Landslide! Debt Exclusion For New 7-12 School Passes By More Than 3 To 1 Margin

Photo: Ellen Schreiber (right), co-chair of “Yes on 4” celebrating Tuesday night’s election result.

In a result that few could have predicted, Belmont voters overwhelmingly approved a debt exclusion to construct a new 7th through 12th grades school building by more than three to one margin on election day, Tuesday, Nov. 6.

The final vote total on Question 4 was 9,467 yes and 2,952 no with the “yes” vote receiving 76.2 percent support from the 12,833 voters – a whopping 72.4 percent turnout of registered voters – who crowded Belmont’s eight precincts throughout the mostly rain swept day. 

The night was a spectacular victory for two groups, the Belmont High School Building Committee which created a transparent and public-friendly process as the project moved from initial support by the state to a nearly finished design, and the “Yes On 4” advocacy group which promoted the new high school as, despite its costly label, fiscally responsible.

“When I first started seeing the numbers come in, I just couldn’t believe them. It says something when that many people in the town agree that we needed to do this,” said Ellen Schreiber, the “Yes on 4” co-chair with Sara Masucci at a large celebration with Question 4 supporters on Tuesday night. “It’s an amazing day for the town, for our residents, and for our children.”

The question now heads to next week’s Special Town Meeting on Nov. 13 where it will be presented before Belmont’s legislative body for approval, which is a near certainty. While the ballot question does not indicate a cost of the exclusion, the Building Committee placed a $213 million price tag for the town’s share of the $295 million middle/high school. The Massachusetts School Building Committee, which has worked in partnership with the town since it voted to accept Belmont’s application to build a new school in January 2016, will pony up the remaining funds. 

With approval at the Special Town Meeting, the construction of the 451,575 square-foot campus housing 2,215 students will get underway with the completion of the building design in April 2019 with actual shovels in the ground after the school year ends in June 2019 with the 9-12 grade portion of the school completed by July 2021. The middle school section will then be built on the site of the former high school. The school will be completed by September 2023.

Just how unexpectedly large the “yes” majority turned out was caught in the reaction to the vote total from Pat Brusch, a member of the Belmont High School Building Committee, who accompanied Belmont School Committee Chair Susan Burgess-Cox to a backroom in Town Hall where Town Clerk Ellen Cushman and volunteers were tabulating the 3,400 early voting ballots minutes after the polls closed at 8 p.m.

Ten minutes after the polls closed, the first two early voting results, for Precincts 1 and 2, showed the yes’ had scored widespread support, a cumulative total of 777 to 250 in favor.

“It’s still early,” said Brusch, a noted pessimist who had spent past elections anxiously waiting the votes from residents with a well-known skepticism to approving tax increases.

When the result from the precincts themselves began filtering in on Burgess Cox’ cell-phone showing Belmont voters in near complete support for the new school project, Brusch – who was also vice-chair of the Wellington Building Committee and served on the building committees for the Chenery and Burbank/Winn Brook school construction projects – stood to stare in stunned silence for several seconds.

“I’m truly shocked,” Brusch final said as it became clear that before even a quarter of the votes had been tallied the “yes” majority would take the day.

For Burgess-Cox, the result “is amazing. The number of people who voted and the number who voted for [the debt exclusion] is an affirmation for Belmont’s schools.” 

At the celebration at a supporter’s house midway between the Chenery and Wellington schools, Schreiber said the victory for the school was accomplished fully by the dozens of volunteers who did both the large and small activities; from knocking on doors, creating innovative videos, to those who spent Tuesday in the rain for hours holding signs at intersections and the precincts.

“We wouldn’t have won without them,” she said.

The pitch to the public was straight forward; a new school would resolve issues that were threatening the education of the district’s children, said Schreiber

“Everyone saw that we needed to do this. The problems in the school system whether it’s over enrollement or inadequate buildings is real and they need to be solved. And this is a really great solution, it’s well planned and vetted by the building committee and we had an unpresidented amount of community meeting to give their input,” said Schreiber, who praised the group for “kicking the tires” on the project to demonstrate to residents that the project has been thoroughly evalutated with a great deal of transparency. 

“Through the course of this campaign, all we’ve been doing is communicating what the building committee has done. And with 76 percent of the vote, the town agreed.” she said.

Editorial: Vote Yes On 4; An Investment In Our Shared Future

Photo: An outward expression of our investment in the future of our community, our children and the nation.

A no vote on Question 4 Tuesday to approve a $213 million debt authorization for a new 7th-12th-grade school building is not a rejection of a tax increase but an admission Belmont’s collective futures are not worth the investment.

