Move to Belmont? What’s Your Advice?

OK, so I received an e-mail over the weekend that I’ll excerpt below. Suffice it to say that its the e-mail we, as proud Belmontonians (and homeowners) fear getting, but I think it’s illustrative of where the sentiments of home buyers are right now in what is still very much a buyer’s market. The e-mail also offers a good thought exercise to start off the New Year, namely: what’s your elevator pitch for (or against) the town as a destination for prospective home buyers?

Here’s the e-mail, as I received it. I’ve removed any personally identifiable information, but suffice it to say that this person is a professor at  Harvard University with a professional spouse who works full time. They have a four year old and an infant and currently rent in Cambridge. Their short list for towns to move to includes Belmont, Lexington and Newton. Belmont is their first choice, because of its convenience. But, as you can see, they have “reservations.”

Dear Paul,

K——- gave me your email address. We’re in the process of shopping for a house, and we’re very interested in Belmont but have heard some worrying things about the schools. Most of the people I know in Belmont have grown children, so I haven’t been able to get any up-to-date info on this. Would you be willing to have a quick phone chat with me about schools, and living in Belmont generally, sometime?

You can call my cell anytime (617-###-####), or let me know if there’s a convenient time for me to call you.

Thanks in advance!

A—–

I spoke with this person today and will share my thoughts in a subsequent post. But first – to the B2 readership – what would your “elevator pitch” be to this parent who’s looking to make a long term commitment to a town and wants 1) quality schools, 2) a safe community, 3) diversity and 4) location/convenience? (That’s the order I put them in, but I’d bet A’s order would be close to that.

Interested to hear your thoughts.

  • Yeah – i’ve known that for a while. I thought everyone knew that. Agreed on “problem is no longer hypothetical.” And we haven’t even gotten to the proposed cuts to balance the FY 2012 budget!!

  • SMasucci

    I had this conversation recently with a family considering Belmont (for the schools), and I told them that while Belmont has good schools (for now), the reality is that I don’t see the school quality on an upswing. As David pointed out below, the town isn’t choosing to invest itself in education support, and I see this as a serious threat to the future of the schools. And raises questions about the community’s values.

    For your other three points: As far as safety goes, I feel Belmont is very safe. Diversity is a different issue. I think, in many ways, Belmont is more diverse than people assume. The word diversity has become synonymous with race, and in this regard, Belmont isn’t so diverse. But, if you look at other variables, for example home owners v renters, there is more diversity than one might think. Location is what it is, and it’s great.

    For me, someone who moved here for the schools above all else, I am deeply disappointed in the town’s commitment – or lack thereof – to education, and I have told families considering Belmont that the quality schools they assume we have are not necessarily at the level they might be expecting. My pitch often starts with the fact that other communities are facing similar, if not worse, issues, and taken as a whole Belmont is a nice community to live in that is likely positioned slightly better than other towns in this economic climate….not exactly a ringing endorsement.

  • Pjlooneyjr

    Of the 4 communities listed the one that spends the most per pupil (more than 2x Belmont) , is the most diverse, and has the most convenient location is Cambridge but that is not a choice. Newton is a lousy commute, has more crime and lower performing schools than Bel/Lex so throw them out . Belmont and Lexington are so similar that we should merge the Towns and become a city or at minimum regionalize several departments and services with them. That would certainly free up money to enhance education in both Towns and eliminate the endless fees facing Parents today.

  • 7×5

    The schools in town eat up over 50% of the town budget. We have one of the hightest prop tax rates in the state. Maybe the problem is not money, but how the money is spent. We have 4 elementary schools. Seriously, do we really need 4 principals, vice principals, 4 sets of custodians, etc etc. But the town decided to spend many millions on Wellington (should have made it bigger and merged the elem school down the road into it.). The per capita tax arguement doesn’t hold water as Lexington and Newton have massive commerical tax bases compared to Belmont. Wellesley, Weston, Lex are far more wealthy towns (per capita) than Belmont.

  • 7×5: I love the “can’t do” attitude! Keep it up. Together, we’ll ride your abject pessimism to a brighter tomorrow. I just know it!

    Seriously, though, i’d beg to differ with your stats on both property taxes and the relative size of the commercial base in belmont versus those towns (though its certainly bigger in Newton, which is a city).

