Opinion: A ‘Yes’ Vote For A New Rink Is A Choice For A Better Future

Photo: Poster of the ‘Yes for the Rinkcampaign

By Sheryl Grace, Kayla Wiggin, Lucinda Zuniga

On November 8th, Belmont voters have the chance to save two community assets by voting yes on the Debt Exclusion for the rink and field sports facilities. The Skip Viglirolo Rink and White Field House are both well beyond their useful lives. Reports dating back to 1999 document the code issues and decaying nature of the buildings leading the town to identify these buildings as part of the infrastructure plan along with many other facilities in Belmont. The identified facilities were treated with only small Band-Aids over the past 20 years because larger Band-Aids would have cost more and still not enabled the buildings to come off of the list. Belmont has chipped away at the list completing fire stations, schools, town buildings, the pool, etc. It is now down to the rink, field house and library.  

Twenty plus years after the infrastructure list was created, the rink and White Field House are on the brink of being shuttered. The Youth Valley League already pulled out of using the rink deeming it unfit. This means that the Belmont Youth Hockey program does not have any home games in Belmont. Other skating clubs have stopped using the rink as well. The White Field House was slated to be demolished because its issues are beyond treatment and when the initial number of parking spaces requested for the new high school was made, a plan to use the field house land was hatched. Because of pandemic related cost increases related to the high school project, the demolition did not happen. This is fortunate as there was no plan for replacing the functions of the field house. The high school football, hockey, ski and lacrosse teams would currently be without a locker room and the Department of Public Works would be without storage for field maintenance equipment. 

It is very important for citizens to understand that the use of these buildings cannot be extended with even large Band-Aids for very far into the future. When shuttered, there will be a significant cost to demolish and remediate the site; football, hockey, ski, and boys lacrosse will lose the use of a locker room area for storing their sports equipment; 400 BYHA families will be driving to other rinks the entire season; the Belmont High School hockey teams will look to the school and town budgets for the $250,000 or more each year to pay for ice time and transportation; the BHS hockey teams will have either very early or very late practice times and no longer benefit from the support of a hometown crowd; the women’s and men’s hockey leagues and the S.P.O.R.T. program that use the rink will be displaced; the public skates, puck-n’-sticks and PTA skating events will cease. 

On November 8th, Belmont has the chance to choose a better future scenario that will not only avoid the aforementioned outcomes but benefit the community greatly. The planned building will combine the current functions of the rink and White Field House, provide new functions, and be more energy and cost efficient to operate. The new functions include locker room opportunities for field sports. Many currently have no place to put their backpacks during practice or an indoor space for team discussions which is particularly unfortunate when it is torrentially raining. The building will provide bathrooms, concessions and a warming space for events in the rink and on the adjacent fields. A room above the front community area will provide additional viewing of the rink and fields to the west and be available for rental. Should the ice sheet be removed in the summer, the space would be available for Recreation Department programming which has not been possible for the past 15 years because of issues with the current sublayer of the ice. 

The cost, while not finalized, has been projected to be around $30 million. This is more than the cost of a “rink in the box” because it includes the required demolition and site remediation; design work to create a building that includes all the features requested by the Select Board that does not encroach on the fields west of the rink; a structure strong enough to support solar on the roof; the solar panels; and the green space and parking near the building. The new functions that are included in the new building that are not in the existing buildings enable support of more student athletes and enhance the energy efficiency and revenue potential of the space. Based on past ballot measures, the estimated debt translates into about $300 additional in property taxes per year for a median valued home for the duration of the debt. (This tax figure is an estimate and has not been officially provided by the Assessor’s office.) 

It is envisioned that the facility will be like other town-owned rinks in nearby communities that are revenue neutral or revenue generating. Income will come from ice rental by the Belmont Youth Hockey, mens and womens leagues, skate rental for public skate, the Valley League, nearby private schools, club programs, and recreation department programs. The building will service more than 800 student athletes a year through the youth and high school sport programs as well as all in the community that attend their games at the rink or adjacent fields. Thriving youth and high school sports programs feed community pride and are a sign of a healthy, vibrant town.

