Goodbye Minuteman Again As Town Meeting Re-Rejects Membership In Regional Voke

Photo: Bob McLaughlin, Pct. 2. speaking against the town rescinding leaving Minuteman.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, “There are no second acts in American lives.” Wednesday night, Belmont Town Meeting affirmed that saying when it rejected the opportunity to again become a member of the Minuteman High School district.

The article to rescind the 2016 Town Meeting decision to decamp from the vocational school failed, 140-95, as a majority of members are hoping there will be plenty of space in the foreseeable future for students from non-member towns to attend the Lexington school.

“It’s a lot to do with how strongly you believe your own projection of the enrollment numbers,” said Jim Gammill, whose argument for rescinding the earlier decision was voted down by the town’s legislative body.

Members who sought to have the school readmitted to the nine-town district – a position supported by the school committee and Belmont Superintendent John Phelan – are worried that a recent enrollment boom at the school could forecast in an increasing number of Belmont students without a desk waiting for them.

Gammill (Pct. 2) who headed the task force to find an alternative to Minuteman, told members that facts have changed over the past three years from the time when Belmont decided to leave to save a significant amount by not taking on the debt of a new building’s while being able to still send students to Minuteman.

“What changed … is the new building,” said Gammill referring to the 257,000 sq.-ft. structure that opened in September, a year early and under budget. With 20 different vocational and technical shop concentrations, Gammill said interest by middle-schoolers has skyrocketed, a trend he believes is sustainable.

“At this rate, three years from now there will be a full school,” said Gammill, with the real prospect of Belmont students looking from the outside in as member school students are expected to take the available slots. If that occurs, “we won’t have the $100s of thousands of savings” as was predicted in 2016.

In addition, “There is no Plan B,” Gammill protested, saying other vocational schools or programs in eastern Massachusetts are unable to accept Belmont’s students as they are filled or the cost in tuition and transportation would make them “cost prohibitive.”

Like Henry V at Harfleur, Bob McLaughlin (Pct. 2) led the Minuteman skeptics “once more into the breach” having been one of the most vocal proponents three years ago for a BelExit.

“This is a bad deal,” said McLaughlin.

While calling the school “the best vocational training for our kids,” McLaughlin reminded the members that the town left the district in 2016 (by a 72 percent to 28 percent margin) after the other members approved building a new school that was “too large and forced us to take on all that debt.”

‘Belmont was trapped in an agreement that it couldn’t get out of and every year they would hand us a bill that was non-negotiable” for a school that spends nearly $36,000 per student.

McLaughlin said Minuteman has seen student population free fall from 1,254 when it opened in 1977 to 383 in 2016 “and it’s going to continue to drop along with the need for vocational education.” Even if the pro-return enrollment numbers are correct, Belmont would see, at most, two to three students being denied a seat at the table.

”We’re going to spend $472,000 (as a re-entry fee), $200,000 a year (in tuition costs) and assume [a portion of the] $144 million in debt” to assure three students will have an education at Minuteman, said McLaughlin.

And with Belmont ready to undertake a $6 million Prop 2 1/2 override on the ballot in one year’s time, “we’re giving sound bites to the opposition [to the override],” said McLaughlin.

Proponents for taking a second walk down the aisle with Minuteman attempted to show the growing need for a quality school by a growing number of students in Belmont.

Caitlin Corrieri

Chenery eighth grade teacher Caitlin Corrieri said that while many students succeed in the current learning environment, “I also have students for whom sitting in a 50 minute traditional class is torture, who learned better using their hands to make and create, whose brains think outside the box.”

“There is no ‘one size fits all‘ school for everyone,” said Corrieri, an 11 year veteran in Belmont. The alternative provided by Minuteman would be a better fit for some students. And that message is being heard at the Chenery; currently 54 eighth graders signed up to tour the school and 10 have submitted applications.