    The “repair don’t rebuild” argument was utterly and totally discounted by every single committee that looked at the Wellington, as well as the State of Massachusetts, which told the town that it absolutely would not pay for a renovation because it would cost more money and didn’t make sense. Continuing to throw that out there as a cheaper road not taken just shows us that you’re shooting from the hip here, brother. Do your homework.
    Paul

    • 7×5

      Paul,

      You don’t read so good. I didn’t say “repair”. I said, merge. Repair does not equal merge. Apparently your homework didn’t involve the definitions of words.

      Lexington’s comm tax base is very large in comparision to Belmont’s. Have you seen all the buildings going up on Rt 2? The building’s already in place?

      As for shooting from the hip, you’re clearly intent on shooting at anything that doesn’t map to your definition of “right”. And we already know how you are with definitions.

      • 7×5 – it would be easier if everyone just agreed with me. 😉

  • Anne Mahon

    So it’s important that you remain honest…that Belmont has slid into some scary times when parents are buying text books, doing the library work at elementary schools and paying to keep freshman sports at the highschool. If we look at another year without an override or some signifcant sacrifice on salaries for teachers we will lose far more.
    I am hopeful that “feeling the pain” will have the impact of letting people know what happens when you don’t invest in community and that more will come out this year to support an override to help us bring Belmont schools and public safety back to what they were, so if your friends are indeed reviewing Belmont, I think it would be helpful to tell them that they need to plan to get involved in making it better by participating in the process!
    Glad to see you back Paul! I’ve missed BB!
    Anne

    • 7×5

      I don’t think more money is the answer to the problem.

      • Anne Mahon

        7×5,
        When you say more money isn’t the answer to the problem do you mean the money raised by parents to buy textbooks, reinstate Freshman sports and keep the elementary school libraries running part time or do you mean taxpayer money?
        Would it be your prefence to have the schools go without these items altogether and not request the parent donations when the town doesn’t support these services any longer?
        I’m curious to see if JV sports get cut this year and will go to the budget meeting next Tuesday to learn more about what goes away this year. I’ll save you a seat.

        • 7×5

          Taxpayer money. More of that is not the answer. Funny. I went to catholic grammar school. My text books were easily 10-15 years old. You know, not much changes in math, social studies, geography, etc. Let me guess. We NEED new text books every year, right? Having gone to college, you know what a scam new text book pricing is. Also, in our school the library was staffed by volunteer parents. That’s how it was done back in teh day. I’m all for parents funding items. What, the old retired guy down the street should be buying my kids new text books every year? I’m sure the budget meeting will be a fun party. Sad to say I won’t be there physically, but I hope someone there will channel me spiritually.

          • Anonymous

            7×5 – we need SOME new textbooks. Not math, no, but perhaps geography, and the biology textbooks could definitely use some updating. Not too many advances in Newtonian physics, either. I’m pretty bugged that we cannot afford an elementary school librarian — we act as if we are incredibly poor, but really, we are not, not compared to where and when I grew up. (Poor, is people who show up in clothes that are worn out and smelly — and it was not the fashion then. Poor, is people who pick fruit in the orange groves.) What costs us is not schools, but the “luxury” of living in a town with almost no commercial development (and this is not a recent NIMBY development, this is written into zoning rules, long ago).

  • JP

    I moved to Belmont from Boston 3 years ago. My daughter is now 5 and will be attending the newly built Wellington School. I considered Newton and Brookline (couldn’t afford Lexington) and was looking for a short commute to work (downtown Boston). I’ve been very happy with the safety and quietness of the community. My neighbors are lovely and I’ve met lots of parents with small kids at Payson Park. At a time when unemployment was high and housing values were dropping, the community supported an additional tax expense to fund the building of a new Wellington. Go for it. You’ll get convenience and more for your money in Belmont.

  • Thanks for sharing your experience, JP! Much appreciated.
    Paul

  • +1 to what JP said. We also just recently bought in Belmont and moved from Arlington. Newton and Lexington were out of our price range to begin with.
    The budget troubles Belmont goes through right now are not unique. No matter where you buy, the situation is the pretty much the same. Budgets are cut, overrides are hard to get passed.

  • Anonymous

    After the override failed last year, observing the state of the schools this year, and seeing both the available revenue budget AND the level services budget, I cannot in good conscience recommend that someone for whom education is a high priority move here. Obviously the word is out. To tell someone it is not a big problem is simply to lie. The budget troubles in Belmont are not unique, but the degree to which we are cutting IS unique among high performing school districts. I’m sorry for those of you who bought here recently.

  • Anonymous

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    Boston Movers
    Secure Movers Co.

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