Opinion: Invest the Money to Keep Waverley Station Accessible

Photo: Waverley MBTA Commuter Rail Station 

By Jim Williams

In September, MBTA General Manager Frank DePaola made a presentation at an open Board of Selectmen meeting concerning handicap accessibility at the Waverley Commuter Rail station. Public comments opposed closing the station and Sami Bagdadhy, chair of the board, stated the Selectmen’s position was that our existing stations should remain open and be handicap accessible. 

Subsequently, a proposed MBTA design charrette was expanded to an open public meeting now scheduled for Nov. 16 at the Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St. Then, in late October,  the MBTA informed the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board of three possible outcomes including making Waverley accessible; closing Waverley; or leaving Waverley open and investing the $30 million estimated to make Waverley compliant with applicable State and Federal accessibility regulations into a system-wide project that would impact a significantly  larger number of customers with disabilities. 

I am standing to support alternative three above for the following reasons:

  1. The proposal of a third alternative defeats the logical fallacy (bifurcation) that only making the Waverley handicap accessible or closing it are the possible remedies when, in fact, there is in reality a range of options.
  2. The previous strategy of building a third station in Belmont and closing the existing two has objectively and overwhelmingly the least favorable cost/benefits profile of any possible solution.
  3. The Fitchburg line has been in existence for more than 125 years and was and still is integral to the economic development and well-being of Belmont.

So what can be done? First, get informed and write letters to the elected, appointed, or employed officials responsible starting with Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. This can make a difference. 

Second, attend the Nov. 16 meeting and let your voice be heard loud and clear. For the MBTA, I recommend working with Belmont’s Economic Development Committee and  Community Path Implementation Committee in addition to the Belmont Disability Access Commission in developing responsible solutions for this important initiative. For the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board,  I recommend exploring with the MBTA the acceptable alternatives that will impact the largest number customers with disabilities. 

In closing, I want to remind everyone listening: The railroad belongs to us; The State and Federal funding involved is our money; We get the government we deserve.  

Jim Williams, Selectman

Glenn Road

This communication is compliant with the State’s Open Access laws as I have not discussed its contents with either Baghdady or fellow Selectman Mark Paolillo.

Opinion: An Unfair Re-Do, Part One

Photo: Town Meeting.

If I were to come to you on some Belmont street with a petition in my hands protesting the results of the April override election, saying it was unfairly run, that it didn’t make financial sense, and what’s more that I didn’t realize it was such an important election so I didn’t bother to vote, you would laugh in my face.

You would tell me, “That election is over. You don’t get to re-do it just because you didn’t like the results.” Indeed, a number of people did have issues with the results of the election and the way the campaigns were run, and that response was more or less exactly what was said to them after the election: “It’s done; you don’t get to have a do-over on Town Meeting floor.”

Yet that it exactly what the proponents of the recent Special Town Meeting motion are asking for, a do-over of a decision that was rendered with complete propriety by the appropriate elected body acting in what they believe was the best interests of the town. Moreover, these proponents are asking that one town body, Town Meeting, vote to override the decision of another elected body, the Board, with dubious legal grounding and applying arguments that simply are not valid.

The reasons the proponents have put forth have varied depending on when they were protesting.


First it was: “the vote by the Board was undertaken in collusion, and a certain elderly citizen was improperly influencing them.” This line of argument is now established as “fact” in the minds of many citizens, even though not a single shred of evidence has ever been put forward on the topic. Seriously, where’s the evidence? If there is any real evidence and not mere rumor-mongering, please publish it!

Many citizens were asked to sign a petition assuming this story, and who wouldn’t want to right a prodigious wrong? The problem was, the story simply wasn’t true. Later, something was said about the corrupting influence of backyard barbecues, but I confess to not understanding this line of reasoning. Are elected officials not supposed to mix with any citizens at all, under any circumstances, lest it have the appearance of influence peddling?

A secret sparsely-attended meeting 

Later, when the “old lady corrupted the Board” story became less politically acceptable – though the argument is still making the rounds and is believed by many – the argument changed to “the meeting was not advertised sufficiently, it was basically a secret meeting.” This argument, even if it had merit – it does not since the meeting was posted to all Town Meeting members – would be insufficient to invalidate the results of the Board’s vote in any case. The Board was under no obligation to hold any public meeting to get input. Even so, they held a meeting, and it was properly advertised. 

