editor: Housing Authority Could Use Rickter’s Non-Profit Expertise


Letter to the Editor:

I’m writing to endorse Paul Rickter for the Belmont Housing Authority. 

For more than ten years, I worked as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Belmont Housing Trust, a non-profit affordable housing developer serving Belmont.  Through that work, I got to know both the mission of the Housing Authority and the ins-and-outs of the Belmont Housing Authority quite well. 

The skills needed to succeed as a member of the Housing Authority do not lie in the arena of building and financing affordable housing. Instead, the Housing Authority acts as the owner/manager of hundreds of units of rental housing in Belmont. Indeed, the Housing Authority is Belmont’s largest landlord.  

The Housing Authority is stressed by decreasing state assistance. The Housing Authority must meet the immediate needs of tenants and plan for the future needs of maintaining the physical infrastructure where people can live and thrive. What is needed, therefore, is a person who brings not merely an interest in the Housing Authority, but exceptional professional skills in management and innovation.

Paul brings 25 years of experience and skills in nonprofit management. Budgeting, strategic planning, people management. Paul brings precisely those skills that the Housing Authority needs today to meet the current and future needs of the BHA residents and, by extension, of the larger Belmont community.

I ask you to join me on April 5 in voting for Paul Rickter for Belmont Housing Authority.  

Roger Colton

Warwick Road