OPINION: Letters to the Editor, March 25th edition – Wicked Local

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EDITOR’S NOTE:  Due to space constraints, the Citizen-Herald is not able to print all letters and guest commentaries. All letters and guest commentaries will be available online at belmont.wickedlocal.com 

Vote ‘no’ on override

I hope you will read this brief letter and join us in voting “no” on Question 1 April 6.

If you read only one line in this letter, please read this; overrides are permanent. They are not temporary. In addition to the annual Proposition 2 ½ % increase, each override percentage is added to create our new, higher tax base, exponentially increasing year over year.

While we agree our roads are a disgrace, unsafe and unacceptable, we are much more concerned with our declining fiscal management. The people we elected, and those they hired the past three years to represent us, are preoccupied with promoting themselves, their own agendas and flaunting their power. Our leadership should make prudent and equitable decisions that are fair to all residents rather than acquiesce to the delusions of a small group.

First, all hiring and pay increases must be placed on hold. Expenses and budgets must be objectively scrutinized. Since John Phelan, who is a Milton resident, was hired as superintendent, he has demanded and encouraged excessive spending. His annual budget requests have been completely fulfilled without question. To ensure the emotional and educational health of our children and grandchildren, Mr. Phelan should have been negotiating with our teacher’s union to bring them back to the classroom earlier this year. Many parents have been forced to make life-altering, often financially adverse, decisions to leave their careers to stay home and educate their children. And older residents have had to sell their homes because they can no longer afford to live here.

Town budgets and Profit & Loss detail should be provided to taxpayers annually. The numbers currently shared with us are collective, cumulative, and vague and are provided without back up/detail. We have a right to see the town’s finances. Frankly, we deserve more from our elected and our compensated town leaders. It is time our town employees realize they are employed by us, the taxpayers. We must urgently re-assess the same old approach because it is not working any longer. Accountability starts at the top.

Salary and capital expenses must be scrutinized to ensure we are not faced with annual overrides and debt exclusions. This week we learned that the town will seek another $8MM debt exclusion override this fall for a Chenery roof and other substantial capital expenditures. We are unrealistic to think our town will benefit from more debt over the long term. This is incredulous and fiscally irresponsible.

Yes, we are now talking about major overrides every few years or more frequent smaller overrides to balance the budget. How about if we start by balancing the budget? Yes, we are going to increase taxes for the next 30 years because the debt exclusion for the new school is only “temporary!”

According to the Mass DOR/DLS website, Belmont has both the highest tax increase (FY20 and FY21) and highest increase in property assessments, in the entire state, the past two years.

With the approval of the $1.9T COVID-19 Relief Plan, Boston and its surrounding municipalities will share in $8.2B plus money for schools. Based on last year’s allocation, Belmont could receive $10MM or more. This must be factored in before we proceed with voting on Question 1.

Calling the previous debt exclusion for the high school “temporary” was completely misleading, AKA, a lie. Increasing our tax base for 30 years is not temporary. These misleading statements confirm the lack of honesty and “transparency,” our leadership’s favorite word so that we believe they are telling us the truth. Those lies are worse than John Phelan consistently mis-stating school enrollment numbers to ensure he conveniently gets his egregious budget approved.

The town has talked about structural reform yet few reductions have been made. Our leadership, elected and hired, refuse to look at the fundamentals. Regardless of the number of times the word transparency is used, we know there is no transparency nor accountability.

So many of our residents are already hurting financially, physically, and emotionally.

Please join us in voting “no” on Question 1. Now is not the time to increase our taxes.

– Nancy and George Sarris, Hough Road

Now is not the time for an override

The education of Belmont’s children matters a lot. A functioning municipality matters too. But it’s time to add the working poor, senior citizens and essential workers to the list of people and places that matter in a town such as ours. 

I find myself struggling with how to speak up for homeowners who cannot afford a significant property tax increase or renters who just can’t add another dollar to their monthly rent payment. But I have to speak for widowed elders facing the hard truth of dramatically reduced incomes when half of their social security or pension income dies along with their beloved partners. At the same time, outrageous property taxes on their modest houses already cost way more than they can afford to pay. Yet, I’ve been told, too bad for them — old people should make way for the next generation, pack up their lives, sell their houses and move on. Move on to where, I ask? To a nursing home? To their child’s basement? Or God forbid, far away from family and friends and their life-sustaining support network. And who are we to expect older residents to prematurely uproot their lives to make way for the younger generation? 