A variation of this argument was that the meeting was “sparsely attended” so it was invalid. First of all, it was not sparsely attended. The Beech Street Center is not a small venue, and many people filled the seats. In any case, it was the board’s decision to make, so attendance is not the issue. This was not a majoritarian vote: even if 90 percent of the people there expressed a certain opinion, it was by no means incumbent on the board to vote that way, even morally. A room can be packed with supporters of an opinion, but so what? Yes, town elections are based on sheer majority, however obtained. But the board’s decision is not based on mere poll numbers. We would be ashamed of them if they did not think for themselves, weigh alternate perspectives – especially minority views – and take into account subtleties that mass campaigning is incapable of. That is their duty as representatives of the whole town, and they performed it.

No, the proper question is whether they got good feedback, both in the meeting and out. As someone who attended the meeting, I can say that the attendees expressed a variety of opinions that covered many aspects of the issue. But here’s the important point: even if we disagree about whether they got good advice, that would not invalidate their decision, or their right to make the decision. We can all cite instances of elections, for example, where the electorate was woefully under-informed on the key issues, but we don’t throw out the results for all that. 

Town Meeting’s vote should be respected

Indeed, on the majoritarian point: a more recent argument suggests that, on principle, the Board should not have diverted from the majority vote of Town Meeting on the green space.

First of all, Town Meeting did not vote on the design, it voted on the money. Secondly, members of Town Meeting raised the issues about the green space at the very same meeting, concerns that were not negated before the vote but in fact corroborated. 

Thus, the Board was alerted by Town Meeting itself that this was an issue that needed resolution, and the Town Meeting vote was undertaken with the understanding that issues had been raised and were as yet unresolved. It is not unreasonable to assume that at least some people voted yes to the money on the presumption that the issues would be addressed. To assume the opposite – that every “yes” vote meant the green space issue was settled – doesn’t make sense. Town Meeting as a body voted yes to the money, and Town Meeting in its public deliberations noted the green space/access road as an issue. If anything, the Board was morally obliged to follow up, and they did; to do otherwise would have been to ignore the feedback from Town Meeting.

“We were misinformed about the meeting’s agenda”

Another argument claims that the announcement of the May meeting did not properly spell out the purpose of the meeting, and that many people were thus led to believe it was just a status meeting. Some even assert this was done on purpose to obscure the intent of the meeting.

All this just means that some people don’t bother to read their email. Here is the full letter to Town Meeting by the Board:

“The Board of Selectmen has scheduled a meeting on May 28th at 6:30 p.m. at the Beech Street Center to provide residents with an update on the Belmont Center Reconstruction Project. As part of this update, the Board will receive information on the current design and possible design alternatives of the “Green Space” located in front of the Belmont Savings Bank. This will be an opportunity for residents to provide feedback to the Board of Selectmen on this component of the project.”

Seems pretty clear.

“We agreed on a new Town Green”

Regarding the “Green Space” by the way: while I can imagine that the Traffic Advisory Committee and people in favor of reconstruction understood that the changes to the “Green Space” were actually part of a reconceptualization of that area as something of a second “Town Green” – an inviting centerpiece for a rejuvenated Center, as it were – that concept was never explicitly treated in either the September precinct meeting nor the November Town Meeting. The transcript bears this out. In other words, even in the most intense discussions of the green space, it was always discussed as an enhancement or restriction of green space, not as a change in the nature of the delta.

This is important because the proponents of the current Town Meeting case argue that it voted a certain vision of the Center. But if there was any vision explicitly stated in Town Meeting, it was only about an increase of square footage of green space. 

No doubt some members held the other vision, but that vision was simply not present explicitly in the discussions, so it’s not accurate to assert that we all voted with a new “Town Green” in mind.

Note: Part Two will be published on Wednesday, Aug. 5.

Kevin Cunningham

Town Meeting Member, Precinct 4

Opinion: Chenery Students Credit to Horace Mann’s Legacy

Photo: Horace Mann

Eighth-grade History is all about our changing American nation. It’s focused on the issues of 2015, but the amount of connections that students make between the past and the present by looking at the American Revolution, how our system of government formed, and how society grew and changed during the 19th century is remarkable. I’m fortunate to work at the Chenery Middle School with a group of passionate educators and motivated students. Your students care – not just about their learning, but also about their role in the bigger picture as the next generation of leaders. For them, the override vote and the debate that it brings up couldn’t have come at a better time.

Together we’ve been looking at how our founders set up the system of government, reaching back through the Jacksonian era, when public participation and involvement in government was heavily promoted. Just last week, we were looking at reforms our country made in the 19th century, one of which was the push by Horace Mann for public education. We looked at excerpts of Mann’s The Common School Journal and one of the biggest principles it emphasized was the idea that education should be paid for, controlled and sustained by an interested public.

