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.

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


[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


Letter to the Editor: Despite State’s Move on Capital Costs, ‘No’ Remains Best Course

Photo: Michael Libenson

To the editor:

Last Monday [Sept. 12] I served as a panelist for the League of Women Voters information session on the Minuteman referendum. I explained why there is a clear and compelling financial case for a “no” vote on the Minuteman referendum.

A broad group of Belmont town leaders agree. The Board of Selectmen and School Committee have voted unanimously to recommend a “no” vote, as has our State Sen. Will Brownsberger. The Warrant Committee voted 13-1 to recommend a “no” vote.

Some have asked me whether the subsequent Department of Elementary and Secondary Education ruling that allows Minuteman the option to charge non-member towns between 75 percent and 100 percent of the member town capital cost alters my perspective. It does not.

Belmont residents should vote “no” on Tuesday. It remains true that Belmont should save over $200,000 each year, and perhaps more, as a non-member town and yet still generate the same educational outcomes for our children.

The Minuteman district is broken and the recent DESE ruling doesn’t change that. The district is broken because nearly half the students come from non-member towns – including Watertown, Waltham, and Cambridge – and non-member towns are treated differently in the form of lower costs, most importantly with tuition, and secondarily with capital. 

The primary cost difference is due to non-member towns paying substantially less in tuition than member towns like Belmont. Belmont’s tuition cost this year will be $30,602 per student and Watertown will pay $19,702 per student on average. This large difference does not change and there is no clear path to change.

With 26 students at Minuteman, Belmont currently paying approximately $280,000 more than we would if Belmont were a non-member town like Watertown. This tuition disparity is the main reason no non-member town has joined the district in more than 30 years.

Tuition cost is also an important factor in why six of the sixteen towns have recently voted to leave the district.

Second, despite DESE’s recent ruling, capital costs remain unknown. The one thing we do know is that non-member towns will never pay more than member towns.

Minuteman now has to decide how much to charge non-member towns for capital. Imposing the full capital charge of $8,460 will likely cause non-member towns to explore sending some or all of their students to other schools that are substantially cheaper (as Minuteman is already the most expensive voc/ed school in the Commonwealth, even without any capital charge). Minuteman needs these non-district students to fill the school.

If a number of non-member students go elsewhere – or those towns even threaten to go elsewhere – Minuteman will have to choose between an underutilized school (and therefore even higher operating and capital costs borne by the remaining members) or a lower capital fee for non-members. For member towns, this means risk without reward and Belmont need not bear this risk.

Here is the bottom line: the reason why the current decision is so consequential is that a “yes” vote will lock Belmont into a bad deal for 30 or more years. We have an opportunity on Tuesday [Sept. 20] to avoid locking ourselves into a broken system for generations.

The financial case remains clear and compelling that Belmont should vote “no”.

Michael Libenson
Town Meeting Member, Precinct 1
Chair, Belmont Warrant Committee

Letter to the Editor: State Action Results in My Vote Changing From No to Yes

Photo: The site

To the editor:

A new Minuteman High School is essential for Belmont. We should vote YES in the Sept. 20 election.

I changed my mind on this vote because Belmont won a major victory this week. DESE, the state agency that oversees all public schools, finally did the right thing this past Thursday [Sept. 15] and set a capital charge that is fair for the member towns. This answers nearly all of the criticisms of the building project. With the capital charge resolved, it is time for Belmont to approve the debt for a new school and remain a member town.

The opponents of the debt argued through the spring and summer that the proposed new school is too large for the member towns and DESE could not be trusted to set a fair capital charge. This argument is no longer valid.

Belmont will 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.  DESE has accepted this principle with a small adjustment for non-member towns that already provide a significant level of vocational/tech programs.

In recent weeks the opponents of the debt have changed their focus. They now seem to be making the vote a referendum on the tuition charged to non-member towns for operating expenses. By leaving the district, they say Belmont will save money even with the fair capital charge because the non-member towns pay lower tuition.

The new regional agreement as discussed in Town Meeting allows a district to withdraw, subject to unanimous approval by the remaining members, to avoid the debt obligation.  Tuition was not the reason for this provision.

Non-member towns are a part of Minuteman.  This not ideal but it reflects circumstances unique to this district.  The practical difficulties in getting new towns to join as members may be solvable in the future.

If Belmont pays less in tuition, the remaining member towns have to pay more.  It is a zero sum game at that point and I do not support shifting costs to our neighbors in this way.  The amount at stake is something we can afford.  In a perfect world of equalized tuition, Belmont might save $150,000 when our total town budget is over $100 million.

In addition, leaving the district is not automatic even if Town Meeting votes to withdraw.  The remaining member towns also have to vote unanimous approval for Belmont’s exit.  Reduced to a naked economic calculation, they have an incentive to deny a request to leave.

A member of Arlington’s Finance Committee has already signaled that Belmont can expect opposition to an exit request. Withdrawal is probably not the windfall that some have intimated.

There should be a thorough debate over tuition for non-member towns but it should not be used to avoid approving the debt.  If Belmont withdraws, our economic incentive will be to free-ride on a flawed tuition policy.  Instead, the right course is to remain in the district and help lead that debate.  That debate should also include how to make sure Minuteman is run efficiently and controls its operating costs.

Belmont won the big battle over the capital charge.  I urge you to vote yes on Sept. 20.

