I’m here at Belmont’s annual Town Meeting. This is actually the fourth (fifth?) session this year – but it’s the big one. In the next couple nights we’re voting on the town’s $~95m budget, funding both our public schools and everything else: public safety, town government, roads, recreation. You name it.
Right now, Michael Libenson, the Warrant Committee’s current Chairman is reviewing Belmont’s overall budget. Big take aways: not a bad budget year. A greater contribution from the State in the form of Chapter 70 funding (around $700,000 more than anticipated) allowed most town and school programs to be level funded for FY 2015.
The bigger picture is murky, however. As Mr. Libenson rightly pointed out: almost all of Belmont’s revenues come from property taxes (something like 80%). That figure is pinned at 2.5% growth annually, while everything else – pensions, salaries, operating costs – goes up by much more than 2.5%. In the long term: that puts pressure on the budget that can only be addressed with additional sources of revenue (i.e. commercial development, fees, etc.) or an increase in residential property taxes.
At the same time, Belmont faces significant capital budget pressures, including the need for substantial renovations at Belmont High, the Library, the Police Station, the Underwood Pool (voted in one of our earlier sessions) and – of course- improvements to roads and sidewalks.
Right now we’re voting on mostly non-controversial items related to expenditures for employee retirement, etc. Now we’re voting on Public Safety budget (Police and Fire) which is $12,825,722.
Update: 8:39 PM
Joanna Swift just raised a good question about funding for the school safety officer at BHS. Namely: that position, which was restored with $60,000 in unallocated funds, was not a top priority of the School Department, but - actually – 12 on a list of 13 positions they would have asked for given a choice, including a ELL teacher, additional guidance counselors for BHS and additional FTEs (full time teachers) to manage a large 5th grade cohort. Long and short: school safety officer has lots of support on the Board of Selectmen and, obviously, within the public safety community. Also: don’t mess with students’ safety. The public safety budget (including the public safety officer) is approved unanimously.
Update: 8:44 PM
Laurie Slap of Belmont School Committee is updating us on the BPS proposed budget – up 4.1% this year. We’re expecting 115 new students in FY 15. Attendance is up 5% in the last two years and 6% in the 8 years before that. Looking ahead: by 2025, enrollment in the Town’s schools will increase by around 500 students. Options?
+ Modular classrooms
+ Making a renovated BHS 7-12? 8-12?
There’s lots of feedback on the school budget – a couple folks got up and protested the escalating fees for parents, which are taxes (by another name). Thanks to Sara Masucci, Chris Kochem, Anne Mahon, and others for getting up and speaking. I asked Laurie to detail some of the areas where budget constraints and not pedagogical needs are driving decisions about what we do and do not offer to our kids. Laurie