Below is a letter to Town Meeting Members from Precinct 7 from TMM Heather Rubeski concerning the ongoing budget discussions. Heather generously agreed to let us republish it here.
I’ve been following the process of Belmont revising the budgets for next year and am increasingly concerned by a couple of things I wanted to pass on as decisions are being made on Monday at the joint Select Board, School Committee, Warrant Committee meeting. I hope you’ll join me in reaching out to them with your own thoughts and concerns.
- I do not get the impression that many citizens are engaging with the Select Board and Warrant Committee about budget priorities. The result of that is that a small number of people are making decisions about massive cuts (and deferments) without much input.
- We could be moving forward with the conservative estimate of a 20% reduction instead of the even more conservative 25% reduction. We won’t have initial state estimates on revenue till later this summer. Pushing ahead now locks us into specific line item cuts while it would be easier to adjust up or down in the fall after we have received more concrete revenue projections. I would specifically add that slashing the school budget now hinders the district’s ability to plan ahead and prepare for what is likely to be our most challenging school year in memory. I understand they prefer to not use the state’s approved flexibility offer to wait till September to budget as using 1/12th of the current budget each month this summer (the start of fiscal year 2021), but I believe we should have transparency about the impact of those two options (using 1/12th each month till September or approving a new budget at the June Town Meeting that includes 25% reduction in state aid).
- The Town and School budgets are not being looked at cohesively. There is a distinct “us vs. them” taste left in my mouth after watching several recent meetings. It is not surprising that these meetings, discussing difficult and painful budget cuts, would be tense. However, I sincerely believe our citizens would benefit from a more joint approach that focuses on analyzing the impact of different options instead of departments taking turns to see what has to go “next.”
These decisions will have long-term effects on our town and those making the decisions ahead of Town Meeting in June need to hear from us to be as informed as possible about the impact of various cuts.
In a town where 292 Town Meeting Members have final approval over the budget, it is unfortunate that decisions are being made without much citizen input. We are all overwhelmed and busy, but now is the time to voice YOUR concerns, ahead of the joint Select Board and School Committee meeting Monday evening. You can review the district’s budget analysis here. I’ve attached a Select Board meeting screenshot that includes the town’s other proposed cuts.
I don’t assume that everyone agrees with me on every priority, but I hope you agree that citizens (and especially Town Meeting Members) should be aware of the budget cuts being proposed and weigh in to share their opinions so our elected and appointed leaders make the most informed decisions possible.
I write today to ask you to engage and share any concerns with the Select Board, Warrant Committee and School Committee. These are a few of my concerns that I am sending to them today:
- In the midst of the crisis facing our town (and the world), I ask you to prioritize funding critical services first – health, safety, schools and public utilities. I am a passionate supporter of many things including the library, recreation department and community development; however, at this time we must first preserve the highest priorities and then bring back other services when revenues allow for it.
- The school budget is already in a tough position, and it has been for years. We spend thousands less per student than our neighboring and comparable districts. I ask you to prioritize the health and safety of our students as well as the budget needed to continue equitable access to education during what is sure to be an unpredictable year of remote and in-person learning.
- The school budget is in an even worse position when we look ahead at an override in the fall that may not happen, or may not pass – without the override the schools will see cuts in the following year even without slashing the budget now.
- I can live with cracked sidewalks, potholes, and postponing events and services. In five years or ten years, my kids won’t have been impacted in a long-term way by adjusting the library hours now, or closing the pool for a summer. They WILL be impacted in the long term by cuts to the school budget that make it harder for our teachers to teach and the schools to care for our kids’ health and wellness.
- Finally, I ask the Select Board, Warrant Committee, Town Administrator, and Superintendent to put aside all differences and review all possible cuts as a team through the lens of the human impact that each option has now and in the long term.
I don’t have all the answers (if I thought I did, I’d run for a higher office, ha!) but I ran for Town Meeting to try to help the town do the most with what it has, and sharing my voice after studying this issue seems not only appropriate but urgent at this time.
Town Meeting Member, Precinct 7