We hope that Belmont supports this tradition by voting yes on Ballot Question 6, the Debt Exclusion for the rink and field sports facilities. 

Sheryl Grace, Kayla Wiggin & Lucinda Zuniga are co-chairs of the Yes For the Rink

Opinion: Support Your Local Farmers And Gardeners!

Photo: Composting (credit: Black Earth Compost)

By Megan Tan

Support your Local Farmers and Gardeners!

By the title of this opinion piece, you may be expecting me to tell you to support your local farmers by going to farmers markets in the greater Boston area. While that is something I love to suggest to my friends and family, I want to talk about a different way you may be able to support your local farmers. I want to encourage you and your family to start composting.

You may already be familiar with composting, considering many residents in Belmont do so already. However, it is also possible you are not so familiar with it, which is okay because we all must start somewhere. I also would love to share some information about it.

Composting is the process in which organic material and food scraps are separated from the trash that would otherwise end up in a landfill. Once separated, the food scraps decompose and in a matter of a few weeks to a year, it becomes a natural nutrient-dense fertilizer.

One can process compost right in their backyard; however, this method requires some attention which not every Belmont resident is able to provide. Recognizing this obstacle, Belmont has partnered with Black Earth Compost which is a company that is dedicated to processing your food scraps into compost. This partnership has resulted in the installment of a weekly curbside compost pickup for residents that sign up for the service.

To start composting yourself, all you would have to do is pay a small and worthwhile fee for the weekly pickups, a compost bin, and some compostable liners in addition to signing up. Once you have done that, you are ready to start composting. After eating a meal or snack, simply separate the compostable items into your compost bin and put the rest in the trash. Some of the many things that are compostable are fruit and vegetable scraps, animal bones and shells, dairy products, eggshells, paper, and much more.

To make this easier for you, Black Earth has an extensive guide on their website that shares items that are and aren’t compostable which is shown below:

The partnership between Black Earth Compost and Belmont formed almost two years ago, and since then, nearly 1,000 Belmont residents and counting have signed up. Belmont so far is responsible for diverting 472 tons of food waste from landfills into compost production. The compost created by Black Earth is eventually purchased and utilized by farmers and gardeners to help grow sustainable and nutritious fruits and vegetables that we can then buy to feed ourselves and our families. And of course, after eating them, we can put our food scraps back into our compost bins, and the cycle starts all over again.

Compost is a wonderful way for us to reduce our waste and reuse the nutrients we would otherwise throw away. In fact, approximately 40 percent of what goes to a landfill from our trash is compostable. By composting, you would be able to personally divert a large portion of your waste and instead have it be used happily by farmers for their crop cultivation.

Approximately a year ago, I signed my house up for weekly curbside pick-ups from Black Earth Composting. Since then, my family has diverted a total of 418 pounds of food waste to compost which has been used to plant 54 seedlings of various fruit and vegetable plants. Keep in mind my brother and I have been out of the house for most of the year at school, so these numbers are on the lower side.

Another cool thing about composting is that the more people who do it, the less expensive it gets. It is currently $8.99 a month to be subscribed to the weekly pickups but is subject to decrease as more Belmont residents sign up. If f you’re interested in learning more about composting or wanting to sign up with Black Earth Compost, click the link here.

Megan Tan is a 2019 graduate of Belmont high and is a sophomore at Bowdoin College majoring in Environmental Studies and Anthropology.

Opinion: Don’t Believe The Pessimism; Belmont’s Best Days Are Ahead

Photo: “Attend meetings of local committees and make your voice heard at them.”

By Paul Roberts

Imagine a Belmont in which foreign language instruction and instrumental music commence in kindergarten; courses on robotics and AI pepper the high school curriculum; and students have rich, in-district choices for technical and vocational education. 

Imagine a Belmont that no longer obliges families to pay hundreds of dollars each year in fees for their children to ride the bus, participate in athletics or join a school club. 

