The Minuteman Referendum

The School Committee for the Minuteman Regional Vocational School has scheduled a special election on Tuesday, September 20 (polls open between noon and 8PM) to determine whether the regional school district shall approve expenditure of $144.9 million for a proposed new school building.  This will be the first school project that I have ever voted against and it is likely to be the only school project that I will ever vote against.

I am a passionate supporter of education generally and vocational education in particular.  In general, I feel that, as expensive as education is, it is one of the best investments we can make.  In particular, vocational education, as an alternative path into the work force, is something we should be trying to create more of.

But, I truly feel that the Minuteman school is a broken model.   Over the past few decades, Minuteman has drifted further and further away from its core mission — providing vocational education to students from its member communities.  It has drifted away both in terms of who it serves and in terms of the curriculum that it provides.

First, it has become more and more dependent on admitting students from non-member communities.  According to data from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Minuteman, Minuteman is an outlier among the vocational schools in the state, admitting 40.5% of its students from non-member communities in the last school year.   Half of the 29 regional vocational schools admitted no students from non-member communities and the statewide average was 6.1%.

Non-member students pay a much lower rate than member community students, $16,464 in FY17 (which may work out to roughly $20,000 after transportation and special education charges), instead of the $25-30,000 per year paid by member communities.  The theory is that non-member communities should pay only the actual marginal costs involved in accommodating them.  They aren’t expected to cover their share of the fixed costs of the school.

The non-member rate is set by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.  DESE is limited in its ability to set higher rates by the concern that higher rates would lead to more school systems attempting to create their own, less-expensive local vocational programs.   The average per pupil expenditure in the Belmont schools is roughly $13,000 per pupil.

While the marginal cost pricing may make sense in systems where only a small fraction of the students are paying the lower rate, in the case of Minuteman, it is very hard to defend.  The member communities are deeply subsidizing the students from non-member communities and pay very high tuition as a result.

The debt service costs for the proposed new school would raise per student assessments by $8,463 per student based on full projected enrollment.  DESE has the power to add a capital assessment to the fees paid by non-member communities, but that assessment is not likely to exceed the average cost.  No one should expect a capital assessment to reduce the existing disparity between member and non-member communities.   Such an assessment might, in fact, be based on a marginal capital cost concept that would increase the gap between what member and non-member communities pay.

Update re capital assessment

On September 15, Commissioner Chester transmitted a letter explaining DESE’s approach to the capital assessment on non-member districts to help cover the cost of the proposed new building.

Non-member districts who don’t have vocational programs of their own will pay the same capital costs per student as member districts. Non-member districts who have qualifying vocational programs of their own will pay 75% of that amount.

Currently, 74 students come from non-member districts that would pay the full amount and 178 from districts that would pay the lower amount. So, on average, based on current enrollment, non-member districts would pay an average of 82% of what member districts pay per student for capital costs. This difference will be on top of the existing gap in operating cost assessments and will work to somewhat expand the current inequity.

The announcement does not affect the basic per student operating charge per student for students from non-member districts and there is no discussion of raising that charge. So, the roughly $10,000 gap between what member districts and non-member districts pay in total will continue and slightly expand, even with the capital assessment.

Those who take the time to read the letter may note that the letter uses a lower number for debt service than Minuteman is using. That appears to be an error, but the letter is clear as to how the model works.

The other respect in which Minuteman has departed from its mission is that it is no longer primarily focused on students who are directly entering vocations that do not require a college education.  Almost half (49.3%) of Minuteman students go on to college, many to private 4-year colleges.  Minuteman is affirmatively aspiring to expand its offerings in fields that most commonly require 4 year college degrees — such as computer programming and biotechnology.  Minuteman is in no way obliged by state law to focus on students who need an alternative to college and is entirely free to set its own admission criteria.

Fundamentally, due to a lack of enrollment from its member communities in basic vocational programs, Minuteman has sought to fill its seats by broadening its catchment area and broadening its offerings.  But, in doing so, it is duplicating offerings in local schools, and straining local school budgets by diverting scarce taxpayer resources.

The question will not be on the ballot in Boston, which has its own vocational schools, or in Watertown — Watertown is not a member community, but does send a number of students to Minuteman.  Belmont should say No to the referendum and, by so doing, be allowed to withdraw from the district and send its students to Minuteman on the same lower-cost basis that Watertown does.