I’m speaking for the renters and the essential workers whose gig jobs and restaurant jobs have all but disappeared, making it nearly impossible for them to pay rent on their expensive Belmont apartments. They have student loans to pay, and car payments, health care expenses, food and heat. An increase in their landlord’s property taxes and water bills likely will increase the already destabilizing expenses that so many renters endure each month. Surely, proponents of the override remember when they too lived paycheck to paycheck. 

I’m speaking for small landlords who cannot make their mortgage payments without benefit of the check from their single rental apartment. What happens when the gig workers or low-wage workers or the senior citizens can no longer afford to pay the rent? What are people supposed to do?

I’m speaking for those Belmont residents who, unlike me and maybe you, could not and cannot afford the luxury of living beneath or even within their means. People are trying to pay medical bills or student loans or personal expenses beyond our imagination. We all live among people who do not earn the salaries of doctors, lawyers, managers or well-paid municipal and school department workers. “Essential” workers cannot work remotely and educate their kids from the comfort of their homes without stressing their bank accounts and their well-being. They live among us in far greater numbers than proponents of the override seem to understand. 

According to “Vote Yes for Belmont!” “The principle of taxation is to pool resources for a community to share in the common good” and I agree that not much else could be more true from a societal perspective. But the “common good” has to include those on the bottom of the financial ladder. It has to include the unemployed, the disenfranchised, the elderly and the poor. Belmont is an affluent town, but it is time to look around you and understand that many Belmont people do not share in that affluence. 

“Help is on the way” from our Democratic Congress and from President Biden, including help for low- and moderate-income Americans, and for cities and towns and schools. Let’s wait to see just how much money Belmont will receive from the American Rescue Act of 2021 before we push more of our residents over the financial cliff. If we wait a few months to sort it all out, we’ll be in a better, more credible position to ask for a smaller override in the fall. Maybe.

The whole world is emerging from a deadly pandemic. Belmont is part of that world including our children, our elders, me and you. Millions of jobs might come back, but many likely will not. People will have no choice but to reinvent themselves and to figure out what kind of lives they can afford to live. A six and a half million dollar override now isn’t fair to those who are not yet able to lift their heads above water.

– Andrea Serra Masciari, Precinct 5 Town Meeting member

What federal aid means for Belmont

When override opponents announced that the American Rescue Plan was a “game changer” regarding the need for an override, it sounded too good to be true, and it was. ARP funding does not change Belmont’s need for an override. It does begin to address the concerns of residents for whom the override presents the biggest financial challenge. In addition to providing $1,400 to eligible individuals, ARP includes emergency rental assistance, aid to small businesses, and grants to homeowners struggling to catch up on mortgage, utility, property tax and insurance payments. That is good news for Belmont residents.

On the other hand, most of the ARP aid to municipalities is reserved for specific purposes having to do with the impact of COVID-19 or addressing critical infrastructure gaps in some communities. The amount of unrestricted funding is not only relatively small, but the town also already has plans for it.

Rather than budget for fiscal year 2022 COVID-19-related expenses and raise the override request even further, the town presciently banked on federal aid coming through. That means that every unbudgeted school district COVID-19 expense for the coming school year may actually be paid with federal dollars. These are numerous and include COVID-19 testing regimens and the staff to support them, contact tracing costs, counseling for students and professional development for teachers to support student mental health, summer school and tutoring to address learning gaps, and — perhaps most expensive of all — the potential that Belmont will need to provide families with health concerns a remote option for schooling into the 2021-22 school year.

Fortunately for Belmont taxpayers, the ARP means that none of these exceptional COVID-19-related expenses are likely to come out of Belmont’s general operating budget, which is already stretched thin. Unfortunately, one-time ARP funds don’t change the fact that Belmont still faces a multi-year structural deficit that predates COVID-19 and was not caused by it. Our deficit over FY22, FY23, and FY24 adds up to almost $20 million. Even the rosiest picture of potential federal aid does not address that deficit, and delaying the override will only make the situation worse.

– Mary Lewis, Randolph Street

Vote ‘yes’ for override

The April 6 override vote will address critical town budget issues and allow us to “move the ball forward” — it will not solve everything, but it will take an important step.

No one wants to “pay more” in taxes, but we effectively “defer” taxes each year with our inherent structural operating deficit. Thus, every few years, we have to “catch up.” Due to some great efforts over several months, Belmont enjoyed nearly six years from the last override.

