I’ve run Blogging Belmont for more than seven years now in an off-again, on-again fashion. (And lately: more “off” than “on,” as my life and work obligations have flowered.) One result of this is that, when you Google “Belmont” or “Belmont public schools” you often come up with something I’ve written.
And the result of that is that I often receive e-mail messages from prospective home buyers who contemplating a move to town but want my opinion on how Belmont and – more specifically its public schools- compare next to the competition.
Now, the fact that we have “competition” is something of an anathema to Belmont ‘true believers’ – folks who consider that this is the Best Town EVAH -that the poo here smells like roses and carnations, and that you would be crazy not to want to live in the Town of Homes. Frankly, having lived here for a decade, I often feel like a True Believer. Belmont has a tremendous amount to offer: a tradition of academic excellence, a ethnically/religiously diverse, walkable community with easy access to work in the City (Boston and Cambridge) as well as the 128 corridor, a vibrant downtown. I could go on.
But most young families are discerning. And there’s one data point they care about: the schools. That doesn’t just mean “performance on standardized tests.” Parents want to know that a district will be able to serve the needs of their children – both kids who have special needs and kids who are accelerated learners and need to be challenged academically. “Good enough” may be good enough if you’re cemented in a community and would never consider leaving. But in a global economy, where communities like Belmont compete for highly skilled (and paid) workers with mobile skill sets, that sense of rootedness is rare.
It’s with that in mind that I’m sharing with you an e-mail message that I received just in the last week. It gives you a sense of how much of a “competition” there is out there among communities to attract new families (and thus sustain rising property values). That’s one of the main arguments in favor of passing the proposed override of the State’s Proposition 2 1/2 law. Belmont has been squeaking by for most of the last decade on so-called “level service” budgets that look to maintain, as much as possible, the programs from the prior year. In truth: this has been impossible: we’ve had to eliminate courses and extracurricular activities. We’ve raised user fees (read: family taxes) on those that remain.
The letter from “S___” provides a good idea of where the desires and values of prospective home buyers is. Note: she’s not asking me about how our property tax burden squares with other communities. She’s asking: what can Belmont do for my kids – both in quality of life and in the services offered by the town that will benefit me and mine.
A note: I’ve omitted the sender’s e-mail and any identifying information. I have also emphasized some key passages.
Sent: Mar 2 (5 days ago)
To: Paul (at) bloggingbelmont.com
Hi Paul! This is S___. I stumbled upon your blog, when I was researching Belmont public schools and living.
We will be relocating shortly to Ma(ssachusetts), as my husband has accepted a position at Harvard. We are in the process of deciding where to live and are looking for rentals in Newton and Belmont right now.
My daughter is in 4th grade and will be continuing her 5th grade in Ma(ssachusetts). My first search for good public schools, directed me to Newton. But there have been some suggestions from folks to consider Belmont. Since I am looking for good middle schools and eventually high school in the area, what is your opinion on Belmont schools vs Newton schools (if I can assume that being in Ma(ssachusetts), you would have a better idea …?)
Since our daughter is coming in from Gifted school right now, she’s already doing higher math and language compared to her current grade level. So having strong academic and after school programs would be ideal. Having diversity is preferable too.
Apart from that, I also had questions on living in Belmont. If I can, may I ask your opinion as to which areas of Belmont would give us easy access to commute (to Cambridge and Boston downtown) and good middle school (as I understand 5th grade in Belmont is considered as middle school)..? Your opinion would tremendously help us in making an informed decision.
Thank you for your blog and all the information you are providing regarding the city. This is helpful to folks like us, who are new to the area.
Tomorrow, I’ll share with you what I told S___. In the meantime, what would be your advice to her about her decision?