“I’m here tonight on behalf of our eighth grade teachers to implore you to allow our student to have those options in the future,” said Corrieri, noting that higher education and the workforce are evolving “and Minuteman is responsive to these changes.”

“I hate to see students turned away for Minuteman on a long waitlist because we didn’t speak out on this,” she said.

Jack Weis (Pct. 1), who was Belmont’s representative to the Minuteman School Board in 2016, voiced the opinion of many stating “that there is no right or wrong decision on this question as there are risks associated with either vote. Town Meeting members are going to have to decide … which version of the future they think is more likely.”

“And if they are wrong, which set of downside risky they are more comfortable leaving the town exposed to,” he said.

Mike Crowley (Pct. 8) who is a member of the school committee said “continued membership assures access for our kids for years to come … a no vote tonight put the future in jeopardy.” Once students are “squeezed out” of attending Minutemen, “the quality and breadth of programming isn’t there in the other schools that we may be able to offer us a spot or two.”

Warrant Committee member Elizabeth Dionne (Pct. 2) wasn’t convinced there will be an “enrollment crisis” to require Belmont to spend a significant amount of money annually when the town is preparing for a $6 million override in a year’s time.

With the needs of the general student population and special needs pupils to be considered, Belmont should find a way to “provide vocational education in a more cost-effective fashion,” she said.

“We don’t need to buy 40 years of insurance to make sure this happens,” said Dionne.

Jessie Bennett (Pct. 1) agreed with Weis that the financial difference in staying in or leaving Minuteman is relatively small (a cost-benefit of $100,000 being a non-member using the average number of Belmont students and the current student population) considering the $130 million-plus town budget. “If these numbers are so close, than we should vote our values and our values are to support students and provide them with the best possible education they can get.”

“If we don’t have this available for all kids, we are introducing instability into the decision making process for eighth grade families, we are introducing instability into the decision making process for every family … and in our future as a town that provides the best education for all students.”

The final vote – after which the Town Meeting showed its appreciation of Gammill’s work with a standing ovation – revealed the majority of members voted on the belief that interest in Belmont and surrounding towns in attending Minuteman will abate.

“That’s a lot to hope for because we really don’t have a Plan B,” said Crowley.

Special Town Meeting Starts Wednesday At The Chenery With Minuteman Redux

Photo: The new Minuteman High School in Lexington.

It’s the return of the Minuteman to Town Meeting as Belmont’s legislative body will convene in a special session on Wednesday, Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. at the Chenery Middle School as the high school auditorium will be filled with student/athletes on Awards Night.

Minuteman Returns As Members Ponder A … Return

The majority of the first night will be a debate and vote on Article 4 will be whether the town should reconsider its 2016 BelExit decision to bolt from its four-decade-long membership (by a 141-81 Town Meeting margin) in the Minuteman Career and Technical High School in Lexington and ask nicely to re-join the school district again.

The Minuteman redux is that since rejecting paying $144 million of its share of funding the new school, two major facts have come to the fore: first, after three years, the town has discovered there is no practical alternative for the two to three dozen Belmont students seeking a vocational education. Second, the new school which opened this year has been extremely popular and it’s forecasted there will not be the necessary classroom seats for all the students who want to attend from non-member towns.

Complicating matters is that the town will be required to hand over a one-time buy-back fee of $472,000 on top of paying the annual tuition assessment of approximately $255,000 in the 2020 school year.

It will be a debate with Minuteman supporters pointing to the corner the town has been painted into and their critics basing its “stay the course” plan on the Groucho Marx quote: I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.

Other Articles Set For Wednesday

Article 1 will allow for reports, proclamations and recognitions. Expect the late Lydia Ogilby to be acknowledged.

Article 2 is a capital appropriation for $347,700 to pay for the second half of the funding (the first at $347,100 was approved at May’s Meeting) to purchase a new fire department pumper truck. Expect easy passage as to why would members only want half a pumper truck?