Imagine a Belmont that gives aging residents more options for staying in their homes and extends a helping hand in dealing with problems related to transportation, nutrition, and loneliness. 

Imagine a Belmont in which children, seniors and professionals frequent a well equipped and modern library with liberal operating hours to study, work and learn.

Imagine a Belmont in which we use our smartphones to report a pothole or heaved sidewalk, get a text message that lets us know when the DPW has scheduled a fix and then another to confirm the work is done. 

Imagine a town with bustling recreational facilities: a renovated skating rink; a bike and skate park for our kids and a dedicated youth center where kids can hang out, get tutored and socialize after school. 

Imagine a town built to meet the needs of modern families and professionals, not those of 50 years ago – a town in which residents can move about town by foot, bike, or car safely using dedicated routes that prevent injuries and deaths. 

This is Belmont’s bright future and it’s well within our grasp. 

This vision of our Town of Homes may sound strange to you. If you’re a regular reader of local media opinion pages, you have been treated in recent months to an entirely different view of our town: one far more cynical and pessimistic about our shared future. 

According to this view: Belmont’s elected leaders are inept; our town professionals are incompetent; our school officials are liars and cheats; our library, roads and recreational facilities are beyond our ability to repair. Belmont’s best days are behind it, by this account. Our only recourse is to retreat: deny an unworthy government the resources it needs, make do with less and shrink from the challenges of the future. 

A quick review of the record says otherwise. In the last decade Belmont has accomplished quite a bit. We’ve re-paved dozens of roads and sidewalks; renovated our playgrounds and parks; updated and expanded our historic town pool and our police station. Following a successful Proposition 2 ½ override in 2015, Belmont’s Public Schools reduced class sizes and hired new teachers across grade levels. Last, but certainly not least, we recently completed the first stage of a brand new 7-12 school on time and on budget. Naysayers and doomsayers aside: Belmont gets things done.

Of course, neither of these visions of Belmont’s future – one optimistic, the other dire – are inevitable. Both require a commitment on the part of Belmont residents and our leaders to realize. 

I would argue that no community ever shrunk its way to greatness. To realize a brighter future, we need to embrace a vision for what our town can be, and do the yeoman’s work to make that vision reality. This almost certainly will require investment: more resources, not fewer. But Belmont also needs to make our government more efficient and accountable. We need to make better use of technology to reduce inefficiency and increase agility and transparency. We need to double down on our commitment to excellent public education and a high quality of life by pursuing policies and investments that make those commitments more than just words. 

What can you do? Start by paying attention to what’s going on. Attend meetings of local committees and make your voice heard at them. Town elections are in April, 2022. Listen for candidates’ vision for our community. Is it one in which Belmont improves the quality of life for its residents? Or do you hear a litany of complaints with cuts to services as the cure-all? Finally, don’t be afraid to dream big for our town, and then to work hard to make those dreams a reality. Belmont needs you now, more than ever. 

Paul Roberts is a Town Meeting Member from Precinct 8 and Chair of the Town’s Information Technology Advisory Committee (ITAC)

School Committee Chair Responds To Rash Of Hate Incidents At Belmont Schools

Photo: Racial, homophobic and anti-Semitic incidents have occurred in Belmont schools in the past three years.

In October, there were multiple reports of racist, homophobic, and antisemitic hate speech scrawled on the walls of Chenery Middle School and racist slurs posted in the library of Belmont High School. These incidents, and the beliefs that they reflect, are not new to Belmont or any other community, and cannot be interpreted as another troubling outcome of the pandemic. 

I write as an individual School Committee member, Town Meeting member, and parent to condemn these acts. Every time a slur is written or spoken, there are people who feel less welcome in Belmont. We should all be concerned about the impact of recent incidents and what could happen next. I also worry about how to ensure that responses not only help heal and bring us closer together, but also help prevent future incidents.

I urge everyone – especially those with systemic privilege and power – to not stay silent, to denounce injustice when it happens, and to contribute to actions to improve our systems.