A “yes” vote will backstop critical programs and services across the board — your community center, your roads, your schools, your library, your playgrounds/parks, your safety, etc. If the measure fails, nearly every department will face significant more cuts, into the meat of vital staff and programs. Even with my limited involvements, I observe town leadership (many volunteers and very capable professionals) juggling many priorities, and addressing considerable challenges long in the making. COVID-19 costs exacerbated these challenges. Let’s not reverse the great strides made over the past three to five years, and instead, let’s continue our steady progress plotting out a stable long-term financial strategy.

Capped by Prop 22 and virtually no commercial development opportunities, Belmont runs very lean for the most part; there are no “excessive” salaries or OT paid out, we seek to hire highly competent teachers and staff, and we rely heavily on huge commitments of volunteer time. Just to name a few of the very positive activities: solving the DPW/PD facilities dilemma, winning significant grants won since Patrice Garvin’s arrival, and super analysis and planning by our Long-term Financial Task Force II each have provided savings and discipline. On top of that, we enjoyed very smooth and effective administration and town clerk operations despite COVID-19.

I fully appreciate that any tax increase hits many families, younger and older, hard, but we cannot just “stop” investing in our town services, programs and facilities. Finally, for those who need the help, some relief is available based on household income, a recent increase in credit for volunteer hours, as well as a vastly lowered interest rate should someone elect to defer their real estate taxes until the sale of their home. I hope you will ask someone knowledgeable about those measures, if you have the need.

– Lawrence J. Link, Orchard Street

Evelyn Gómez is the innovative problem-solver our schools need

I’m endorsing Evelyn Gómez’s election to the School Committee on April 6. In the several months since she was appointed to fill a vacancy, Evelyn has become a vital and much needed voice on the School Committee. She’s a deeply thoughtful and outside-the-box thinker, bringing a refreshingly new set of insights to the challenges we face in our schools. Evelyn is an innovative thinker — constantly challenging the School Committee and our schools to look at things a different way, consider things from a different angle, and take an entirely different approach when it’s helpful. That’s the kind of thinking the School Committee needs. It’s the kind of leadership our schools need. 

Evelyn also has been an incredible leader on diversity, inclusion, and equity. She has led the charge on the creation of the School Committee’s new Equity Subcommittee and has begun the important work needed to bring accountability to our school system. Our Belmont schools have struggled for years around how to best respond to — and work with — our increasingly diverse student population and families. As someone who is LatinX and the children of immigrants, Evelyn is uniquely positioned to bring about the change our schools need. Her vision for improving the outcomes for all of our children includes a focus on lifting up our children of color who so often become an afterthought. 

There have been deep rumblings of unhappiness with Belmont schools during this pandemic year. That’s completely understandable. And some have suggested in response that it’s time to vote in someone new to replace Evelyn on the School Committee. I can’t be more emphatic in disagreeing. Evelyn responds to parents with deep concern and empathy. But she’s also a problem solver — someone this school district needs. Evelyn has been so important in the discussions and negotiations around opening our schools more fully and helping our remote families, as well. As schools across the state — including here in Belmont — begin to bring students back for full in-person days this spring and move to reopen normally in the fall, we desperately need someone who has experience needed to continue the work in Belmont. Evelyn Gómez has the experience and needs your vote to continue the hard work that supports our kids.

– Mike Crowley, Belmont School Committee member and Town Meeting member, Precinct 8

Vote Evelyn Gomez for School Committee

During this extremely difficult year, people have approached challenges in different ways. Some have become more vocal and more involved in the town and the schools, some have decided to distance themselves to maintain sanity, and some have become angry and accusatory in the face of having little control. We believe that these different approaches to coping, in a time of hardship, say a lot about a person and also speak to one’s qualifications to run for public office. That is why we support Evelyn Gomez for School Committee.

Evelyn has approached this year with grace and empathy. She has been willing to hear all voices and has taken all perspectives into account. This is usually the hardest path to take in a crisis situation. In times like these, when demands are loud, angry, and constant, it’s easy to become loud and angry oneself and to make rash one-sided decisions. Despite the pressures Evelyn has experienced this year and the fact that she joined the School Committee in June of 2020, in the midst of the chaos of the pandemic, she has consistently proven to be a balanced, thoughtful and empathetic school committee member.

