Monthly Archives: May 2013

Town Meeting

June 3 and June 5 are the evenings set aside for continuation of the regular Belmont Town Meeting.  The agenda is review and approval of the Town’s budget, including the allocation of funds for the School Department’s general operating funds for the next fiscal year that begins July 1.  The School Department budget for Fiscal Year 2014 will be tight but manageable.  The request for the General Fund, the amount the Town Meeting must approve, is $44,349,100, up $1,280,608 from the present fiscal year, an increase of 2.97%.  The full budget to run the School Department next fiscal year is actually $50,664,535, an overall increase from the present year of 3.38%.  The difference between the General Fund and full budget is made up from grants, revolving funds and fees, and credits.  About two-thirds of the overall budget goes for salaries and benefits.  About 20% is for operations and maintenance, with the remainder going to pupil services, materials and supplies, special services, and professional development.

 

To help the School Department balance the budget against available revenue, the Town is appropriating about $1.2 million from its reserve fund.  As well, the Board of Selectmen have approved an additional $150,000 from increased state appropriations.  The Department has requested a one-time grant of $57,500 from the Town’s Education Fund to purchase materials for a new elementary mathematics program, and various other grant sources will support innovation efforts and special projects.

 

Nonetheless, to balance the budget also requires some adjustments and belt-tightening.  Although there will be no reductions-in-force or other more drastic cuts, there are some necessary decreases in some services in order to meet the needs of a growing student population.  Four grade-level classroom aide positions at the Wellington will be eliminated; adjustments at the Chenery Middle School require the elimination of the foreign language exploration classes in the 5th grade; the equivalent of 2.8 professional positions have to be eliminated—one from Central Office and 1.8 from Belmont High School.

 

While the essential services and programs will remain intact, and while fees for extracurricular activities or full-day kindergarten will be the same, in the long term there will need to be thoughtful fiscal planning to achieve stability and predictability.  During the summer, the School Committee will be working with the Board of Selectmen to establish overall priorities, projected revenues, needs for services, and future growth.

 

 

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Schools and Libraries

Last week the Belmont School Committee and the School Department were faced with a Hobson’s Choice.  They had a decision to make, but there really was no viable set of alternatives.  To build the proposed new Belmont Library on the site currently planned, the School Department would need to transfer a playing field to the Town; and the Town in Town Meeting would then need to transfer the land to the library board.  However, without a viable alternative for replacing the lost field, the School Department and School Committee had no choice but to reject the transfer motion.

 

The Town has over the past two years explored several options for replacing the lost field from conversion of the Concord Avenue incinerator site to the Underwood Park and Pool.  None of the options emerged as practical.  Twenty-four hours prior to the vote, there emerged a proposal to build a comparable field by taking part of the existing high school parking lot and some of the tennis courts.  While the proposal is imaginative, I personally doubt it is viable. It would sacrifice land and play space in active current use and does not take into account the feasibility study for renovations at Belmont High School.

 

All leaders of the Belmont Public Schools genuinely wish for a 21st-Century library for the Town, one that students and citizens alike would embrace.  The Belmont Public Library has one of the highest usage rates in the area, and the current building is simply inadequate, and renovation is prohibitive.  The long-term solution must embrace a new library building, but the quest for usable land space and Town agreement upon that space is the critical first next step.

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