Amy Checkoway, Belmont School Committee

I witness the hard work that our leaders, educators, and staff are doing to foster safe and supportive environments for all students. More detailed protocols are being developed to ensure immediate and effective responses. The district is working to add layers of preventative measures to try to stop incidents before they happen.

Achieving a more inclusive and equitable school communitywill not happen overnight. As leaders, we must identify where the system is falling short. One current focus is the external equity audit of the Belmont Public Schools. The audit is identifying issues and challenges that the district – and our students and families – face with the goal of supporting each student to reach his/her/their potential. With the audit findings in hand by early 2022, the district will develop a strategic actionplan that includes concrete steps forward by the spring.

I urge everyone – especially those with systemic privilege and power – to not stay silent, to denounce injustice when it happens, and to contribute to actions to improve our systems. We must be clear that racist, homophobic, and antisemitic actsare unacceptable, that those who threaten others will face consequences for their actions, and that it is our collective responsibility to speak up for one another. We especially owe this to our children, who are watching, listening, and counting on us. I should have made this public statement sooner.

Amy Checkoway

Pequossette Road

Opinion: A View Of Holidays and Freedoms On This 4th Of July

Photo: Veterans Day and Memorial Day are our holidays to remember those who have served and those who have given their lives to win and protect our freedom.

By Will Brownsberger

The recent hate crimes in Belmont, Winthrop, and Brighton, so close to home and so near the Fourth of July, have me thinking about the meaning of our national holidays.

Seven of our eleven federal holidays celebrate our struggles for freedom and justice. Each of our national struggles have occurred in the context of broader international liberation struggles. 

Independence Day and Washington’s Birthday celebrate our declaration of independence from King George III and honor those who fought our revolutionary war to uphold that declaration. Our revolution was just the first of many revolutions to replace the autocratic rule of European monarchs with government by the people.

Our new holiday, Juneteenth, celebrates the final end of slavery in the United States. More than 600,000 died in our Civil War. By comparison, only 25,000 died in our revolutionary war. Almost as many soldiers died in the Civil War as in all our other wars combined. Roughly 10 percent of the men between 18 and 45 died in the Civil War and many more were maimed for life. The union soldiers sacrificed to free four million people from slavery.

It took a horrific convulsion to expunge the stain of slavery that ran so deep in our nation and to enshrine liberty for all in our constitution. It is fitting that we finally have a holiday that specifically celebrates that milestone in our progress. 

Martin Luther King Day celebrates a great leader and those who struggled alongside him to make freedom real for African Americans by dismantling the state and local laws discriminating against them.  

The struggle for universal civil rights and freedoms continues to this day, but it is broader and more complex. It is not just about changing laws. It is about changing the behavior of individuals and institutions who may discriminate against not only African Americans but other minorities and/or women. All nations that are committed in good faith to basic human rights continue to struggle to realize those rights universally for their citizens.

The recent hateful incidents diminish the freedom of all minorities. Whether one is visibly Black, visibly Asian, visibly an orthodox Jew or visibly transgender, one should be able to walk the streets free from the fear of random violence.

Many people who commit hate crimes may suffer from some form of mental illness, but it is hateful ideology that leads them to translate their inner struggles into hateful actions. All of us, whether healthy or unhealthy, act based on the ideas we are exposed to. That is why it is so important that all of us speak out against violence and broadcast our appreciation for diversity.

We celebrate and thank the law enforcement officers who respond when hateful violence unfolds. They, like our soldiers, put themselves in harm’s way to protect our freedoms. Veterans Day and Memorial Day are our holidays to remember those who have served and those who have given their lives to win and protect our freedom. On those days, we also honor our public safety personnel.

Labor Day honors public safety personnel, teachers, and other unionized workers, but more broadly honors all those who fought for better wages and working conditions in the international labor movement. It is easy to forget across the distance of years just how low wages often were and how cruel the workplace could be. The labor movement fought and won great victories to create the relative comfort that many of us now enjoy.  As in the civil rights movement, there is more to be done.