While I have a clear view on the issue, I do not think it is a simple issue and I very much would welcome discussion here it.

Responding to Comments

To those who ask “What is the alternative?”, I offer the following.

Vocational/technical education is not one thing — it is a collection of different programs that serve very diverse young people. I do not embrace the notion that there needs to be one kind of institution to meet that basket of needs. The other vocational/technical schools are not the only alternatives.

We have a host of educational options available in the Boston area — from union apprenticeship programs, to community colleges, to dedicated vocational academies, to university extension schools and back, of course, to our local schools themselves. Boston is extraordinarily rich in educational options.

The wealth of diverse alternatives to Minuteman fundamentally limits the state’s ability to “fix” the inequity in the Minuteman funding arrangement. Minuteman has become so expensive that if the state raises non-member fees to the point that they are covering their fair share, it is very likely to backfire and lead sending districts to channel their students elsewhere. It would create a high cost umbrella under which local districts would develop their own programs and/or form new partnerships with other educational institutions in the Greater Boston area.

The wealth of diverse alternatives to Minuteman is also what gives me conviction that Belmont should vote against this proposal and withdraw from the district. Belmont should not be afraid that it will end up excluded from Minuteman. Even in the unlikely scenario in which Minuteman fills up to the point that it turns away some non-member applicants, Belmont students will have plenty of decent options. That is not a plan — the prospect of that situation is too far away to plan specifically — but it is a judgment call that I feel comfortable making. I also believe that, in the even less likely scenario that the Minuteman district collapses, participating communities will recover just fine.

Other communities and their leaders may have a different balance of perceptions, due to their proximity to the school, their deep relationship with it, the number of kids they send or their wealth. Belmont spends considerably below the state average per pupil because of its limited commercial tax base and economically diverse taxpayers. It has to be hard-nosed about its options so as best to meet the needs of its children. I do not feel that Belmont should embrace, or has any neighborly obligation to embrace, a model which, in my judgment, is deeply flawed.


Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

162 replies on “The Minuteman Referendum”

  1. Thanks for weighing in on this, Will. People respect your carefully considered positions. For those who haven’t been through this issue over and over again at Town Meeting, it’s particularly important to get across the fact that this vote isn’t a referendum on the value of voc ed but rather about Belmont’s prudent choice not to finance an oversized buildiing project. I agree with your position and the reasons you’ve articulated.

  2. The clearest statement I’ve heard yet. I’m still figuring out my vote, so this is very helpful. I have also been troubled by the fact that it’s more and more just a very expensive alternative to district high schools.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this, Will. I agree with you on all points, especially the need to create more/better vocational education opportunities.

    As we’ve debated this issue over the past months, it’s become increasingly clear to me that, unfortunately, continued membership in Minuteman is not the right way for Belmont to achieve that goal.

  4. I believe you have made a very clear and convincing argument for your position and I support it completely.

    Thank you!

  5. You seem to be implying that the non-member students come from poorer communities than the member students. If so, it seems like a good idea to subsidize their education. The fact that wealthy communities like Belmont can devote more resources to their schools than poor communities in unfair and undemocratic, and having Belmont subsidize non-member students at least tries to mitigate this unfair advantage.

    Courses in bio-technology and computer programming are essential if vocational students are going to be eligible for jobs in high-tech manufac turing. So it makes sense for the Minuteman School to offer them,

    A vote against funding the School is consonant with a vote to remove the cap on funding Charter Schools. Both will work to increase the disparities between rich and poor in this state.

    1. What makes you suggest that non-member communities are “poorer” than Belmont? It depends on what you’re measuring. Watertown has a much stronger commercial tax base than Belmont and, I believe, spends significantly more per pupil its public schools (and if memory serves, Cambridge has one of the highest per-pupil expenditures in the state). In any event, this isn’t about whether Minuteman offers good programming — it’s about the size of the proposed school and the financing structure.

    2. I’m not implying that non-member communities are poorer. Actually, many of the richest communities have gone to non-member status.

      Ironically, some of the non-member communities who currently send the most kids to Minuteman are able to spend much more per student in their schools than Belmont does.