I can’t tell how you excited as an educator it made me when students came in early; or stayed after school just to tell stories of the forum that they attended on the override’s yes/no debate and how many connections they made to the Jacksonian era because of it. They had about arguments both for and against the override, and how those made them think of the principles that Horace Mann was promoting. One of my students proudly proclaimed last week how great it felt to be able to go canvassing with her father, and be able to add something to the discussion when meeting and talking to potential voters not just about the work that goes on in our public schools but about why they should care about it.  

Much of the learning and sense of community we have is possible because of our “team model.” At Chenery we focus on fostering a safe learning environment that allows kids to step out of their comfort zones and become better students and bigger thinkers. Getting to know each and every one of my students not just as learners but also as people is the best part of my job. We build relationships and give kids the community they need looking out for them, caring for them, and giving them the tools and support to succeed. We meet in our teams to discuss their progress, growth, and social/emotional well being regularly. Each year our classes get a little bit bigger, and each year it gets a little bit harder to keep maintaining those relationships with a growing student body, and keep fitting those meetings into the busy daily schedule – but it still gets done. We know how important it is not just to the kids, but to their families as well.

The public forum at the Beech Street Center last Monday was a great example of your students in action. I was so proud to be standing with some of my colleagues listening to high school students, and even a middle schooler too, talk about the cuts they feared would make their way into our system if the override didn’t pass. Those participants are the ones we should recognize the most. They might not have a vote, but they care about what will happen and one day will be the thoughtful decision makers in Belmont. Throughout each and every step of their journey this community, and the educators who love to serve it, have supported them. Students have benefited from the strong team model at the Chenery among many other academic and extracurricular opportunities and support systems that our system is able to provide.

Horace Mann would probably be proud. Belmont is definitely a place where there is an interested public, and they certainly care about their public education system. Belmontonians should be proud too, because the “kid constituency” in town that might not be able to vote is definitely a part of the debate. They’re not just watching it; they’re participating in it and learning from it. Let’s make sure to preserve the supports they deserve and the educational community that they need so that when years from now they become the next generation of leaders they’ve been well prepared because of their strong foundation built in the Belmont Public Schools.

Adam Weldai
Chenery Grade 8 History 
Member of the Malden School Committee

Opinion: Vote ‘Yes’ Tuesday to End Cycle of Underfunding Education

Photo: Campaigners at a recent Precinct Meeting.

What are the schools our students deserve? That is the question facing our community next Tuesday.  

As an educator, union member, taxpayer and resident of Belmont all my life, I have seen a cycle of underfunding education that has brought us to this point.  The response now from those against the override sounds familiar; they simply say we can solve the problem without an override. That solution, however, simply places greater burdens on students and educators.

Our town has one of the state’s best public school systems, and it is essential to invest in our students’ future to maintain that excellence. Attacking educators’ compensation is deceptive and ignores how hard the Belmont Education Association and Belmont School Committee have worked together to operate within the town’s means.

An override is needed to sustain the schools and address increasing enrollment over the next three years. We need to support the children of Belmont and to support the town’s Financial Task Force, which is recommending passage of the override.

Since 2009, an additional 317 students have entered into grades K-12. Even with a highly trained and capable staff, larger class size means less individualized attention for our students. Class sizes have increased beyond School Committee-recommended maximums. Without additional staff and resources to address these concerns, students will not have the same learning opportunities and programming as this year’s graduates.   

Belmont is a residential community, and homeowners bear much of the funding for our schools.  This is a choice we make to maintain Belmont’s character and ensure our students continue to perform to the best of their abilities. If we do not want commercial development, then we need to be prepared to pass this override to address increasing enrollment.  This override is an essential investment to maintain the value and quality of the entire community.  

Over the past six years, teachers have forgone compensation to support our students. Your child’s teacher has given back salary increases to fund the schools and prevent the need for an override. It is erroneous to characterize our agreement as expensive and our methods as “more aggressive.”   

While some choose to criticize teacher salaries, ours are lower than competitive communities. In a state analysis of average teacher salaries in towns with the top public high schools, Belmont places last behind Concord-Carlisle, Wayland, Weston, Dover and Wellesley.   

As educators, Belmont teachers strive to provide the best possible outcomes for all students. We have been doing more with less for too long. Based on comparable communities, our salaries are not the issue.  

As residents we must place our children at the center of the conversation and this decision.  Please raise your hand to support our students and vote “Yes” next Tuesday.

John Sullivan

Palfrey Road

(Editor’s note: Sullivan is the president of the Belmont Education Association, the negotiating agent for Belmont’s educators.)