Columbus Day has become controversial for good reason. Columbus’ revealed the Americas to Europeans, but he did is so in the service of a monarch bent on acquiring resources for royal aggrandizement. Those who came after him destroyed the great pre-Colombian civilizations in the Americas. I support rethinking that holiday to align it better with the consistent values expressed by our other holidays.

The remaining three federal holidays — Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day — bring families together to enjoy the freedoms we have been blessed with.

Opinion: Defining The ‘No’ Victory

Photo: A No

By Marie Warner, Precinct 6

Gratitude. 

Before any commentary on the path that led to a victory for NO Override NOW, we start with profound gratitude. 

Thank you to all the voters who voted no on Ballot Question 1. Thank you for your support and your hope that your vote makes a difference. It did.

Thank you to our neighbors, homeowners, renters and business supporters who promoted the campaign with our yard signs and through our flyers and through calls. Thank you for this courage. We are appalled that some of you now are experiencing backlash and bullying from disappointed ‘Yes’ supporters.

Thank you to the NO Override NOW volunteers who assembled, delivered and held campaign signs for hours, while swamped in a sea of maroon and white “Yes Override” signs. You are the best, most dedicated team ever.

Thank you to the Belmont neighbors who cheered on those sign bearers with your “thumbs-up” and car honking. Your encouragement gave us hope. 

Thank you to the campaign team and all our talented supporters who devoted time, boundless energy, innovative ideas and who donated their dollars to help boost this campaign to success.

Thank you all. You are totally awesome.

How it started: The path to No Override Now started in September 2020, when the Select Board approved a $12.5 million override for the November 2020 ballot. Although town officials acknowledged this override was “a big ask,” it was approved.  

This “big ask’ was later withdrawn, citing unanticipated funding from the state, and an unexpectedly high cash reserve. Or perhaps the town officials surmised that the $12.5 million would not succeed at the polls and withdrew the override. Nevertheless, in making this withdrawal, the “guarantee” of an imminent override was given by town officials, and sure enough, a $6.4 million override was unanimously approved by the Select Board and placed on the April, 2021 Ballot.  

The NO Override NOW Committee was launched in response to this “act of hostility” to struggling Belmont residents and businesses, as eloquently stated by one of the NO Override NOW supporters. We could not imagine how town officials, employees, committees could unanimously champion an added tax burden on residents and businesses still suffering from the stress and financial strain of the pandemic. We could not believe those town officials could advance another tax increase, after the 2020 debt exclusion, which significantly increased Belmont taxes, the highest tax increase of all 351 communities in the state.  

And we decided to fight.

The supporters of NO Override NOW are truly grass-root Belmontians. We had not been caught up in Belmont town politics nor special interests.  Many of us are long-term residents who have steadfastly supported the town of Belmont for years, some for multiple generations. We are diverse and inclusive, with progressives, moderates, conservatives, parents, seniors and young professionals. Our supporters showed heart and grit, in a fight that we knew was just; to help some of the most vulnerable Belmont residents who could not afford this additional tax burden.

Opinion: Come Together Belmont, Right Now

Photo: The cover of the Beatles album “Abbey Road”

By Mary Lewis

On April 5, Belmont’s elementary school children will have the opportunity to attend school in-person and full-time for the first time since March 12, 2020. Middle and high school students will follow later this spring. On May 3, Belmont Center will resume the outdoor dining it first launched due to COVID last year. And on June 23, the pool will reopen – albeit with some limitations on numbers. These are opportunities for us to come together, hopefully mostly vaccinated, as a community. There’s a lot to look forward to after an excruciatingly difficult year. I can’t wait to reconnect with people I’ve barely seen for months.

Here is what I don’t want to overhear at an outdoor table in the center or poolside: arguments about what sports should be cut from the middle and high schools, whether theater is more important than music or vice versa, and which days the library should cut hours, or why there is trash overflowing at Joey’s, Pequosette, and Grove Street Parks on the weekends. If this happens, it will mean that the override has not passed, and while other towns are busy bouncing back from a horrible year, we will be compounding our public health crisis with a fiscal one that further divides our town.