The numbers and facts concerning the design, cost, and history of the proposed high school (here and here) has been public for several months. Town Meeting spent $1.75 million in a feasibility study that breaks down the project to the cost of the final nut and bolt. The changes in taxes have been calculated by the town treasurer. The school district has forecast a continued increase in students enrolling in the six public schools that requires a large building project. Those are the facts. 

But Tuesday’s vote is more than a series of self-interested personal decisions; it is an opportunity to show how this community views the most important function for all municipal government, educating its children.

Marking the ballot “no” on Tuesday may feel penny wise but it is indeed pound foolish to the extreme. A negative response is not simply a rejection of the future, its a clarion call for the slow decay of the outstanding education system it took nearly five decades to create. 

My standard response to people who ask why people live here is “You don’t move to Belmont for the roads. You come for the schools.” What prospective homeowner would knowingly bring their children into a community that won’t make a commitment to education? Home values will likely begin lag behind surrounding cities and towns which have decided to make education a priority. 

Rejecting a decade of work by committed volunteers and professionals will require Town Meeting to vote over a decade on three ever increasing large debt exclusion measures to house the skyrocketing number of students entering the district for the next decade and extending the life of a fifty-year-old school building that has no business being renovated. How likely will a future Town Meeting be willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on putting lipstick on a pig?

If any of the three debt questions – totaling $50 million more than the debt exclusion being considered Tuesday – is rejected, the outcome would be jammed packed classrooms that will swiftly bring the school district’s accreditation into question. It’s truly an unimaginable conclusion to   

Tuesday’s vote is also an opportunity for Belmont to recommit itself to the great American uniter of public education which has increasingly come under attack by reactionary forces who believe “government schools” – a new pejorative created by the right – are wasteful, run by overpaid bureaucrats who spew progressive messages rather than “real” learning. They call for education to be run as a publicly funded business with vouchers, charter and private schools replacing our shared heritage.

But for communities that take pride in and nurture public schools, the benefits are boundless. Belmont ranks in the top percentile of public schools in a state which leads the country in the quality of schools. While the nation as a whole meanders with lackluster rankings in the core curriculum, Belmont students are on par with the top-ranked education provided in the schools of Europe and Asia. The education our students receive from first-rate teachers and educators provides a world of future options that children from too many communities lack.

And one important component to keeping the stellar standard the Belmont schools have created is for its residents to commit the financial resources in teaching, activities and, yes, modern facilities. There are no other options.

Public education binds us as Americans, it is in our common ethos that an enlightened young is the best path to preserving our country for generations to come.

The time is not to look inward with provincial expectations, but to approve a building project that will become an outward expression of our investment in the future of our community, our children and the nation.

Vote Yes on 4.

Letter To The Editor: A Yes Vote On Question 4 Is An Investment In Belmont’s Future

Photo: One of the modular units at the Burbank. 

To the editor:

If you’re like me, you really love living here in Belmont. I’ve yet to find another suburb of Boston that has quite the same small-town community feel. Belmont residents – from those who have lived here their entire lives to those who are newly arrived – know how special our community is, and understand the importance of preserving and nurturing what makes Belmont unlike any other town in Massachusetts. Investing in our community with a YES vote in support of the 7-12 school preserves and protects what has made Belmont so special all these years.

On Nov. 6, it is up to all of us to decide what kind of town we want to be moving forward. Do we want to preserve what we love about the Belmont community by investing in it, or do we want to stand idle with no sustainable solution to the increasing demands on our school system?  

The reality is this: No matter what happens on Nov. 6, our taxes are going up to address the crisis of overcrowding and the dire needs of our high school.  The decision we all have to make is where do I want my taxes going when it comes to our town’s education system?  

  • A NO vote means we’re paying an expected $247 million to rebuild and repair a crumbling, asbestos-filled high school building (that is not ADA compliant), along with overcrowded elementary schools and 48 modular trailers to house our children. 48 modulars! Are you wondering what 48 modulars look like? Take a walk behind the Burbank School and check out the monstrous structure that looms over half of the blacktop playspace. That is only four modulars. Imagine twelve times that number, all across our schools.
  • A YES vote is an investment of $213 million (that’s right, it’s projected to cost $34 million less than the costs of a NO vote) to solve our overcrowding crisis while also ensuring our children are learning in up-to-date schools that provide a safe, supportive, nurturing environment.

Still undecided? Stop by that Burbank School blacktop one morning around 8:35 a.m. No, not to see the modular trailers, but to see the children waiting to enter the school. These kids are incredible. They are truly special, just like our town. And these kids, along with all of Belmont’s current elementary school children, would be the first students to step into the new 7-12 school once it opens. Join me in looking back on Nov. 6 as the day that you decided to invest in these kids and the future of our incredible town.

I hope you will join me in voting YES on Tuesday, Nov. 6th.

Reed Bundy

School Street 

Town Meeting Member Precinct 1