      1. Mr. Brownsberger: You stated that non-member students would pay less than member students. This led me to think that their parents were poorer. If that is not so, I would have appreciated if you had made that clear in your detailed statement

        1. Mr. Aronson: You don’t seem to understand the financing model at work. The tuition is not based on financial need, it is a fixed fee set by DESE. Every non-member district pays the same tuition per pupil. How much a district pays in tuition has nothing to do with the district’s resources. This is, in fact, one of the things that is broken about the system, and it has been cause for complaint for many years.

          1. Mr. Powelstock: Why not change the financing model? The goal should be to equalize educational opportunity for every student, rich or poor. I am not in favor of well-to-do nonmember students paying lower fees for attending Minuteman. If the parents of those students want to send them to Minuteman, they should pay higher fees.

            1. Minuteman students are students of the public school education system. As such, they do not pay tuition. Their towns pay for the cost just as the town pays for the cost of any student in the town’s public education system.

            2. Judith, out of district communities do, in fact, pay tuition on a per student basis. That’s what all of this is largely about: out-of-district tuition is currently less than the cost per pupil paid by district members.

            3. Mr. Aronson, that would be great, but it is not within our power or even within the power of the MM School Committee to change the financing model. If we could just do that, none of this discussion would have been necessary in the first place. I believe it would take legislative action to change the financing model. It’s an absurd mess, really.

  6. I’m very disappointed to see the issue framed this way — Minuteman as a broken model. Minuteman exists because its offerings aren’t available in our local schools. Further, the kind of kids attending Minuteman are the ones who need more attention to succeed than they can find in our local schools. Framing the fact that many of these kids do go onto college as a negative is a bit specious. We want them to go to college if they can and to good jobs if they can’t. A “no” vote on financing a replacement for the current school building, which has serious structural and safety issues, is a vote to kill the kind of school that many of our kids need. Minuteman fills an important niche that Belmont and many other communities cannot.

  7. What a pleasure to be in agreement on your well considered objections. Yet it is too bad we have to go to the polls (and incur another cost) right after this week’s election in Belmont.

      1. I understand this election was mandated a certain number of days after the Town Meeting negative vote, ergo the date.

        Obviously there are many unanswered questions and many assumptions that may well be unfounded on who pays what building assessments, true costs, acceptance of students from newly non-member towns etc. I strongly feel that vocational ed should include courses in the humanities and such and if the kids go on to college, then bravo to them! At 18 how many really know what they want to be when they ‘grow up’?
        Can you imagine the cost of trying to meet the vocational ed needs in any high school today? The variety of programs, equipment needed, space and teachers would be so much more costly than any assessment for MM’s new building.
        I am conflicted on this vote and feel that there are many assumptions being stated as fact that can be misleading when making this decision. Never assume! This archaic and byzantine organization of Member Towns, obligations, penalties and rules is beyond understanding!

      2. State law governing regional school district elections specifies that polls shall be open for voting “not less than four nor more than eight consecutive hours.” (MCL ch71 sec16n). Since polls were required to be open much longer at the just-completed state primary, it would not have been feasible to combine the two elections. Varying requirements for voting hours for different types of elections enshrined in state law should be rationalized/standardized by the legislature.

        In any case, the costs of the Minuteman referendum will be paid by the Minuteman district, not by the member towns.

        -Peter fuller

  8. A few thoughts on this one, and some questions:

    -The pricing model you described is crazy. Normally, long-term contracts generate lower prices because those parties are taking on so much risk and fixed costs. They are the baseload that allows the capital to be developed in the first place. And the true marginal cost for an incremental student is probably much lower than the $16,500 you mentioned — a standard student filling an extra school seat doesn’t trigger incremental costs from the teachers, the utilities, the buses. I could see estimates on this being all over the map. I’m sure they have had many economists look at how to cover the cost of this type of program, and I guess it is a triumph of sorts to have reached a pricing system so inane. A logical solution, would be to assign each core member community a proportional share of the “spot market” spaces to their share of baseload costs. They could then auction those slots to non-core communities at whatever price those communities would be willing to pay (or you’d do a Dutch auction for all the vacancies, with proceeds split among the sponsor communities). An approach like this would bring down the average cost of a baseload pupil if the demand for the school was high; and would also align member community interests in making the new Minuteman as strong as possible in what it does.