It doesn’t have to be that way. If we acknowledge that acting now saves taxpayers money. Belmont’s multi-year structural deficit will not magically disappear if we ignore it. In fact, it will just get bigger. And, as welcome as the news is of federal aid for our small businesses, renters, and others facing difficulty meeting housing costs, we must face the fact that regarding the other aid promised to the town, only a very small percentage will be unrestricted or not allocated for COVID-related expenses.   

If you put off painting your house because of sticker shock, you may have to replace rotting wood and paint your house – at much greater cost. We’re in the same situation with our town. Deferring maintenance and routine expenses makes things cost more, not less. Likewise, cutting first responders means paying overtime if those who are left are needed in an emergency. Failing to hire a procurement officer means we spend more, not less, on supplying our schools and town with the things they need to function, whether its road salt or school desks. Let’s not delude ourselves: as counterintuitive as it might seem, deferring a tax increase does not help our most vulnerable residents. It just makes our collective costs snowball, burdening us all more. Like a routine paint job before rot sets in, the override saves money in the long run.

This spring, let’s come together as a community again – finally – at school, in town center, at the pool, in our parks. And let’s come together as a community that assumes responsibility for maintaining and sustaining what we have before it falls apart.

Please join me in voting Yes on Question 1 on April 6.

Opinion: Protect Our Town Employees and Seniors With A ‘Yes’ Vote On The Override

Photo: A vote to pass the override will ensure seniors and town employees are protected

ln his guest column in a local publication dated Feb. 18, “Please Join Me ln Voting ‘Yes,” former Selectman Ralph Jones suggests ways of reducing town expenses including asking town employees to help pay for them. He wrote “reducing compensation through union negotiations would depend on the expiration dates of existing contracts.”

ls it fair or appropriate for Jones, or any elected official or administrator in town including the Select Board or the town administrator, to expect town employees, through a reduction in compensation or benefits, to help pay for the ongoing increases in town expenses?

Residents, administrators and elected officials regularly advocate for new services and facilities but we are reluctant to pay for them and are dismayed when we receive our new real estate tax bills. We, as a town voted, through our town meeting members, for an expensive new high and middle school. Now we have to pay for it.

Regarding additional school services, Jones writes “increasingly, schools also are not simply educating students, they are also caring for their social and emotional needs. This expands the type of employees that must be part of the school system.” I agree with him and will be voting for the override in April.

As residents, we Belmontians want excellent services and top flight facilities and we have them. We want our schools to be among the best in the state. As taxpayers many of us are shocked and angry at how expensive our excellent quality of life costs us.

The town has a limited commercial tax base so we residential taxpayers have to rely on ourselves to fund the facilities and services we choose to have. Going forward, I see overrides every several years as an uncomfortable but routine aspect of living here.

For years there has been talk of helping seniors, who may be having trouble paying their real estate taxes, stay in their homes but I’m not aware of any follow through regarding this issue. ln order for overrides to be successful I believe this issue needs to be effectively addressed.

Our town employees are an integral and valued part of our community. They contribute to our quality of life in ways we often do not notice. I’m in favor of the police and fire department employees keeping their Civil Service protections and of fair compensation and benefits for all town employees.

Dick Madden
Retired Town Meeting Member
Pleasant Street

Opinion: At This Crossroads, Why School Funding Matters

Photo: Why school funding is critical now

By Stephanie J. Crement

I have been a public-school educator for the past 22 years and currently work as a middle school special educator. I have two children at Butler Elementary School, where I believe they have received and continue to receive an excellent education. However, we are now at a crossroads in our town, and I am very concerned that if we do not pass the override on April 6, our schools will be unable to maintain the high quality of education from which my children and many others have benefitted.

We talk about how we value education in Belmont, yet Belmont spends less than other towns in Massachusetts in nearly every category of the school budget. Belmont is already in the bottom three percent in Massachusetts in number of teachers per 100 students (class size) and in the bottom six percent in Massachusetts in per pupil expenditure. A failed override would make our teacher-student ratio even worse. That funding – or lack thereof – plays out in real ways in the classroom.

