Best of Boston rankings may punish Belmont High

Boston Magazine is set to release its September issue with the annual ranking of the Top Massachusetts Public High Schools, and we already know that Belmont won’t make the Top 10 again this year. That’s because the magazine has already released its Top 10 districts, and Belmont’s name isn’t on the list.

Once again, its posh Weston atop the list of the school’s best public high school. Dover-Sherborn, Lexington, Wellesley, Concord-Carlisle, Bedford, Brookline, Wayland, Newton North and South fill out the list of the state’s best high schools, according to this story in The Globe.

Belmont ranked a paltry 29th out of 150 in last year’s high school rankings, despite landing numerous, national awards, including a Silver Medal on the U.S. News and World Report list of Best High Schools and an award from Forbes Magazine and Great Schools that listed Belmont as the top district among towns with a median home price between $600,000 and $799,000.

Why the sharp discrepancy in rankings? Simple: the Boston Magazine list ranks all the state’s school districts on their deviation from a mean for each of the data points that Boston looks at. Those include touchy issues for Belmont like Student-teacher ratio, where Belmont had the highest ratio (15.7:1) of any school in the top 50 districts, excepting Boston Latin. Per pupil spending is another measure that Boston weights heavily – and we look bad there, too – well below the state average and a full $2,000 per child per year less than the lowest spending high school in the Top 10 (Wellesley High, as it turns out). Not that I’m making comparisons, but…ah what the hell…Weston spent $5,700 more per student than Belmont in 2009. In other areas, we do well: MCAS and SAT scores, graduation rates, etc. all push Belmont up to the top 20% of school districts state wide despite high achieving, middle class communities that are outspending us.

It will be interesting to see if Belmont hangs on to 29 or slips further in the 2010 rankings, but with the failure of the Prop 2 1/2 override in June leading to larger class sizes, among other district-wide changes, its safe to assume that Belmont will be moving down this yearly ranking rather than up it. And, as we’ve pointed out before, lower rankings tend to be bad for homeowners in a variety of ways.

I have no doubt the No Freeloaders of the world will take all kinds of umbrage to these rankings: how subjective they are, how our kids get a great education whatever these studies say. But the bottom line for Belmont is really what prospective home buyers (read: families) read and perceive about the communities they’re considering plunking their hard earned cash down in. In all likelihood, Boston Magazine is going to give them a couple dozen towns to consider before “Belmont,” and that…just…sucks.

My 2c.

  • Anne Mahon

    We warned the day would come.

    I was at the elementary school this morning and the number of parents that had no idea that there were no longer libraries was distressing. No, they didn't vote, they didn't know it was on the chopping block, and I am at a loss on how to inform people of impending cuts when we aren't allowed to address these cuts that children and parents rely on in a newsletter in the backpacks because supposedly it looks like we're encouraging them to vote for an override.

    And the libraries were just one of many things that were chainsawed away from our school system this year. It's a pity that folks that had the services when they were in school don't think children of today deserve the same. But they certainly are handing down the biggest deficit this country has ever seen to these same children.

    I guess the good news is that perhaps this will only last a year as the frustration spreads across the playground like a virus as parents find teachers gone, services gone, sports programs gone, Directors gone, couselors gone. Yet there is still hope that somewhere in the grant from the state that we can get back a morsel of what we had, but with all those pink-slipped people having to take other positions, it will be a mad scramble.

    My 2c

  • Jerry

    I have noticed that a lot of Chinese families were moving in Belmont in recent years. Get those Asians to vote! They normally are new here with children in school and they normally do not vote. Generally, a good school district (high test scores to be more specifically) is the most important issue they concern when it comes to purchase a home.

    • Anne Mahon

      Many people come to Belmont from other countries on a three year visa (H1B1) to work at one of the several outstanding universities and science facilities that we have here in Massachusetts. They often choose Belmont over other towns because we have always stood out in the national journals as leading with what we provide our children through public education.

      The trouble with living in Belmont under this type of visa is that it does it does not allow citizenship which means it does not permit voting. So while they may be concerned about the slow collapse of our public school system, they have no voting power to make it better.