Article 3 – which will follow the Minuteman article – will seek the approval of transferring an undetermined amount of money from Free Cash, which is at $8.1 million, into the General Stabilization Fund. The amount will be around $2.5 million to forego until November 2020 the all but inevitable Prop 2 1/2 override vote. Some questions on this and the odd “no” vote.

A Word From Mike For The Members: Limits Will Be Enforced

Town Moderator Mike Widmer has asked that Town Meeting Members be reminded of the following:

  • All meetings will start promptly at 7 p.m.; please plan to arrive in time to secure parking, sign in and obtain your electronic voting device.
  • The Moderator will strictly enforce the five-minute rule as well as the Moderator’s rules for speaking on any motion, rules that have already been distributed to Town Meeting Members.
  • Presenters will be held to the 10-minute limit and reminded at the nine minutes mark that there is one minute remaining.
  • Town Meeting Members will be required to sit in the designated sections of the auditorium – for the Chenery, the center section and the left section as seen from the rear of the auditorium and for the High School, the front section of the auditorium. We anticipate that there may be a number of non-Town Meeting Members who will attend these sessions of Town Meeting and by law, we must keep them separate from the Town Meeting Members.

Belexit? Vote On A Return To Minuteman Tentatively Set For Special Town Meeting

Photo: Jim Gammell (left) and the Select Board discussing Belexit.

The United Kingdom is in the midst of a contentious Brexit debate while Belmont is about to enter into Belexit, its own passionate dialogue on whether to return as a member or make a final, clean break with Minuteman Regional Tech.

The Belmont Select Board unanimously voted Monday night, Sept. 9 to tentatively place an article on the upcoming Special Town Meeting in early November to recind leaving as a member town in the Minuteman Career and Technical High School district.

“This will be a very big debate in town but enough has changed that it warrants Town Meeting action,” said Select Board’s Chair Tom Caputo.

The possible reinstatement of Belmont in the nine-member district which runs the public vocational high school located in Lexington comes three years after Belmont voted to leave the district in a dispute over the construction of a new school building.

But just getting to a vote will depend on two major obstacles:

  • The current member communities will need to put away their hard feelings after Belmont left them to pay for the building and unanimously approve its return.
  • Is Belmont prepared, or can afford, to hand over a one-time buy-back fee of $472,000 on top of paying the annual tuition assessment of approximately $255,000 in the 2020 school year.

“We might not even get the chance to bring this to Town Meeting if these issues block it,” said Select Board’s Adam Dash. The Select Board will be holding a public meeting on the article in the coming weeks.

It was a long and bitter fight in Belmont and with the Minuteman leadership on the town’s continued membership in the district. In May 2016, Town Meeting voted 141-81 not to approve a $144 million bond issuance plan for the construction of a new Minuteman High School building.

“[T]his is the wrong school at the wrong time,” said Mark Paolillo, who spoke against the plan which would have saddled Belmont with an annual bill of $350,000 to $500,000 to pay for its portion of the school’s debt.

But times have changed, according to Jim Gammill, who is Belmont’s representative on the Minuteman School Board (this is the final year Belmont will have representation on the board) who has been working with the Belmont School District on determining the benefits and likely return to the vocational school as a member.

The new school – which opened last year – is experiencing a spike in enrollment from member and non-member communities which could put in doubt if all Belmont students could be accommodated if upward trends continue. Non-membership would mean Belmont residents would only be able to attend the school if any of the 630 seats are not taken by member town students.

Gammill said if the upward swing continues, within two years, a small number of Belmont students will be left out in the cold of the fully enrolled school.

“Is it worth taking that risk?” said Gammill.

Weis Exits As Belmont’s Minuteman School Committee Rep

Photo: Jack Weis

It was hard for Jack Weis always to be on the losing side of the drawn out Minuteman Tech school debate.

On Monday, Nov. 14, Weis told the Board of Selectmen that with the recent Town Meeting vote in which Belmont decided to leave the Minuteman district, “this would be an appropriate time for Belmont to find another representative for school committee.”