One way funding plays out is with class size. In my experience, class size DOES matter. To be sure, highly skilled teachers know how to manage large classes and to differentiate to meet the needs of many students with various needs. But those who say that the size of the class does not significantly affect the experience of the student and the teacher have spent little time in actual K-12 classrooms. The more students there are in the classroom, the less individual attention each student receives during the school day.  During a 57-minute class period, there simply isn’t time for a teacher to check in with 28 students individually. Large class sizes mean fewer opportunities for students and teachers to connect, for students to get feedback, and for students to ask questions and have those questions answered. There is less time for teachers to discover students’ passions and to assess where students might be struggling.  

What is less obvious is that with each additional student, a teacher’s workload increases exponentially. It can mean an additional 30 minutes per child spent reading an essay or grading a math assessment and writing constructive feedback. It can mean an additional hour preparing for, holding, and following up after a parent-teacher conference for each additional child. It’s not that teachers are unwilling to do this. In fact, every Belmont Schools educator who has taught our two children has worked well beyond contractual hours to prepare lessons, communicate with us, and give our students feedback. Moreover, children’s needs extend beyond academics. When our high school cannot hire a social worker, it doesn’t mean that children don’t bring their concerns to school.  It means that helping students work through problems is another part of what teachers and other school-based staff members do, putting additional stresses on their time.

What Belmont doesn’t have in dollars, my children’s dedicated teachers at Butler make up for in energy, hard work, and time.  However, time is a limited resource.  At some point, it just runs out. With increasing enrollment, we will not be able to maintain the quality of education upon which Belmont prides itself, and we certainly won’t be able to make improvements and add new programs. If the override fails, it is our students who will suffer. 

Some might say that research about class size is inconclusive. Let me tell you what is NOT inconclusive:  the importance of the teacher. In fact, it is incredibly well-documented that the most important school-related factor that affects student achievement is teacher quality. Just because our Belmont educators and administrators have worked with fewer resources than our neighboring schools does not mean that we should continue to underfund our schools. Just because the best teachers make it look easy does not mean the burden isn’t heavy. Without this override, I fear that the work will be too heavy to bear, and our schools will not be able to maintain their reputation for excellence.  

We will not be able to retain high quality, experienced educators with large class sizes and without the resources that most other districts around us can offer.  We will not be able to attract more teachers of color to join an overwhelmingly white teaching staff when they can choose districts with smaller class sizes and more resources.

Our lean school budget is not a source of pride or a sign of fiscal responsibility. It means that our children, especially those with learning differences who often need extra time and specialized instruction, aren’t getting what they need and deserve. As a special education professional, I was particularly  shocked to learn that our elementary schools do not have Special Education Chairs. Children who receive special education services have Individual Education Plans (IEP), legally binding documents that outline how the child learns and the services, accommodations, and modifications the student requires as well as the goals that the child is working to achieve. Special educators spend time assessing students, differentiating for student needs, modifying curriculum, and providing accommodations so that students can be successful and master their IEP goals. These are practices in which all good teachers engage. Another facet of a special educator’s job is completing compliance related paperwork.  This paperwork is critical for our students on IEPs to ensure they are receiving the services they need. It is also very onerous and time intensive.  Without Special Education Chairs, those responsibilities fall solely on the teachers and school psychologists. This often leaves those educators with even less time to prepare lessons or provide feedback to students. Hiring special education chairs is not an extra; it allows classroom teachers to devote their time to the job of teaching. 

I hear people say: Belmont students have done well, so why do the schools keep asking for more? For my family, like many others I know, the excellent reputation of the school system is one of the reasons we moved to Belmont.  Many Belmont students do well on standardized tests, an important but very limited measure. However, I’ve spoken with many parents and caregivers of students who receive special education services, or even those who might not have been identified, who say their students are not receiving all the services they need. That’s not because the teachers who work with them are not excellent or hardworking. It’s because our system does not have the capacity to do more. An education system that prides itself on being excellent must be committed to serving ALL students, not just those for whom learning comes easily.  

