First the anger, now the cuts

Voters rejected a Prop 2 1/2 override - now come the cuts

On Monday I wrote about the importance of voting “YES” on the pending Prop 2 ½ override vote.  At the time I said that it was critical to pass the override, not only because it was needed to avoid drastic cuts in town services and education, but also because it marked a turning point in our town polietics — a willingness on the part of voters to have an honest discussion about the problems facing the town, the causes of its structural deficit and the best ways to address that deficit., the YES group that I volunteered with was all about encouraging that conversation and bridging the polarized, personalized and intractable political divides. In the spirit of our recent community dialog, we wanted to have an honest dialog with parents and empty nesters, elected representitives and the voters they represent. We vetted our numbers carefully and worried endlessly about the accuracy of our message – worried that we might create inaccurate impressions about the uses or scope of the override.

So much for that idea! As we all know by now, voters rejected the Prop 2½ override by a solid margin. (Election results are posted here.) The vote came in a charged political environment with a strong anti-government and anti-incumbent mood among voters. It also came at the end of a hectic few days of shady and shadowy campaigning by as-yet-unnamed override opponents, who used used robot calling and push polling to spread misinformation about the purposes of the override to town voters. Nobody will ever know how effective the robocalls and push polling was — the override may have been doomed anyway. They surely didn’t help the YES cause and supporters were slow in responding to them – or unwilling to “go there.” So much for clean campaigning!

Clearly there was a lot of anger out there – and maybe the “YES” campaign misread it, or maybe there was nothing to be done. In an environment in which so many private sector employees are losing their jobs, maybe some folks will find it cathartic to fire some public sector employees, so their families can suffer, too. That’s a mean sentiment, but I don’t doubt it exists. As for the services those employees provide…we’ll all have to do without them.

What are those services? Well, school for one — Belmont High is being forced to eliminate or shorten its elective coursework, and, as Principal Mike Harvey notes, has eliminated 19 class sections in the last two years to try to live within budget constraints. As for the changes coming in 2010 and 2011, Mike Harvey lays them out in a letter addressed to parents. I’m reprinting it here.

(click more to read the letter)

Belmont High School

Daniel E. Richards
Layne W. Millington

Assistant Principals

221 Concord Avenue
Belmont, Massachusetts 02478-3047
(617) 993-5900
FAX (617) 993-5909

Dear Parents,

I am writing to give you an update on our scheduling process for the 2010-2011 school year.  Last Monday, we were able to compile the course requests completed by students.  In our analysis of these numbers, it became apparent that there was not enough space in elective classes to schedule every student with the minimum of 6 full-year classes.  Unfortunately, there is no provision in the school budget for 2010-2011 to add sections to our schedule, so the solution is not as simple as adding more sections of high enrollment elective courses.

Our answer to this problem is to shorten the length of Ceramics 1, Drawing and Painting 1, Photography 1, Sculpture 1, History of Popular Music and Music Workshop from a full-year to a semester.  This will allow us to serve more students without adding sections, and schedule every student with at least 5 ½ classes.  While this is not an ideal situation, it is better than the alternative of scheduling students with only 5 courses.  Our guidance staff will be meeting with students this week who do not have a “complete” schedule to assist them in selecting their elective classes.

From an equity perspective, it is not right for a select number of students to have the opportunity to take 7 classes when many at the school will be limited to fewer than six.  As a result, students who indicated they would like to take a seventh class were asked last week to make a choice as to which elective they would prefer for their sixth course.

I definitely understand you will be frustrated and concerned about the potential effects these changes will have on your child’s education. I think it is a fair assessment to say that we at the high school are experiencing similar emotions as we wrestle with the realities of the 2010-2011 budget and the loss of nineteen class sections over two years.  We are beginning the process of building individual student schedules for next year and should have them emailed home prior to the end of July. Please understand that we are doing our best to meet the needs of all students in an equitable, consistent manner.


Michael M. Harvey