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Belmont override backers form committee to push campaign

Posted March 3, 2011 03:08 PM

A group of parents and residents concerned about cuts to the Belmont school budget has formed a ballot question committee dedicated to putting a Proposition 2 1/2 override before the town's voters.

The group, which calls itself Building Belmont's Future, replaces earlier parent's groups which coalesced earlier this year.

"As a ballot question committee, we can do some things a political action committee can't," said Greg Stone, one of the group's founders. "There's no limit on the amount supporters can contribute, and once we have achieved our aim, we can disband and donate the remaining money to charity."

Stone said Building Belmont's Future has approximately 250 members, and is planning an aggressive fund-raising and door-knocking campaign that could begin in as little as a few weeks.

"I've lived here for many years and never seen so much energy in such a concentrated form," Stone said. "We're just trying to marshal it."

Stone and other concerned parents began mobilizing in January, after the school department submitted what it calls a "mission critical" budget to the town's Warrant Committee. That budget forecast a gap of $2.9 million and warned of deep cuts to the school's acclaimed music and art programs.

A second, level-services budget with a $2 million gap has since been submitted and is being analyzed by the Warrant Committee, but residents were already responding. An ad hoc group called "Save Our Schools, Save Our Town" started a message board for concerned residents, and a Facebook group popped up for students. Stone said he has been receiving hundreds of emails and hosting large gatherings of supporters in his living room.

"Right now we're collecting and analyzing data," Stone said. "We hope we can talk to each and every citizen of Belmont and hear their views, and maybe change some minds."

A similar override attempt last year failed by approximately 400 votes. The town's selectmen said there was a lot of work needed to be done to restore public trust in the budgeting processes of both the town and the schools before any decision is made whether to put an override question on the ballot.

"The Warrant Committee is still analyzing the data, but right now there's a lot of emotion in the system," said selectman Mark Paolillo, who supported last year's override. "Overrides are divisive by nature, and right now people are still affected adversely by the economy. We need to show we can do structural reforms before we can convince the community an override is needed."

Ralph Jones, chair of the selectmen, said that more meetings between the selectmen, warrant committee, schools, and Building Belmont's Future would take place. Jones also supported last year's override.

"The process is ongoing," Jones said.

Sarah Thomas can be reached at sarah.m.thomas@gmail.com.

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