    -My understanding is that other vocational schools have been heavily subscribed from among their member communities after they were rebuilt. I wonder if the comparisons you had on in-district percentages for Minuteman versus other vocational schools have been skewed by this issue, as my understanding is that some of the other voc high schools have been renovated in recent years.

    -If this dynamic is at play, the concerns that Belmont students would be frozen out of the new school if they were not within the district might have merit.

    -I think one needs a broader framework than you put forth with which to judge whether the shift in programming to include more students who go on to college is a good thing or a bad thing. Are they going to different types of colleges than the standard track in towns like Belmont and Lexington? Is Minuteman able to provide access to materials for learning styles that tend to get ignored and beaten down in the mainstream schools? Are the courses of study that are part of this college-cohort within Minuteman ones that are not well developed in the standard high schools (computer programming, for example), so that they are not really duplicating the high schools regardless of being college track? For example, if Minuteman is able to train students who otherwise would not have gone to college and give them the skills such that they are both capable and excited to continue their studies, I’d view that as a success not a failure. I don’t have the data here one way or another, but consider the question an important one to ask.

    -Finally, and this is not directly relevant to the referendum, but the mainstream high schools all used to have some vocational classes within their walls. I logged many, many hours in the woodshop at Lexington High School, and a shop still existed in Belmont High when I moved here in the early 1990s. I think the total separation of vocational and college-oriented classes is a bad idea, and the loss of all vocational classes from conventional high school education around the state is a big one.

  9. Thanks Will: I voted absentee for yesterday’s election and opted not to for the 20th because I hadn’t come to a decision. Your clear argument is helpful. I generally dislike budget leading arguments when it comes to schools. I’d rather decisions be made for student needs and then as the budget can accomodate preferences. Equity among member and non member communities aside, I believe we can afford this and it serves a population where this is the best answer. I can imagine that the equity issue may be seperate and could be reworked? Perhaps by Legislative fix?

    1. Scott/Ann,

      We’ve been talking about legislative fixes for years, but I don’t see us anywhere near lift off.

      The status quo works well for many communities — it’s hard to line up the force needed to make change.

  10. I suppose that all member communities should pull out of the coalition to force some kind of reorganization? How about introducing a bill that provides a better plan?

  11. Dear Will,
    As always I appreciate your thoughtful approach and transparency to community issues.

    However, I heartily disagree with your No vote.

    The term ‘investing in our future’ often is a cover for ‘expanded spending’. In this case, it truly is an investment; a cost effective one for many reasons.

    The fact that Minureman grads quickly move to the workforce and add tax revenue to their communities should not be ignored.

    As a Minuteman parent, we have heard criticism that our school doesn’t do enough to make college an option for its graduates. Your thoughts that that ‘departure’ from its core mission is a drawback seems a stretch. We see it as an advantage that is worthy of pursuit.

    Thanks for an opportunity to voice a few of our thoughts. Though we disagree on this issue, your work on our behalf is appreciated.

  12. Thank you for the clear articulation of the issues involved and your conclusions. I’m not sure, yet, if I agree with your conclusion, but it’s a compelling argument.

    I do have to agree, however, with those commenters who have argued against judging Minuteman’s usefulness solely by the vocations of its graduates. I have two middle school students who I increasingly think are bound for Minuteman, not just because they’re drawn to the vocational aspects but also because they are burning out in the high-competition, “law school driven” Belmont public schools. I think that Minuteman provides a valuable outlet for kids who might otherwise burn out academically.

    1. I am a current sophomore at Minuteman and I strongly suggest that you urge them to attend Minuteman. Not only does it give you a break from academics during “shop” week, but they really do prepare you for the future. You bond with your shop teachers, and they help you out individually. Its still a TON of work, but so is any high school.

  13. My understanding (correct me if I am wrong) is that towns are required to make a vocational education option available to students. If Belmont leaves the district, how would we meet that need? Why would Minuteman admit Belmont students, paying a lower rate, immediately after having left the district? Even if Minuteman allowed it, what if there wasn’t enough room for non-member students after reconstruction? Would a vocational program have to somehow be shoehorned into Belmont High? As you know, that school is also likely to be rebuilt, and I don’t think vocational education facilities are anywhere in the plans. I also don’t know that anyone has seriously looked at the feasibility or costs of providing a vocational alternative. Finally, what would, theoretically, prevent all districts from making a similar calculation– leaving and then trying to re-enroll as non-members? I agree the model is broken, but I don’t think that the implications, including but not limited to cost implications, for Belmont of leaving the district has not been thoughtfully considered. I also wonder if there is any kind of state-based legislative solution that could help in the renegotiation of terms.