One of the main reasons for his decision was that his fellow committee members weren’t listening to Weis.

“I think it has tuned me out,” said Weis of his fellow members.

“It’s not what I say but who says it,” said Weis, having been on the losing side of 13-3 or 14-2 votes for a better part of three years.

“So to have any influence [on the committee now] is hard,” said Weis.

But if there was one constant that people remember from Belmont’s protracted battle with and ultimate rejection of a new Minuteman Career and Technical High School, it is the calm, and thorough manner Weis represented the town on the vocational tech’s school committee.

Numerous times whether it was in front of small groups or a packed Town Meeting, Weis would carefully explain the almost Byzantine workings of the 16 member school district attempting to negotiate with a leadership aiming to proceed with a building project Belmont believed was too big.

In a role that at times made him a target of scorn during the years of negotiations, Weis always brought a collegial approach to the discussions, whether with Minuteman officials or town residents who were trying to make rhyme or reason of votes that would end a 40-year relationship with the vocational school.

The selectmen responded to the news by praising Weis dedication to the job and a fair review of the building project and its

“I want to commend you publically for the courage that you’ve shown for carrying the torch for Belmont and representing our point of view,” said Selectmen Chair Mark Paolillo, who with Weis and Warrant Committee member Jack McLaughlin made up the team which challenged the Minuteman officials on the future of the school.

Paolillo said the board wanted to thank Weis for “your outstanding service … during very difficult times when you were a lone voice.”

Selectman Jim Williams said Weis’ lonely mission was like that of Leonardo DiCaprio in the Academy Award-winning role in the film “The Revenant” for his service in the “cold wilderness” of the Minuteman school committee.

“It does take courage and perseverance” to battle for what is right, said Williams.

Weis said the next three years during which Belmont transfer to a nonmember town will be necessary and has written out a detailed job description for the next committee appointee.

The position of school committee member will be posted and will be selected by the board and moderator on Dec. 12, the final board meeting of the calendar year.

As Town Meeting Ponders Bolting Minuteman, Belmont Prepares ‘Pathway’ for Voc Students

Photo: Roy Epstein, chair of the Belmont Warrant Committee

As the Belmont Town Meeting prepares to vote on the future of the town’s four decades partnership with the Minuteman Regional School District – the home of Minuteman Vocational Tech High School – the educator in charge of Belmont’s own district is already preparing a set of “pathways” to provide students seeking a vocational education “access to quality” classes if two-thirds of Town Meeting ultimately votes no. 

While many Town Meeting members and residents who attended this Monday’s warrant briefing – co-sponsored by the Warrant Committee and the Belmont League of Women Voter at the Chenery Middle School – were seeking more information on the financial pros and cons of remaining or leaving the district, Belmont’s School Superintendent John Phelan has begun cobbling together plans to use the three-year “window of time” where Belmont students are guaranteed a place at Minuteman to “research, review and analyze” options so by the second year in 2018, the town can prepare for the cost and logistics of setting the plans in motion.

According to Phelan, the “pathways” provide the town steps to satisfy the state requirement, known as Chapter 74, of providing approved vocational technical education. 

The first, and most straightforward, is the “Minuteman” pathway in which Belmont continues to send students to the Lexington-based school as pupils from non-member communities.

During the three years leading up to the opening of the new Minuteman building in 2020, Belmont would “closely monitor” the number of non-member students and any changes in state law so that it can ensure students aren’t squeezed out of the school if it reaches capacity.

The second avenue is the “Alternative” path, where Belmont would reach out to five nearby school districts – Waltham, Newton (Newton North), Cambridge, Medford, and Somerville – that proved state-approved vocational classes to inquire whether they are willing to take in Belmont students. 

Phelan told the meeting Monday the districts have been contacted and while only Cambridge and Medford “are in the business of taking in students,” the other three said they are open to talking about a partnership with Belmont.