She has gone through a trial by fire and has come out stronger and more committed than ever. She jumped into her role with both feet and with passion. She brings her background in education, as well as nonprofit management, and budget experience to the table. She has demonstrated her commitment to antiracism and to ensuring a quality, equitable education to all Belmont children.

Evelyn also demonstrated her commitment to our children by being the only school committee candidate who offered a Zoom meeting to parents who were desperate to be heard. She met with us for over an hour and listened carefully, all the while holding her new baby in her arms. Evelyn gives up her time generously because she is so passionate about the well-being of all students.

We endorse Evelyn for the School Committee seat because she has persevered and maintained compassion in the most trying circumstances, because she is knowledgeable, balanced, empathetic, thoughtful, dedicated to anti-racism, and passionate about and committed to providing an equitable education to all our children.

– Mariola Magovcevic, Beech Street, Angela Kasumova, Payson Road, Heather Rubeski, Dalton Road, Parul Aneja, Newcastle Road, Maribel Carvajal, Beech Street

Support for Jamal Saeh for School Committee

I am writing to express my strong support for Jamal Saeh for School Committee. I believe that education is the most important thing we provide for our children, and Jamal’s leadership style and commitment to data driven decision making will help the School Committee address the many challenges facing our schools.

I work with Jamal and have seen firsthand his effective and thoughtful leadership in action. As a project leader, Jamal manages a team, and he has created an environment that allows all team members to contribute and feel connected to the decision making process. While Jamal is ultimately tasked with making many of the decisions, he ensures that the data and everyone’s point of view are included in the decision making process. As a scientist, he recognizes the value of challenging our preconceived hypotheses and finding solutions that are based on data. By gathering as many facts as possible, Jamal ensures that he has a good understanding of the problem; and by taking every point into consideration, he maximizes the chances for success. Jamal takes time to thoughtfully listen. These skills will translate well to the School Committee.

As the Belmont schools navigate their way forward – both in the pandemic and beyond — it will be necessary that decision making is based on facts and data. Jamal knows this and has a proven track record in his professional life of following the data. 

Jamal’s commitment to data driven decisions coupled with his openness to dialogue and to hearing from all voices make him uniquely positioned to help the School Committee with its important work of ensuring the strength of Belmont’s schools.

I hope you will join me in supporting Jamal Saeh for School Committee.

– Jorge Zeron M.D., D.Phil, Oxford Circle

Saeh, Moriarty for School Committee

I had the privilege of serving on the Belmont School Committee for 12 years, and served with a remarkable set of colleagues who exemplified the energy, community outreach, independence, and vision that Belmont has always expected of the elected officials who oversee our school system.

This year, I am supporting two challengers in the School Committee election. Each is a distinctive individual with highly promising attributes; each has children currently in our schools; and each will bring their considerable talents to a School Committee that badly needs them. These candidates are Jamal Saeh and Meghan Moriarty.

Jamal Saeh is a research leader in a world-class scientific corporation. He applies 21st-century, data-driven decision making to every aspect of his work. His managerial skills reflect his ability to set high standards, examine all assumptions carefully, encourage creativity, and act decisively. His commitment to helping the Belmont Public Schools has been outstanding throughout the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis.

Meghan Moriarty is a Town Meeting member, with an impressive grasp of Belmont’s many financial challenges. A former Butler PTA president, she has deep education credentials. She is a small business owner and educational consultant to school districts throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut. A firm believer in hands-on learning tied to careers, Meghan creates and evaluates science, technology, engineering, and math programs, with emphasis on including students traditionally underrepresented in STEM careers. Her strong background in budget management includes overseeing grant-funded programs at MassBio and the Museum of Science in addition to her own business.

These two candidates are not a “slate”: each can stand on their individual merits. But they share a willingness to work hard, the ability to listen respectfully to all points of view, expectations of excellence for all students, a focus on equity, and — most importantly from my perspective — a clear understanding of the crucial oversight role that is the School Committee’s fundamental responsibility.

Those seeking more information about Jamal and Meghan should visit their websites to learn more about them. Jamal’s is http://saehforschools.com and Meghan’s is http://electmegmoriarty.com. 

I urge my fellow voters to choose Jamal Saeh and Meghan Moriarty in the election April 6.

