The following GuestCommentary was published in the Belmont Citizen Herald online February 9, 2021 and is also in the February 10 print edition.
When we’re frustrated with the schools and the town and feel like the pandemic has taken away so much, and we want Belmont to do better, to be better… let’s not fall into the emotional trap of the idea of a protest vote. The stress of the pandemic has made clear the weaknesses that already existed in our education system, and voting against the override is the exact opposite of what is needed to improve Belmont Public Schools.
Not voting for the override, in fact, will give us all more things to worry about, complain about, and be disappointed in. A no vote to make a symbolic point will only hurt our students, our seniors, and our community that we all care about and would all like to see continue to grow and improve. Instead of voting no, how about running for office instead? Town Meeting has taught me much of what I know about Belmont’s finances. Or, volunteer for a committee, attend public meetings, engage with the Select Board or School Committee on issues you care about or are an expert in.
As a parent of three elementary students, I am aware of what makes our schools great and what the weaknesses and challenges are. Having spent my entire career in education focused nonprofits, I am also aware of what helps schools improve. There are always unique factors and varying solutions, but never, ever, is funding not a part of the answer. A high-quality education costs money.
Belmont has a tradition of pride in making the most of its lean revenue streams. But there comes a time when we have to admit that we do not have the funding to adequately provide certain services. Our schools’ weaknesses have been hidden by a highly involved and generous parent community who support the FBE, the PTA/Os, POMS, and other supporting organizations. If these organizations did not exist, the town would likely be having to ask for a larger tax increase. Many parents also invest significant money in their children’s extracurriculars whether it is athletics, music, chess, etc. as well as in private services when their child has a disability or delay, including speech or physical therapy, tutoring or summer school, not to mention test prep courses, further glossing over gaps in our public education.
Much of this private investment is a boon for our students, but it is a deeply unstable and inequitable system. Donations to support enrichment programs boost the student experience that year, but it may not be available the next year. And all the investments in private services widen the gaps between those who can afford them and those who cannot.
There are children in town who are meeting their IEP goals only because their parents pay weekly for hours upon hours of extra services. There are children in town who score well on MCAS or SAT tests because their parents have paid for tutoring and preparation. And sitting next to them in class are children struggling who have not even been identified as having a disability or need because our student services department, which manages evaluations for such things, has such a lean budget (that we’re so “proud’ of) that they don’t have capacity to provide more, which was already needed and post-pandemic will be even more essential.
A no vote to make a point that you’re upset with the schools ignores the very real pre-pandemic needs of our students. It is a slap in the face to those who cannot afford private services, external evaluations, tutors and more. Our district should have enough staff capacity to provide access to an equitable education for every student.
Just a few years ago we were a community that rallied to support what our students need — more capacity and a new high school building that today we can see rising, symbolically, as a testament to what we want for our children. We are still that community that cares passionately about our students. So please, put your frustration to work by finding ways to support positive change in our schools, but don’t use a symbolic no vote to punish our students for adult issues.
Heather Rubeski, TMM, Precinct 7