For years, Belmont educators have done so much with very little, but this isn’t a trip to the dollar bin at Target. It isn’t a game where we try to get as much as we can with as little as possible. These are our children’s futures.  If we say we value education, it’s time that the funding we provide truly reflects that sentiment.  

Please vote yes for the override on April 6.

Stephanie J. Crement

Harris Street

Opinion: What’s Happening With Our State Government?Massachusetts’ Secret State House And How To Fix It

Photo: Massachusetts State House (Wikipedia)

By Maya Chandrakasan, Sherman Street

In a few months myself and my fellow Belmont High School seniors will walk across a stage and receive our diplomas. It’s safe to say this past year has been difficult for all of us. But these challenges are only the beginning of what lies ahead for my generation. As we enter college and the workforce in a world ravaged by the coronavirus, government inaction will be blamed on “partisan gridlock.” Federal legislators may use their precarious majority to defend themselves, but for Democrats in the state house there are no excuses for inaction. 

The Democratic party holds a veto-proof supermajority in the Massachusetts state legislature which they have had for more than three decades. So why haven’t we been able to pass any significant climate legislation since 2008?

Despite being a relatively progressive state, Massachusetts has one of the least transparent statehouses in the country: bills die in committee, the public has little time to object to a bill before it is voted on, and recorded floor votes on legislation are not guaranteed. 

Massachusetts is in a minority of states in the country that do not publicize or disclose how legislators vote in committees. While that may seem like a technicality, most lawmaking is done in legislative committees, and most legislation is killed in committees. A popular 100 percent Renewable Energy bill, which took six years to write, was killed in committee without ever making it to the House floor for a vote. All of these barriers inhibit action and change: our democracy is dying behind closed doors. 

This isn’t to attack some of the great state legislators, many of whom truly care about their constituents. This is about a broken state house rules system that both blocks constituents from holding their reps accountable, and reps from countering powerful house leaders for fear of retribution.

Last month, myself and other constituents in the 24th Middlesex district joined our state representative, Dave Rogers, on a call asking he sign onto the following three transparency amendments:

• All votes held in legislative committees be publicly disclosed so that constituents have the opportunity to see how their representatives are voting.

• Each bill be made public 72 hours prior to a final vote (extending the current 24 hour window) to ensure that anyone who wants to discuss the bill with their representative has that chance.

• The threshold for a vote to be publicly-recorded in the House of Representatives be reduced to eight from the current 16 representative requirement so that more bills can be publicly voted on. 

Unfortunately Rogers has not yet given a public commitment to voting for these transparency amendments. In the past, Rogers has proven himself to be a progressive legislator responsive to constituent concerns. We are fortunate to have a legislator who will disclose his committee votes despite House rules. However, just because Rogers votes the right way does not mean that other reps will, and in order to pass a veto-proof bill we need more than just his vote; in other words, to actually pass the legislation he cosponsors and introduces, we need transparency. 

In the coming days, the statehouse will vote on a new set of rules for the upcoming legislative session. The various crises of this past year have proven that state and local governance matter. From comprehensive police reform to climate bills to eviction moratoriums, there are numerous life-saving policies that can be implemented on the state level. Unfortunately, none of those have, or will be passed without serious change and accountability. 

The rules voted on will be law for the next two years and will influence what can get done in this crucial time. As we turn the page on a bungled federal response to the most pressing issues of our time, we must begin to repair our government from the bottom up. That begins with a transparent Massachusetts statehouse. 

I urge anyone who cares about virtually any issue to contact Rogers by email (dave.rogers@mahouse.gov) or phone (617-722-2637) and ask him to vote for these three transparency amendments to state house rules for the next legislative session. Learn more about our broken state house at https://actonmass.org/the-campaign/ and join our district team to get involved in our final push for a more accountable state legislature.