Phelan said he would hold talks with the towns and present the School Committee with a “program of studies” by May 2017. A task force would be created to analyze the program options and how they relate to the classes Minuteman provide. 

By March 2018, more than two years before the new Minuteman school is scheduled to open, Belmont’s School Committee would meet with the Board of Selectmen to decide which of the pathways would address the needs of 8th graders who would option to a vocational program. 

Final agreements would be signed between Belmont and the nearby schools by the 2018/2019 school year; guidance staff would prepare students for a change and final implementation of the alternative pathway would take place in September 2020.

When asked his “central thought” of staying with Minuteman as part of the two pathways, Phelan said most people would rather be part of a regional school.

“We have a long relationship” with Minuteman, said Phelan. But since past votes – including two this year – have shown a strong preference in town to leave the district, “it’s our job” to find vocational classes and put together a “range of offerings … and provide a “quality menu” for students if the vote to leave the district is approved.

But several Town Meeting members agreed with Edward Bouquillon, Minuteman’s superintendent, who questioned whether just providing classes in a relative subject is the equivalent of Minuteman’s comprehensive educational approach.

“Minuteman and other schools are different,” said Bouquillon, saying that students in Lexington spend 630 hours exploring careers by spending time in all subjects while in Somerville the time is limited to 165 hours. And while Medford and Cambridge students are taught by licensed professionals for a bit over 1,000 hours, Minuteman students are instructed for 2,205 hours.

“There are distinct differences that should be considered before the vote rather than after,” he said.

For the bulk of the meeting, newly-appointed Warrant Committee Chair Roy Epstein walked the audience of Town Meeting members through the article’s highlights noting it will take a 2/3 majority vote of Town Meeting to approve the withdrawal.

A “yes” vote will change the status of the town to a non-member community which will relieve Belmont of the debt building a new $145 million building set to open in September 2020. With state subsidies, the debt to member towns will be $100 million. The new facility will have room for 628 students.

Epstein said even if the town votes to leave the district, Belmont can still send new students to Minuteman until the school opens, after which Belmont pupils can attend if there is space.

Turning to finances, the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education this summer allowed Minuteman to assess a capital charge of $9,500 per student to member town and non-member communities such as Belmont which does not have any vocational training in the district.

But Epstein said it remains uncertain if Minuteman will implement the add-on cost since it retains the ability to “make deals” to attract and retain students by reducing the assessment.

“That’s just conjecture but take it for what it’s worth,” said Epstein.

Epstein crunched the numbers on the cost of staying or leaving. In the next three years after the vote, a “yes” to remain would result in the town an additional $232,000 in debt service if the current level of students remains constant while withdrawing would keep charges at their current amounts. 

Once the school opens, the yearly cost – tuition, capital charge, transportation and Special Education – per Belmont student reaches approximately $33,000. Multiply that by 29 students now enrolled and Belmont’s tab will be $957,000. 

Using Epstein’s calculations, by remaining in the district, Belmont would be obligated to pay the remaining operating and capital expenses after payments by non-members. Epstein said the cost per student annually would be in a range of $42,000 to nearly $50,000. Those charges would add between $311,000 to $436,000 to the town’s bottom line, requiring the town to seek an override or find a source of funds in the budget to pay for it, said Selectman Mark Paolillio to those in attendance. 

Epstein said after analyzing data and enrollment projections from the Minuteman administration and those advocating for withdrawal, the Warrant Committee believes there will be a significant cost gap between a student coming from member and non-member towns, even if the Minuteman school is fully enrolled. 

While the Minuteman administration is confident it can boost enrollment from the current 576 to 628 – most newly built schools experience a rush of students and vocational education is increasing in popularity – the new high school will need to attract a much greater percentage of higher paying member town students than it does today, a number Epstein isn’t quite ready to accept.

After the meeting, the Warrant Committee voted 11 to 2 for leaving the district.