Roy Epstein

Cushing Ave.

Letter to the Editor: Vote ‘No’ to Preserve the Override Funds

Photo: Supporter of the schools override.

To the editor:

How do we want to spend the 2015 override funds?

Next Tuesday, Belmont voters will decide whether to spend $335,000 to $500,000 per year (or more) to fund the $144 million new Minuteman debt.

I am a school advocate. I strongly support vocational education.

But this referendum is not a vote about education. If Belmont votes No, we can continue to give our students the same Minuteman education, for less money.

This is a vote about debt.

The debt could be funded through a 30-year tax increase, but I believe that it will not pass. Any tax increase is always a hard sell.

Without a tax increase, we would have to use override funds.

Override funds are currently being used to support our operating budget, as promised. But if we take on the Minuteman debt, without new taxes, it will hit our operating budget and prematurely drain the override funds.

If we vote “No” now, and only now, we have a chance to avoid the debt. Belmont is currently a member of the Minuteman district. If we vote “No”, Belmont Town Meeting will have the opportunity to vote to become a non-member.

Member towns pay much more than non-member towns. In 2017, Belmont will pay $30,602 per student, compared to $19,702 by non-member towns, and it will only get worse when you add debt payments for the new $144 million Minuteman.

Michael Libenson, chair of the Warrant Committee, presented his analysis on Monday night that shows Belmont will likely save $200,000 to $400,000 in tuition and capital charges by sending our students to Minuteman as a non-member. (The presentation is available at

In other words, it will cost Belmont an additional $200,000 to $400,000 every year to remain a member. To pay that annual membership premium, we would likely have to tap our override funds.

What Belmont decides should not impact the new school. Most of the remaining nine towns have already lined up their funding. They will vote for it. The referendum is expected to pass. The school will then be built.

Belmont is left with few options. We tried to fix broken district, but the non-member towns won’t join. We tried to right-size the new school, but we were rebuffed.

Now, we need to get out. If Belmont signs on to the $144 million debt, it will squeeze our budget for the next 30 years.

An analogy I think is helpful: Why would we want to “own a new building” (and 30 years of debt payments), when we could “rent ~30 seats” at Minuteman for less money? Why would we choose to pay more, when we could pay less for the same services?

We worked hard to pass the 2015 override. Let’s not use it up more quickly than we have to.

Please join me in voting “No” next Tuesday.

Ellen Schreiber, Sandrick Road

Ellen Schreiber is a member of the Warrant Committee and Town Meeting Member.

Letter to the Editor: Support Minuteman on Sept. 20

Photo: Image of the interior of a proposed Minuteman school building.

To the editor:

I’m asking Belmont residents to join me in voting “yes” to support the financing of a new Minuteman school building on Sept. 20.

Some of our local leaders have raised issues about Minuteman. Some say that we can avoid financing the new school and continue to send our kids there. But we won’t be sending our kids to Minuteman if the vote on financing fails. Others say that we can send our kids to other vocational schools. But no specifics have been offered, and there is no plan, just wishful thinking. Some say that Minuteman represents a broken model because many attendees go to college. We want our kids to go to college if they can and to get good jobs if they can’t and this is the role of modern vocational education.

Why does Belmont need to help finance a new school? Minuteman’s current campus was constructed in the 1970’s and needs replacement or costly repairs. Masonry is cracking and buckling. The roof needs to be replaced. The building is not up to ADA compliance standards and is not suited for modern instructional approaches. In fact, the building is at risk of being condemned. If the building is not replaced, repairs are estimated to cost almost as much as the construction of a new building, but would fail to solve many of its problems.

Replacing Minuteman’s school building to meet current enrollment will cost $144 million, of which the state has pledged $44 million. Ten Minuteman district towns, including Belmont, will share the remainder. The state also is imposing a capital fee to ensure that any non-member towns sending kids to Minuteman will pay a fair share. Belmont’s cost is estimated to be $335,000, something that our town can easily afford. One member of our Warrant Committee has suggested that the annual cost to the average Belmont household would be equivalent to ordering a few take-out pizzas.

Some claim that the financing approach carries risk. For example, the other nine Minuteman district towns could all file for bankruptcy, leaving Belmont on the hook for the entire cost. This is as likely as space aliens zapping nine communities out of existence. More realistically, Belmont could face a slightly higher financing cost, perhaps as much as $500,000 a year, if the state does not set the capital fee for non-member towns high enough. We need to lobby the state to make sure this doesn’t happen.

Some argue that the new school will be too big and that it should be radically downsized to exclude non-member towns’ students. There’s just no good argument for this, and the state of Massachusetts will not contribute to a construction plan that does not build to current enrollment.

We need Minuteman to succeed. It’s a critical educational resource. We have to do something for our kids who are not going to college to help them succeed. In fact, the state mandates that we provide vocational education for those wanting it.  But Belmont High School just isn’t equipped to provide vocational training, and we cannot afford to provide these kinds of programs on our own.  Some kids need more and different kinds of attention and instructional approaches to doing well. Minuteman has a student to teacher ratio about half that of Belmont High School. Belmont High School just isn’t equipped to give that kind of attention to kids who need it.

Won’t you show your support for Minuteman on Sept. 20? Please join me in voting “yes.” Polls open at noon.

Michael F. Crowley

Belmont Town Meeting Member, Precinct 8