School Committee meeting Tuesday is opportunity to speak out against cuts

I am writing after attending a Warrant Committee (education) subcommittee meeting.  Everyone needs to stay alert to the fact that the stimulus money keeps shrinking in effectiveness.  It is my understanding that the 18 teachers, including 5 at the High school and an entire team at Chenery and a fifth grade teacher, along with 6 elementary teachers, are still not officially back in.  We need to be at these meeting to show our support, educate ourselves, and voice our opinions.

Tuesday night there is a school committee meeting at Chenery at 7:30- please come.  We will not be given the opportunity to vote for an opperational override this year, unfortunately, but there will be a great need for one next year.  This is a statement I made last year as well.  We were promised an override this year to stop the bleeding, but the selectmen did not follow through.  Starting now, I believe, we need to let everyone know the cost this will have on the children in this community.

I am hopeful that Wellington will pass, but that too is not a done deal.  We need to get the community out in force to vote on June 8 to support the new Wellington.   — Kimberly Becker

State’s fiscal freefall could jeopardize local aid

Those of you who picked up the Boston Globe this morning (yep — it’s still there!) might have noticed the downright scary article by Matt Viser about how the revenue free fall in recent months may leave Massachusetts in a hole that it takes us years to climb out of. According  to the piece: 

“Several economic specialists who testified advised state officials to prepare for at least four years of budget problems, foreshadowed by dire records: State revenues declined 35 percent this April over last year, the worst ever. The fall in state revenues for this year, projected to be $3 billion less than budgeted, will probably also be the steepest in state history.”

Even more worrisome for Belmont (and this was a topic of discussion at last night’s School Committee meeting), the drop off in revenue could have the state reducing local aid payments in FY 2010, or even missing a local aid payment due in June. 

State payroll is about $268 million per month, according to (State Treasurer Timothy) Cahill. He said the state could end up having to drain the $1.3 billion left in the state’s rainy day fund to make a $1.2 billion local aid payment due June 30.

Given the roller coaster ride we’ve all been on trying to hammer out a budget and factor in both federal and state monies in recent months, this news couldn’t come at a worse time, and I can’t help recalling the string of articles in the Globe about how slow this last legislative session was to get started, with weeks spent with no activity on Beacon Hill, or bogus ceremonial votes. Thanks guys.

It seems to me that the State (and many communities, including Belmont) are facing a day of reckoning, and that lawmakers’ blinkered approach to finding new revenue sources doesn’t bode well. As it stands, lawmakers in the House are refusing to consider raising income taxes on the wealthy households, an increased gas tax, or exploring liquor taxes to start factoring in the social cost of an activity that lies behind a huge percentage of emergency room visits, accidental injuries and other violent acts. Senate President Therese Murray has ruled out any income tax hike, though its unclear if she and the Senate will be able to hold that point. 

Faced with the prospect of decimating social services for the poor and vulnerable, health care, and education for our future leaders, the 30 year old mantra of “no new taxes” just doesn’t have the same ring. Given how tortured our school budgeting is now — fully counting on a healthy chunk of local aid from Beacon Hill — I can’t even imagine what it would look like next year in the absence of local aid, or with a much reduced local aid contribution from the state.

Survey asks for ideas on Belmont’s future

Hey. Just passing on a note I got from the Belmont Planning Board about a new  survey they’re conducting on residents’ views on Belmont’s future direction. The online survey (done with Surveymonkey) is available here. You can also pick up paper copy at the Office of Community Development (2nd Floor Homer Building, 19 Moore Street) or at the Belmont Public Library (336 Concord Avenue).
More than one person per household may take the survey, which asks a series of questions about residents feelings about commercial development, which commercial and recreational services they use now, and what kinds of development they’d like to see in the future. Most questions are of the multiple choice/choose all that apply variety.

For more information, call the Office of Community Development at 617-993-2666.

The kids are alright: new book argues for less parent supervision

Whenever my wife and I get together socially with other parents our age – or older – we inevitably end up talking shop about parenting. One common feature of those conversations has to do with how much more freedom and independence our parents allowed us when we were growing up than we allow our kids today. Almost without exception, the parents I meet and talk to tell the same stories that my wife and I do: that when they were younger, their parents threw open the door and let them (nay — forced them) out to play with other kids in their neighborhood. That there were no adults who scheduled these “play dates,” let alone supervise the play itself and that, amazingly, everyone turned out ok. No kidnappings, life threatening injuries or other traumas to speak of. This was certainly the case when I was growing up — in a suburban neighborhood with probably 20 or more kids around my age. During the warm weather, we played games like hide and seek, kick the can, baseball (and pickle) and touch football until dark (or dinner time). Heck, after dark we’d play flashlight tag, which is basically hide and seek with flashlights. War (played in an adjacent meadow) was always very popular. These games were totally kid run and kid initiated.It was like The Dangerous Book for Boys — only there was no instruction manual. It was just how you rolled when you were a kid in the suburbs.

Three decades later, I can’t imagine letting my girls roll out the door with destination unknown. And even when I know the destination, I find it hard to fathom letting them go play somewhere without knowing that a grown-up’s watchful eye would be on them when they got where they were headed. Frankly, though, I’m not sure how to account for the huge change between my parents’ generation and my generation. Now a new book (and blog) Free Range Kids, tries to explain that cultural change and to encourage parents to, in essence, free their kids. Salon.com has done an interview with the author, Lenore Skenazy,  about the book, in which she argues that the media has basically fueled a national hysteria about child safety and child abductions when, if you look at the data, these events are no more common today as they were in the 1970s. Skenazy is an interesting character – a syndicated columnist who attracted national scorn after she wrote about allowing her 9 year old to ride the subway alone in 2008.
She raises interesting questions about child rearing, about human psychology and about how fear influences the decisions we make. After all, auto accidents are the leading cause of childhood death, but most parents are able to balance the relative risk of that activity (which is much higher than child abduction) with the reward (mobility, greater engagement with your world/community). But would that change if — parallelling the child abudction coverage –the headlines on the evening news every night were gruesomely detailed accounts of kids killed in auto accidents — wherever they happened to be in the U.S. ?

There are also some really interesting scholarly work being done on how fear influences our judgements and decision making.  In lab experiments studying reactions to the 9/11 tragedy, researchers noted that fear-inducing clips made subjects “less optimistic about their own future, the country’s future, and the world’s future.”  Food for thought.