Minuteman Tech Holding ”Yes’ on New School’ Forum Thursday at 7PM

Photo: The new school rendered. KAESTLE BOOS ASSOCIATES

The Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical School District is sponsoring a public forum dubbed “Minuteman: Facts and Future,” on Thursday, Oct. 13 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St.

The forum will include a presentation, panel discussion, and question and answer period to provide Town Meeting Members and citizens an opportunity to discuss the town’s upcoming vote to either stay or leave the District,

“We’ll outline the facts about our new building and the positive impact it will have on students in the member towns in our District,” said Ed Bouquillon, Minuteman’s superintendent. “And we’ll talk about what makes a Minuteman education unique, including the broad array of career and technical education programming that we offer.”

The forum is open to the public.  

On Sept. 20, voters in the Minuteman District voted 12,160 in favor to 5,321 opposed to supporting the construction of a new High School. Belmont voters rejected the offer by an equally large percentage margin.

Following the vote, the Belmont Selectmen called a Special Town Meeting on Oct. 19 to ask Belmont Town Meeting members to vote to withdraw from the Minuteman District. A two-thirds vote is required by the members to pull out of the district.

Belmont Voters Reject Minuteman Funding As District Passes New School Plan

Photo: Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman reading the results from the special district referendum.

It wasn’t even close.

Belmont voters rejected by a near three-to-one margin a $100 million-plus funding plan for the construction of a new $145 million Minuteman Tech Regional High School on Tuesday, Sept. 20, part of a special district-wide referendum held in the 16 member communities which make up the Minuteman School district.

The “Minutexit” decision by Belmont residents now clears the way for a Special Town Meeting in October where the legislative body will decide whether or not Belmont remains in the newly constituted 10 member district.

For one of the leading “no” proponents, the vote total spoke volumes on Belmont residents reluctance to pay for what many believe is far too big a building to house the 33o student who attend from district cities and towns.

“I was not expecting such a large margin [of victory],” said Belmont Selectmen Chair Mark Paolillo, who arrived at Belmont Town Hall Tuesday night to hear the results announced.

According to Town Clerk Ellen Cushman, Belmont resident voted down the funding measure 2,327 to 901, 72 percent to 28 percent.

While Belmont said no, an almost equal majority of district voters came out for the plan of borrowing $101 million to build a modern structure house 635 students. 

The final vote in the district’s 16 communities was 12,158 in favor and 5,320 against. 

The special district-wide referendum was called by the Minuteman School Committee after Belmont’s annual Town Meeting rejected the funding proposal, the only district community to do so. 

Paolillo said he and the selectmen will issue a warrant for a special town meeting, already penciled in for Oct. 19, to vote on remaining or exiting the district. Advocates for leaving will need to garner a 2/3 margin to formally break ties with Minuteman. 

“I never wanted to leave the district, but when we could not convince the Minuteman leadership to revisit the size of the school and the long-term funding formula, we had no other choice but to reject this plan,” said Paolillo.

State’s ‘October Surprise’ As Minuteman Throws Wrench into Election

Photo: The new school, image from KBA Architects.

In politics, a news event deliberately created or timed, or sometimes occurring spontaneously, to influence the outcome of an election, is called an “October Surprise.” 

While the majority of those “surprises” are usually seen in presidential campaigns, a last-minute decision by the commissioner of the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, requiring non-district students attending Minuteman Regional Career and Technical High School to pay a larger share of the new building’s capital cost has given some Belmont residents pause on how they will vote Tuesday, Sept 20.

On Thursday, Sept. 15, Mitchell Clifford, DESE Commissioner, reached a decision that will require non-district students attending Minuteman to pay a greater amount of the capital costs being incurred by the ten remaining district cities and towns. That single issue has been one of the most contentious issues Belmont officials – along with the size of the building, built to house 635 students while in-district communities send less than 350 – have been fighting over the past five years when it became apparent the aging Minuteman building had outlasted its usefulness. 