  • Belmont or Lexington?

    I'm in the process of moving back to the Boston area (from out of state) after having left Belmont a few years ago. We had lived in Belmont for almost a decade and loved it there. But in coming back I must admit that we are now looking at Lexington because of our concern over the future of the Belmont Public Schools. Without a doubt, Belmont is our first choice right now. But until I can get comfortable with what is happening to the schools, I'm unwilling to commit.

    • Pjlooneyjr

      Pick Lexington… Belmont is Happily Filled with children. We prefer empty nesters.

  • Timmartin74

    This post highlights everything that is wrong with the public sector. You state that Belmont spends less per student than comparable towns and has less teachers per students than comparable towns, but Belmont still excels when it comes to results. But, your conclusion is that this is a problem!

    The post even points to the flawed article showing that lower rankings are bad for homeowners. Remember, this is the article that stated that “municipalities with SAT scores and per pupil spending levels 20 percent higher than average experienced a 24 percent increase in nominal home value between 2005 and 2010.” Wellesley meets that criteria, but their home prices have decreased between 2005 and 2010. As has Weston's, Newton's and Lexington's. There is simply no support offered for this statement.

  • Anne Mahon

    Tim,

    Interviews with our Belmont Real Estate brokers indicated that the reason Belmont home values have been holding here as opposed to other towns like Watertown, Arlington and Waltham is directly correlated to families coming here for the school system. What they look for is summed up in the articles just like the one Paul Robers has pointed to. Agents said that the vast majority of their home and apartment showings are for couples with children that have read about our public school system.

    I pointed out in one of my earlier postings to this article that there are people that come here on a visa to teach at the Universities.

    PhDs and professors generally hold a higher regard for the importance of a solid education so that even if a classroom is over-crowded, textbooks are old and libraries are closed this year like we have in Belmont, we have many many parents in Belmont who work hard at home with their children to make up what is missing. It's the children that don't have the reinforcements at home to make up for all the lost teachers, services and programs that will end up paying the price.

    When those kids start to show lower results on testing, overall scores go down. This combined with the criteria by which we are judged is no longer in place. There won't be any more articles praising our school system and thus families wont search out residency here and we will be in the same market as Watertown, Waltham, and Arlington.

    It's considerate of Paul to let those that count on their current home values or rental income to know that the value goes down when the reasons we were sought out in the first place are gone. He wants to make sure that the warning shot is fired and people either choose to ignore it or get involved and make every effort to fix it.

    • Timmartin74

      Anne, I completely agree with you and Belmont real estate brokers that Belmont's property values are, to a large extent, a result of the quality school system. My disagreement with the post is related to the argument that Belmont is doing something wrong when the metrics clearly point to the town doing something right. The post discusses where Belmont is spending less than other towns, but then says “MCAS and SAT scores, graduation rates, etc. all push Belmont up to the top 20% of school districts state wide despite high achieving, middle class communities that are outspending us.” This is a good thing. To be able to weather a recession, cut costs, and still maintain test levels is a remarkable achievement. And I can assure you, as a father of 2 toddlers, that parents care more about results (test scores) than rankings in a magazine that will likely be rating day spas or celebrity haircuts the following month.

  • Asian in Belmont

    Voting at town level is never anything related to “national interests”. People who live and pay property tax here have no right to determine how the money is spent. Does it sound right? I have heard that anyone live in Cambridge can vote. Maybe, it's time for Belmont to do so.

    We have recently brought a home in Belmont this August and paid the premium price mainly because of the school system. If the school went bad, we will move out. We cannot change how Town spend the money but we can choose where we want to pay the property tax.

    For Timmartin74's argument, if our property tax rate is equally less than those town spent lots money at school system, then I would say we are doing a great job of cutting cost. If it is the problem of resource allocation, then those who's children are no longer in school, might think of the affect of their property value before they vote. Remember, it is not Florida, here and the majority of people that might move into Town are those who had or will have children. After all, there are not much of quality apartments here. As of test score, it is an objective standard. However, if score means everything, then send the children to schools in Asia: China, Japan, South Korea, India, Taiwan, Hong Kong…… you name it. 🙂