An open letter to the Board of Selectmen

I’m posting a copy of the e-mail message I sent last night to the Board of Selectman regarding the pending debate about funding for the School Dept. and Town, and the need for an operational budget override for 2009 to make up the ~$3 million budget shortfall. I encourage all B2’s readers to take a few minutes to send the Selectmen your thoughts on cuts to school funding and vital town services in this difficult budget year. If they don’t hear from anyone who cares about small class sizes, music and art education, after school sports and all day kindergarten, it makes it all the easier to skim over the need to maintain the excellence in education for which Belmont has become known and focus, instead, on the demands of the pot hole posse.

As I’ve often said, I can get new shocks for my car for $250, but it’s going to cost me $25,000 a year or more — per kid — to pay for Shady Hill. And that’s just not an option. From an economic standpoint, schools beat potholes any day of the week.

The e-mail for the Selectmen is
Contrary to previous posts on BloggingBelmont, this e-mail is very much “live” and messages sent to it get forwarded to all three Selectmen — and they do read those e-mails. So get typing, people!


Hello, Gentlemen. My name is Paul Roberts and I’m a town resident and
a Town Meeting member from Precinct 8. I’m also the editor of, a Weblog serving the Belmont community. I’m
writing you today to express my concern at reports of pending budget
cuts to both the Town and School Department budget for 2009 and to
strongly urge you to put an operational budget override before Belmont
voters that will allow us to close the funding gap and maintain vital
public services.

As the father of three young girls, I am deeply concerned about the quality of our public schools. Both my wife, Lisa, and I are the product of public school education and moved to Belmont from Watertown in 2005 for the express purpose of taking dvantage of this town’s excellent public schools. While I don’t have hard figures, I don’t think anyone will contest that the quality of
the schools is one of the top reasons families choose Belmont over
similarly situated towns like Waltham, Watertown, Arlington or

I was alarmed to learn that our Superintendent, Peter Holland is now
being asked by the Town Accountant and Warrant Committee to consider
cuts of $1.6m in his proposed budget, with similar cuts to the Town’s
budget that will also curtail vital services. While no specific cuts
have been outlined by the School Dept., my understanding is that the
schools may be forced to cut up to 18 full time instructors, eliminate
plans for a full day kindergarten program that has deep support among
the working families in this town, eliminate or drastically curtail
funding for music and art education and push the cost of
extracurriculars onto town residents in the form of much higher fees
(aka use taxes). The practical effect of this will be to increase
class size (reportedly to 35 students/class or more in some grades)
and reduce the quality of the public education our town offers. While
affluent families in town may be able to reach into their wallet to
pay for extended day kindergarten, pricey athletic programs like
hockey and football, or private music and art instruction,  many
middle income families in town simply will not – exacerbating
divisions that already exist within town.

As I write, you are considering a number of issues to put before town
voters. The serial failures of heating and cooling systems at the
Wellington School make it clear that the building is nearing the end
of its useful life and must be replaced. I’ve been encouraged by the
support voiced by the Board for a debt exclusion to fund the
construction of a new Wellington. With the State signaling that it may
be willing to contribute matching funds to the project, now is the
time to act.

I’m less encouraged by the Board’s commitment to extensive and
expensive road reconstruction plans when so much else in the town’s
budget is in turmoil. As someone who lives on the unreconstructed end
of Cross St., I fully appreciate the need for reconstruction of many
of the town’s roads. However diverting scarce dollars to expensive and
comprehensive road reconstruction while also laying off teachers and
other town employees and asking the town’s students to “make do” in
classes with 35 or more students and without extracurricular
activities that contribute greatly to their physical, intellectual and
moral development isn’t something that I support — nor would most
town residents, I suspect.  For that reason, I encourage you to
postpone an override for road construction and, instead, put an
operational override for the Town and School budgets instead.

I fully appreciate the difficult situation the Board finds itself in,
with scarce state and federal support, slow growth in town revenue and
rapid growth in costs like health care, utilities and the like. Rather
than making up  your own mind about what town residents will and won’t
support, allow Belmont residents to show their support for their
schools and for vital town services at the ballot box.


Paul F. Roberts