School Committee responds to BCH editorial

The following is a reprint of an email from Superintendent Peter Holland to BPS parents. The email addresses a recent dust up between the Belmont School Committee and the Belmont Citizen Herald over promotions and pay increases to BPS administrators, as reported in the BCH. For those of you who haven’t been following this, the BCH reported that two of the town’s school officials would be receiving “huge raises” in the coming school year: Pat Aubin, who is receiving a temporary promotion, and Gerry Missal, the School Dept.’s finance director, who is being compensated for what the School Dept. says are extra duties he will take on while the town finds a new School Superintendent. Since that story broke, the BCH has editorialized strongly against the pay raises,noting recent examples -such as a vacancy in the Police Chief position –where far smaller pay increases were made to current employees for interim duties.

The School Committee responded with an Op-Ed on May 20 that clarified the two were receiving promotions not merely pay increases, noting that Pat Aubin would be taking over as interim superintendent after current super Peter Holland leaves, and that the Dept. was acting to keep from  losing these two experienced administrators at the same time as Mr. Holland, leaving the Dept. in dire straights.

More recently, the School Dept. has also pointed out that Schinella’s May 20 editorial also contained at least one serious inaccuracy (still uncorrected on the BCH Web site): that:

“These increases are occurring in the same year that the textbook budget for the school system was slashed to nearly nothing. These increases are occurring just a couple of months after school administrators were advocating to the Warrant Committee and to other public officials for a raid on the Post Employment Retirement Account because the schools needed more money.”

The School Department has pointed out that, in fact, the textbook budget for FY 09 was not slashed and is level with the budget for FY 08 — around $137,600. A letter from John Bowe to the BCH addressing that factual error was not published by the paper in print or on its Web site. It’s not clear, however, when that letter was sent or received, and certainly possible that it arrived too late to be included in this week’s print edition.

That seems unlikely, however, given what is in this week’s issue. Once again, Editor Tony Schinella used the editorial pages again to return to the issue, noting yet more examples (the Town Administrator position) where the Town was able to patch over vacancies in ways that were less expensive than what the School Committee is proposing with Aubin and Missal. The BCH also set the record straight on its inaccurate reporting, albeit below the fold and absent any contrition. After more scolding about what Mr. Schinella clearly sees as School Dept. profligacy, Schinella puts his correction under the heading “A correction that could put some at ease.” Hopefully it will put Mr. Schinella’s bosses at ease, given that accuracy in reporting should be the sole measure of the worth of his paper. (B2 also notes that BCH has chosen to leave his errant statement about the textbook budget unchanged in the body of the story and issued his correction as an appendage to the piece — not exactly an even-handed approach.) The BCH claims the money was added in at the “end of the budget process,” though it may be the case that there were public hearings in March at which the restored funds for textbooks were accounted for in the school dept.’s figures as well as handouts and other materials. (Note: I’m still trying to confirm this.)

With this as a background, Superintendent Holland sent the following letter to BPS parents addressing the controversy, forwarding a letter from School Committee Chair John Bowe:


Belmont Public School Community,

Since the editor of the local paperdeclined to publish this letter by School Committee Chairman John Bowe, I wanted to send it to all parents on the Belmont Public Schools’list-serves. John’s letter was written to correct the misinformation in afull-column editorial in last week’s edition of the local paper.

Best wishes for the close of the school year!

Peter Holland, Ed. D.
Superintendent, Belmont Public Schools


To the editor:

I am writing to correct a serious factual errorin last week’s editorial on School Administration salaries during the upcomingtransition year following Dr. Holland’s retirement. The editorial statesthat “the textbook budget [in the upcoming year] for the school system wasslashed to nearly nothing”.

The textbook budget for the upcoming fiscal year(FY2009) is $137,575
– nearly identical to the $137,600 budgeted forthe current fiscal year. This is in keeping with the rest of the school budget,which is level-service with minor additions to maintain class sizes.

The Citizen-Herald did not hesitate to chastiseschool supporters, at any point during the fast-moving and often confusingbudget process, if their concerns about school funding didn’t meet thefacts. Readers of this newspaper deserve more careful and accurateinformation, particularly now that the school budget has been finalized andapproved by Town Meeting.

I am pleased that the editorial recognizes thelogic of the School Committee’s reasoning in retaining two outstanding andextremely experienced administrators for the upcoming year, rather than losingthem both to retirement at the same time as Dr. Holland.

I cannot find the logic, though, of theeditorial’s presumption that there will be “a deficit in [the salary] lineitem” for FY2009, and “much higher than expected” administrativesalaries for the subsequent fiscal years when the transition process has beencompleted.

Although total administrative salaries for theschool system will not be finalized until later in June – a fact I triedunsuccessfully to communicate to the reporter, who was pressed to meet aself-imposed deadline for a story – they will all be set within the budgetconstraints as approved by Town Meeting. In the near future we hope to beable to report that these FY2009 salaries will be less than the entire amountbudgeted.

I’m confident that School Departmentadministrative salaries for years following this transition period will be inthe same range as at present – with typical, not excessive, annualincreases. The superintendent and senior-level administrative positionsare difficult to fill, largely because of the ever-increasing demands andaccountabilities in public education. But Belmont has a great deal tooffer to talented school leaders, and the School Committee, working withrepresentatives of our entire community, will make every effort to balancefiscal responsibility with the need to invest in a new generation of leadershipfor the Belmont Public Schools.

John Bowe
Chair, Belmont School Committee