– Scott Stratford, Alexander Avenue

Support of Jamal Saeh for Belmont School Committee

I am writing in support of Jamal Saeh for the Belmont School Committee. I have lived in Belmont for 45 years. I have one BHS graduate and three children in the schools. I have been less than happy with the current school committees handling of the past year. The lack of transparency to the community is appalling. As an educator for 30 years, we need a person to make decisive decisions for all of our students and families. 

Jamal’s vision for the schools is exactly what we need. He believes in transparent and inclusive communication with our community. He is solution oriented and wants to continue to build the partnerships with families and schools. He believes in maintaining academic rigor and equitable opportunities for all students. I encourage community members to join Jamal on his Wednesday night Zoom call from 7 to 8 p.m. 

Join me in voting for Jamal Saeh for School Committee on April 6. 

– Kelly Rowan, Simmons Avenue

Support of Jamal Saeh for Belmont School Committee

I am writing this morning as a mom and member of the business community here in Belmont. I am a local realtor here in town and a 17-year resident. Just as many people do, my husband and I decided to start our family here in Belmont solely for the public school system. The past year has made many parents and residents question that decision. I am writing to give my full and enthusiastic endorsement for Jamal Saeh for School Committee. Jamal has committed himself to the difficult task of sitting on that committee. It is a demanding and time-consuming endeavor that determines our children’s fate.

My experience with Jamal has been through his tireless efforts and our interactions trying to get our children back in school. He has proven to be a skilled problem solver while presenting endless solutions to the many challenges our current administration has proposed. His background and profession enable him to analyze and research the data and that translates perfectly for a position on the school committee.

He has worked and fought continuously to give our children the education they deserve here in Belmont. He is honest, transparent, fair and approachable. Our children are worthy of so much more than what they have lost this past year. There are many challenges for our school system that lie ahead. Jamal will help preserve the integrity and standard of our school systems and ensure that all families are receiving the highest quality education that we expect from our town. Our children not only deserve someone like Jamal, but they also need him. A vote for Jamal is a vote for our children.

– Melissa Maniatis, Country Club Lane 

Meghan Moriarty for School Committee

If there is a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps it is our heightened awareness of the decisions the School Committee makes, and the significant impact those choices have on our children.

As parents who want the best for our children, we place a lot of trust in the members of the School Committee to use best-practices and data to make sound decisions. We need qualified individuals with relevant professional backgrounds who bring experience working in public schools and can share best practices from districts similar to Belmont, but who are also passionate about doing what is best for our Belmont children. With this, I enthusiastically endorse Meg Moriarty for School Committee.

As a member of the Butler PTA, I have worked with Meg, and have seen firsthand what she can do for Belmont. As president, she helped revitalize the Butler PTA. Meg worked collaboratively with the principal, faculty/staff, parents, students, and the community-at-large to enhance the Butler school environment, incorporate 21st-century schooling, and run some of our biggest fundraisers. Not only is Meg passionate about our children and Belmont Public Schools, her extensive knowledge and experience in education helped to guide some of the PTA’s most important decisions (e.g., ensuring classrooms had up-to-date libraries filled with age-appropriate books, providing healthier snacks at school events, etc.).

I trust Meg to advocate for my children and know that if she were elected, she would work collaboratively with other school committee members to make sound decisions that are based on data and best practices.

– Tammy Calise, Belmont resident, Butler PTA

Vote Jamal Saeh for School Committee

Belmont’s school system has always been a source of pride, yet it is in a state of crisis. We are enthusiastic that Jamal Saeh is offering his time and expertise to chart a better path forward. He is a strong leader with a vision, having tirelessly advocated for better, evidence-based decision making in our schools. 

Why are we in crisis? Last summer, 70% of Belmont parents, consistent with recommendations of health experts, expressed a preference for in person/hybrid education for their children. We view in person interactions as crucial for children’s emotional well-being and effective learning. However, Belmont began this school year with remote-only instruction, forgoing two months with mild weather and low transmission, and leaving many details for the return to in person instruction unspecified. Results have been discouraging. Recently, Belmont ranked third from the bottom state-wide in terms of number of hours of in person instruction. Little has been done to improve upon initial hybrid instructional models selected with almost no parent feedback or public vetting of assumptions. Teachers have been forced to make major changes multiple times in mid-stream at short notice. Many of these problems felt avoidable, a symptom of a broken decision making process.