Under the current tuition plan, Belmont spends approximately $30,600 per student to attend Minuteman while an out-of-district community such as Watertown, which pays roughly $19,700 in tuition per student a year or $10,900 less on a per student basis. Minuteman supporters claim the current gap is closer to $7,000 if including costs of transportation and other expenses. 

In 2020 when the new capital ‘increment” takes place, out-of-district student tuition will jump by $6,000 for towns with fewer than five voc/tech classes in its school district. A community with at least five tech programs would pay a reduced rate of $4,500.

Under the new formula, Minuteman officials contend the financial advantage of leaving the district and then returning to “rent” seats as a non-member town is nearly completely nullified. 

The pro-financing side goes so far as proclaiming on its website – mmvote.infor – that Belmont residents who have long sought a “fair share of capital costs” from communities outside the district convinced the state to its argument.

“Congratulations …  — you won!” said the site.

The DESE decision prompted a significant defection from the “no” side – which has been pushing for Belmont to leave the district – when Roy Epstein, a member of the town’s financial watchdog Warrant Committee, wrote Friday, Sept. 16 that he had changed his vote just days after writing of his support for the town to take a strong stance to force the state’s hand on the capital expenses.

“I changed my mind on this vote because Belmont won a major victory this week,” said Epstein in a letter to the Belmontonian. He stated Belmont would “pay the same capital charge even if we became a non-member town. That is the outcome we demanded — an equal per-student amount for the cost of the new building.”

While one of the leading voices of the “no” vote is “glad to see that they have allowed for a substantial capital fee to be assessed by Minuteman,” Ellen Schreiber said “I still recommend that Belmont vote “No” on the Minuteman debt.”

“I don’t think that the DESE policy changes anything,” Ralph Jones, a former Belmont Selectman who created a group to promote a “no” vote, told the Belmontonian.

For both Shrieber and the “no” leadership, the DESE decision answers just one of Belmont’s questions: what is the maximum allowable capital fee, said Schreiber, but does not reduce the risk Belmont would accept if we agree to the debt.

At a League of Women Voter’s Forum last Monday, Jack Weis, Belmont’s representative to the Minuteman School Committee, described Belmont’s portion of the debt as “unknowable” due to three reasons, countered Schreiber:

Non-member tuition is substantially less than member operating costs, and if Belmont agrees to the debt, the town is locked into that significant financial disparity for the next 30 years. And the debt remains perilous, she said, the amount that Belmont owes will change year-to-year based “on factors that are out of its control.” 

Jones agreed with Schreiber that the new capital increment “is a wise and fair policy,” but it can only work if non-member towns continue to send their students to Minuteman to fill the 300 empty seats and if the Minuteman School Committee will enforce the new policy “and not revert to their traditional policy of discounting tuitions for non-member towns until the empty seats are filled.”

Putting one’s faith into those assumptions coming to pass, contend, Jones, is simply too risky for a town that is facing several high-cost capital projects including a $100 million high school renovation.

Jones points to State Sen Will Brownsberger’s argument that towns such as Watertown and Waltham have good options at the cost of about $18,000 – $20,000 per student to find an alternative to Minuteman which will cost the town’s $26,000 a year in tuition in 2020. 

“If I were an official in either Watertown or Waltham, I would do two things,” said Jones. “First, I would be working collaboratively with other non-member towns to ensure a robust set of alternatives for my students.  After that, if Minuteman asked me to send students, I would demand a substantial discount in tuition cost,” he said. 

“I appreciate the idealism of many Belmont residents who are trying to make the Minuteman District work,” said Jones.

“After 25 years of meeting with Superintendents and Minuteman School Committees, I agree with Brownsberger that the district is broken.”

Belmont voters join the 15 communities (Acton, Arlington, Bolton, Boxborough, Carlisle, Concord, Dover, Lancaster, Lexington, Lincoln, Needham, Stow, Sudbury, Wayland, Weston) which are members of the Minuteman School District to vote on the $100 million in financing on Tuesday, Sept. 20, from noon and 8 p.m.