    1. Towns are required to make a vocational education option available to students. Belmont would meet the need, after leaving the district, by sending students to Minuteman as a non-member town. Minuteman would allow it because they’d need the $$ (Will’s info above). There will be non-member spaces available for Belmont students at Minuteman for the next several years because of a new amendment passed by DESE in Sept 2015 that requires freshman interested in exploring voc-tech education to attend an exploratory program provided by their district of residence, if one exists, rather than one provided by another district (aka by Minuteman). Many other non-member towns have such exploratory programs. This link has more on that new amendment and how it’s likely to effect Minuteman.

      The implications of Belmont leaving the district and staying in the district have been discussed over and over at Town Meeting over the last several years. For those interested there’ll be more discussion on 9/12 at an LWV Forum.

      1. Towns are not exactly required to make vocational options to students, although I feel they should.

        Here is the rule: If a student wants to attend a public vocational school in the state and the school chooses to accept them, then the home school district must pay the out-of-district tuition to the vocational school.

    2. First, if Belmont withdraws, we would still remain “members” of the district for three years from next July 1 – in other words, through June 2020 – and even then, freshmen who are enrolled could finish their high school education at Minuteman.

      My understanding is that if there is space, Minuteman is required to take students who apply.

      Most of the six towns who have already chosen to withdraw from the district are planning to send their students to Minuteman – although some may look elsewhere. We would not be alone in leaving and returning as non-members.

      There will be space. There are 628 seats in the new school. If Belmont leaves, only 305 member seats would be filled by member towns (based on last year’s enrollment). Minuteman’s projections are based on the assumption that enrollment would grow by 40% beginning last year, but that hasn’t (and won’t) happen.

      Member town enrollment at Minuteman has been declining since at least 1977 (the earliest data I have) and it has been approximately flat since 2000. Originally, the school was filled by member town students, but for decades, Minuteman has had to supplement that enrollment with non-member students (who pay less in tuition).

      Personally, I don’t believe that a new building is going to persuade students that they prefer a vocational education over the education provided by their local schools – which are excellent schools in the Minuteman member towns. Students choose vocational vs. traditional education based on their life goals.

      Long term trends do not change overnight.

      One more reason: If the proposed capital fees are enacted, there is financial incentive for non-member towns to find alternatives to Minuteman. The capital fees are unprecedented. I believe they are necessary to make things equitable for member towns, but they are a financial disincentive for non-member towns. There could very well be a significant exodus.

      For all of these reasons, I believe there will be space available at Minuteman for the foreseeable future.

  14. Will, are you working to encourage DESE to set the capital charge at the $8,463 level or something reasonably close for non-member towns? There are fears that DESE may set a much lower capital charge that would be very unfair to remaining member towns.

    Regardless of the arguments about marginal cost on the operating side, the cost of a new building is incremental for all students, regardless of which town they come from. The capital cost of a new Minuteman should be the same for everyone.

    In particular, I don’t see the logic or fairness if Watertown gets a better deal than Belmont on the capital side.

    I would advocate that Belmont leave the district if non-member towns get a discount on the capital side. But I wouldn’t be happy about it. We would be forced by a poor decision by DESE to shift the burden of construction costs unfairly on the remaining member towns.

    1. DESE has a tough set of decisions. If they set the rates too high, many of the sending districts will back away and try to offer their own programs.

      Given the uniquely high cost of Minuteman (at the top of the vocational school per pupil expenditure list), that is a very real risk.

  15. Thanks for sharing this. The data and analysis are very helpful. I agree with your conclusion.

  16. Thank you for your, as always, carefully considered thoughts on this issue. After participating in many hearings and discussions on the topic of Minuteman, I’ve reached the same conclusion: No on the new Minuteman even though I’ve never opposed a new school project and fully support giving our students a wide variety of learning options, including voc-tech.