Jamal offers a different model for approaching these challenges moving forward. Jamal proposed a plan for a pooled testing program which was easy to implement and cost effective, one which closely resembles programs eventually recommended by the state and adopted here in Belmont, albeit four months after his initial proposal. He has continually advocated for practical and thoughtful solutions. A common thread in these proposals — whether related to evaluating public health metrics, live-streaming for high school students, or better layouts under social distancing constraints — is their practicality. Rather than reinvent the wheel, Jamal studied successful solutions which worked elsewhere and adapted them to our specific context. He has always been transparent about his assumptions and consistently pointed to easy opportunities for improvement, while carefully considering views of all stakeholders. 

We should not be surprised to see such an approach from Jamal, given his experience as a researcher. He has worked for two decades doing strategic planning in environments with uncertain outcomes and incomplete information. Given the myriad of challenges we currently face, Belmont would be very fortunate to benefit from his skill set.

We highly encourage you to visit http://saehforschools.com and to vote for him on April 6.

– Lawrence D. W. Schmidt, Richardson Road and Martin Zwierlein, Richardson Road

Vote for our future 

In just a few weeks, Belmont faces a crucial vote in our local election. Though it’s easy to pass off town elections as irrelevant, the environment, education, and financial security of our town and our neighbors are at risk, and you can help by voting “yes” on the override on April 6.

In recent weeks, as freak weather has ravaged states like Texas, we have reflected on our own town’s steps toward environmental action, which have fallen short of meeting our sustainability goals. Voting “yes” for the override opens the door for further sustainability practices, as a new building specialist can ensure net-zero and clean building practices to guide Belmont in meeting or exceeding our climate goals — saving both money and energy over the long haul.

As young students, we place the future of our planet at the forefront of our concerns and we rely on adults to help us reach these goals.

As high schoolers who have reaped the benefits of Belmont’s rigorous music programs, AP courses, athletics, and dedicated faculty and staff, we consider the override crucial to our future in the classroom. With $2.07 million at risk of being cut from the school budget, we fear the loss of the programs where some of our fondest memories have been made. In orchestra this year we’ve had the chance to examine issues of environmental justice and racism, themes often left out of traditional music programs. In our AP science courses, we have critically examined climate change and the economic impacts of environmental destruction. These unique opportunities to learn beyond the textbook are fundamental facets of a Belmont education at risk of being lost. Voting “yes” on the override promises that Belmont students will continue to stand out as critical thinkers and conscientious citizens.

To us, the override represents a bright future. We implore you to consider the great disservice that cutting funding for sustainability, education, music, and athletics does to our community of passionate young people, and ask that you keep the young people of Belmont in mind as you head to the polls on April 6. We are so grateful for the opportunities that Belmont has given us, and we hope that children younger than us can continue to thrive in well-funded schools like we have. Thank you.

– Margo Danahy (‘21), Rutledge Road and Shanta Pai (‘22), Common Street

Support the override

I am a proud Belmont resident, and I am writing in support of the override.

In 2006 my husband and I moved to Belmont to raise our children. As we were looking for our home, we considered many factors: a warm and welcoming community and a town that provided a quality education that valued music and the arts. Our children have since graduated from Belmont High School. Without a doubt, the experience they had in the arts and music program alongside their academic preparation is paramount to the adults they have become and how they are making their way in the world. 

Voting to increase one’s taxes is counterintuitive. None of us wants to pay more, especially during difficult and uncertain times. I am voting for the override to ensure that the current and future generation of Belmont families and students can have the same experience that my children had. 

However, it is clear to me that the chronic underinvestment in our town and schools no longer be put off and that we have a moral obligation to ensure equity across the generations. Families and students who live here should not do with less than what my children and generations before us enjoyed. 

– Ariane Breitenbach Frank , Oakley Road

Support the override

I first walked into Belmont High School as a Wellington kindergartner, when my school was being rebuilt. Our core classes were held in boxy, grey modulars in the parking lot, but we got to take fine and performing arts classes in the main building. I was so excited to see the murals covering the walls, the music coming from the band room, and the set pieces lining the stage of the auditorium. From then on, I pictured myself playing in the orchestra and taking art classes with some of the amazing teachers that work at this school. I was lucky enough to have been in the orchestra and the AP art class at BHS, as well as all of the Performing Arts Company productions after school. 

The core of the BHS spirit is rooted in the arts. For me and many others, arts classes have been a safe space, a distraction, or a healthy creative outlet for the stress we all face. They have shown me what perseverance and self-expression look like. 

