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PTSO and Superintendent Take on Challenges Facing BHS

By: Katarina Maldarelli and Sarah Le Tonqueze

On November 2, 2023, the PTSO held an event hosted by Superintendent Jill Geiser, to discuss some of Belmont High School's needs going into the future. In addition to PTSO members, attendees included some school committee members, as well as some other parents and the writers of this article. The main topics discussed included specific parents' concerns, general budget issues, and the need for another push for a Proposition 2 ½ override.

The meeting opened with a discussion addressing two major concerns the parents in attendance had. One topic raised by a parent is the possibility of racist and/or discriminatory acts in the school. He wanted reassurance that his child can feel safe and accepted in school and would never be subjected to racial discrimination. As he insightfully commented, “You don't plan for a flat tire, but you still have a spare tire.” We took this to mean that although the school shouldn’t necessarily expect racism or discrimination, they should have a plan in place in the event that such incidents were to occur. Although no one offered a specific response, it seemed clear that everyone agreed with the parent’s concerns.

The other issue brought up was the reduction of substitute teachers at BHS, due to the budget cuts. In a change from prior years, now, a substitute teacher will not be used for teacher absences of less than three days. Instead, such absences would result in a canceled class that students can treat as a free period. One parent objected to the new policy, mainly because he felt students will miss out on learning, especially if there were to be more than one absence on the same day. One student present made the counterarguments that, in her experience, substitute teachers don’t actually “teach”, and, more importantly, an extra free period can act as a well-deserved break and time to study or do homework. Further, teacher absences of more than one or two days are very infrequent, if not rare. Although both arguments have some merit, the fact is the budget cuts have made it necessary to reduce the use of substitute teachers in Belmont High School.

There next was a compelling conversation about how the school’s budget is putting its outstanding curriculum and impressive extracurricular programs in jeopardy. It is well known that the list of things that set Belmont High School apart from other high schools is extensive. What's being threatened by the budget crisis is not just the loss of some exceptional programs, staffing, and other important items. Even more worrying, the Superintendent went as far as to say that without increased revenue the school is in jeopardy of not being able to keep its lights on, due to continually rising costs. This naturally affects all basic operating costs like heating and cooling, equipment purchases, and classroom supplies. It is understandable that these financial issues would be of great concern.

The bulk of the remainder of the meeting concerned what everyone believes is the only solution to the school’s funding problems. Specifically, this solution is to increase budget revenues by raising the town tax rate. This can only be done by passing a Proposition 2 ½ override. Unfortunately, a proposed override failed once already, most likely due to taxpayer concerns about the economy. However, everyone at the meeting agreed increased funding would provide a much needed source of revenue to support the kinds of valuable programs in Belmont High School that make it the great school it is. Not to mention, added revenue would be crucial supplemental aid for certain departments that are currently severely underfunded. One example of this is the Wellness Department, which currently lacks a director. Everyone agreed, if action is not taken, students will be severely affected by the lack of funding.

What this meeting made obvious is that Belmont High School faces many challenges in the future to meet student needs. It must ensure that policies and procedures are in place to guarantee students have a safe and discrimination-free environment in which to learn. We should all be proud that US News and World Report's annual ranking of 2023-2024 top 100 high schools in Massachusetts ranked Belmont High School 8th - an extremely impressive accomplishment. To maintain this ranking, Belmont High School has to find a way to meet its budget needs. Based on the discussions at this meeting, the consensus appears to be that the only solution is to convince taxpayers to agree to pay more.

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