Letter to the Editor: Minuteman – A Tale of Two Cars

Photo: A minivan.

To the editor:

I’m voting No on the Minuteman debt tomorrow even after DESE’s ruling. Here’s why.

Imagine you have a family of, say, six kids and you need a car to drive your little scholars to school each morning. Naturally, you buy a minivan. Then, for years, you take the kids to school, paying down the cost of the van, and of course paying all the operating expenses – gas, oil changes, repairs, etc. – as you go along.

After a while, some of your kids graduate, so you agree to take along some children from the neighborhood. You want to be a good neighbor. Besides, the van is big enough, so it’s no big deal.

While the neighbors pitch in a little for the gas, it is not as much as you do. It’s a little unfair, but you’re trying to be nice. It won’t be forever.

Are those neighbors poor? Not at all. They could pay the full fee if they had to. But it’s obviously cheaper for them to send their kids with you, so that’s what they do. You’re a bit irked, but you say okay.

Cut ahead a few years. Your minivan is crumbling, and it’s time to get a new car. Do you buy another van – or do you downsize? You only have three kids of your own to drive now, so it’s obvious: downsize.

But then you get a letter from the school. They say you have to buy another minivan – not downsize – because you have to keep driving the neighbor kids.

Say what? Those families never paid for the first minivan (you let them come with you because you had the room) and now you have to pay for another minivan? You are forced to perpetuate what had been an act of generosity on your part into an unending subsidy?

You’re understandably irritated. Now is the perfect time to change things to reflect the current reality, but it looks like you have to institutionalize a broken setup where you pay a lot and these neighbors don’t pay their fair share.

Then the school says, “Wait, we’ve thought about it, the neighbors can pitch in more or less equally to pay for the new car.” Well, maybe. You do want everyone to get to school, not just your kids.

But what about paying their fair share of the operating costs (gas, repairs, etc.). “Um, no, that you still have to subsidize.”

How is that fair?

You’re tired of all this. Why do you have to continue subsidizing these neighbors for 30 more years?

A right-sized vehicle (just your kids and no neighbors) would be okay. Or a large vehicle that is paid for fairly (everyone pays equally for both capital and operating costs) would also be OK.

But a large vehicle for which you’re still on the hook for the operating costs while the neighbors get a deep discount? That is simply unfair.

That’s the Minuteman district in a nutshell. A new building, though certainly needed, does not resolve the fundamental unfairness of the payment structure. While I’d love to get a new building, we can’t afford to be part of the district if it means paying an unfair share of the money for the next 30 years.

That’s why I’m voting No.

Lisa Gibalerio

TMM Precinct 4

To the Globe: Paolillo Responds to Columnist Minuteman Op-Ed

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[Editor’s note: The article below is a letter to the editor in the Boston Sunday Globe, Sept. 18]

DANTE RAMOS missed the point of Belmont’s opposition to the Minuteman High School referendum (“Oh, Belmont! Local control fetish hurts vocational schools,” Opinion, Sept. 11).

The Minuteman district is broken. A substantial percentage of the approximately 600 students come from nonmember towns.

The funding mechanism severely disadvantages member towns. Belmont has tried for years to fix the problem, as recently as this summer. But nonmember towns are not joining.

In 2017, Belmont will pay $30,602 per student, as compared with $19,702 by nonmember towns, and it will only get worse with the new, $144 million Minuteman debt. This is an unfair financial burden on member towns.

Ramos praises Dover for its willingness to overlook the unfairness. But let’s put that in context. Belmont spent $13,029 in 2015 per pupil in our public schools, as compared with $24,263 in Dover. Additionally, Dover sent only two students to Minuteman; Belmont sends an average of 30. The disadvantage of Minuteman membership does not significantly affect Dover; that is not true of Belmont.

Belmont has legitimate concerns. Without fixing the unfairness of the district, we should not approve an oversized school that will make it worse.

Mark Paolillo

Chairman, Board of Selectmen

Belmont