These classes build connections and teach so many important lessons that the core curriculum isn’t capable of conveying. They bring out something truly special in every student. Until junior or senior year, students have minimal choice in terms of their classes. Electives have always been something students have had a say in choosing, allowing them to develop their own creativity alongside their academic learning. I know that without these programs, I wouldn’t have become the imaginative learner I am today. The arts have become something I rely on, something I look forward to everyday. They have shaped me into who I am, and I would hate for other students at BHS to have fewer opportunities to take these classes and build their own creativity. They’ve helped students find passions they wouldn’t have known about had they not been introduced to these programs. I have learned so much about myself through the visual and performing arts, and I have pushed myself more than I thought I ever could to become a better person because of them. 

Like most students, I am not old enough to vote. I am asking for you to vote yes to sustain programs for me and future students who stand to benefit. Please vote “yes” on April 6 for us. 

– Anjana Balakrishnan, Preble Gardens Road

No school (leadership) will lead to school flight

In a recent poll, nearly 65% of Belmont parents stated they will consider sending their children to private school if Belmont does not commit to full in-person school. Twenty-five percent of respondents — 50 people — have applied or secured spots in private schools for their children. This after we saw a drop of nearly 300 students enrolled in Belmont public schools this past year. We are on the cusp of flight from Belmont Public Schools — a trend that will hurt us all.

Recently, a number of concerned parents conducted an informal survey of nearly 200 parents to learn more about the impact this year may have on school enrollment. The results are upsetting. The reason is unacceptable. Parents have lost confidence in the School Committee and administration. They are upset because online school does not work and the hybrid plans — especially at Chenery where hybrid is described as “a mess” and “ridiculous” — are failing our students. Children are not learning and their social and emotional needs are not being met. Parents believe leadership has failed and they lack confidence in Belmont Public Schools. 

Belmont already has earned the bad reputation of being one of 16 schools in the state to be cited as failing to comply with guidelines to provide in-person education, and then had our hybrid plan ranked 240 out of 242 by DESE. If families start to leave, the problems are exacerbated. We risk keeping and attracting the best teachers. We are creating a less equitable school system. Families will stop seeking out Belmont and our property values will decline. Our schools, which have been the pride of many and a consistent draw for families, will suffer.

While this poll is not scientific, it is a clear sign of an important and concerning undercurrent in our town. Families are looking to send their children to other schools because our schools and leadership are failing them. We need to allow all of our students to return to full in-person school now — not just for our children, but to start to repair the trust in our system and allow our community to thrive. 

It has been over a year since our children have attended “real” school. To repair our community and help ensure the continued success of our schools and our town, it is time to open our schools for every student who wants to return.

– Danielle Lemack, Fairmont Street 

Your vote is your voice

On April 6, we have an opportunity to elect two members of our six-person School Committee. If you don’t have children in the school system, do not abstain from voting for School Committee candidates. Throwing away your vote is like giving a blank check to someone you don’t know. 

The School Committee has the power to hire and fire the superintendent. They control over 60% of the town’s operating budget. And most importantly, they look out for your student’s best interests in much the same way the teacher’s union looks out for the teachers’ best interests.

Points to consider:

1. School Committee members must be the best advocate for our children by gathering information from the community so he/she can make an informed decision on whether to accept or reject any policy regarding the public schools. They do not participate in creating curriculums, that is the job of the superintendent and school administrators. This means a degree or experience in education does not make or break a School Committee member. Rather, a School Committee member should be attuned to the needs of the students and gather data from reputable sources to help make informed decisions.

2. School Committee members are responsible for continued oversight of the school budget expenditures to ensure the funds are spent appropriately. They must be familiar with the school budget, which includes salaries and enrollment numbers, and must be confident enough to ask hard questions. It is their job to manage finances to ensure that the budgets reflect programs that will best support our students.

3. School Committee members must have skills in negotiations and arbitrations because it is they who sit in the room with the administration and district lawyer when negotiating with the teacher’s union.

4. School Committee members must exercise good governance, which means knowing how boards operate and how to adhere to guidelines of operations and civil interactions. It is best to have some members who have prior experience running boards of directors.

The best way to choose a School Committee member is the same way you would choose an advocate to represent your child at the bargaining table. You need to be a terrific negotiator, someone who knows how budgets work, how the rules work, and what levers to push in order to advance children’s best interests.

– Rubi Lichauco, Belmont High School parent ’21 and ‘17 

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