    It’s abundantly clear to me that this is a completely dysfunctional situation and we need to vote No on the new school. By voting No as a town, we will have the option of then voting to leave the Minuteman district — that will take a debate and vote at Town Meeting. If we choose to leave the district, we would do what towns like Watertown, Medford, and Cambridge are already doing: send students to Minuteman without the same capital costs. There won’t be a shortage of seats in the new school — the school is built around the expectation that many MANY out-of-district students will attend and we’ll just be sending some of them. In any case, leaving the district would still require a Town Meeting vote, so even if Belmont voters vote No on the 20th, there’s a chance that Town Meeting will decide that we should stay in the district.

    On the other hand, if Belmont voters vote Yes, our hands will be tied — even if we later vote to exit the district, we will be on the hook for the capital costs. End of story.

    Considering the district as a whole is overwhelmingly likely to vote Yes, there’s no penalty for Belmont voters voting No on the 20th — in fact, all voting No does is keep our options open going forward.

    1. One correction, Paul. BESE voted in February to allow DESE to assess a capital construction and renovation increment based on real costs. (This is now enshrined in 603 CMR 4.03 (6)(b)4.c.) There is no absolute guarantee that they will do so, but I think it is highly unlikely that they will not, given the circumstances. If they do, then non-member districts will indeed be on the hook for capital costs. This amendment was a direct response to years of complaints by Belmont and others about unequal sharing of capital costs.

  17. One other thing: there really needs to be something done at the state level to address the fact that towns are required to provide vocational education but aren’t required to actually be members of a vocational school district. It seems like that’s a gap in the law — if a municipality doesn’t provide its own vocational education (like Newton apparently does), it should be required to join a vocational district with other towns.

    It appears to me that the rules DESE sets on lower costs for non-member towns is all about making it easier for students to go out of district to get an educational resource that isn’t available in their regular vocational district. But that sets up the scenario where a town can get a better deal by simply joining no vocational district and taking advantage of the lower price.

  18. I am not well versed in this issue so I appreciate the explanation. One question that I have however, if Belmont were no longer a member of Minuteman would it adversely affect Minuteman’s financial situation? I realize that what you are proposing may be in Belmont’s best interest but I am concerned about Minuteman’s viability.

    1. Unless a lot of other communities vote against the plan, Minuteman should be fine. Belmont is only about 5% of the students in the school.

      I have not heard of an organized No campaign in any community other than Belmont, which is the only community whose Town Meeting voted No.

  19. I would be pleased to meet with you after September 20 to share my views with you related to Miniuteman and Vocational Career & Technical Education in the Commonwealth at anytime. Please feel free to contact me. I do disagree with your thoughts and I invite you to read the fact based information at and on Facebook at Vote Yes for Minuteman September 20 2016. I also hope you will invite Rep Denise Garlick and Sen Mike Rush and Sen Ken Donnelly to our meeting.

    Ford Spalding

  20. Nothing I see here speaks to how in need Minuteman is of new facilities or why. That should be guiding our votes, not sending a signal to the district. The need to replace the facility and deciding what makes fiscal sense for member communities are two different issues. And even if Belmont votes Yes, Town Meeting can still decide to leave the district. The fact that Belmont devotes $13k per pupil, rather much less than most other affluent communities do, isn’t reassuring. If Belmont were to leave the district, perhaps the difference in per pupil cost could be directed toward including vocational education in its forthcoming high school’s program. Let’s put our money where our mouth is.

    1. If Belmont votes Yes, we will be obligated for the debt for 30 years – whether or not we withdraw from the district later. A No vote now is the only way to avoid this debt obligation, which we cannot afford.

  21. This school was a disaster from the start – I know I could have been in the first class and after talking to them I could tell they were a bunch of loosers and dreamers with unrealistic views on the school ? I think Will is right – the demand is not there from the supporting communities – maybe we need a charter vocational school ?

    1. Dwight how old are you that you say “loosers and dreamers”? You say you could have been in the first class at Minuteman? Hmmm you would not have made it, you can’t even spell losers correctly. You are the “looser” for not going to Minuteman. I challenge Belmont to do the right thing and vote YES for all the past, present, and future Belmont citizens/students that have chosen and will want to choose to attend Minuteman High School, your other Public High School choice.

  22. Thanks, Will, once again for your thoughtful explanation and I can readily see that it was designed to inform your constituency. Several years ago I e-mailed my representative asking if there wasn’t something we could do about vocational education. The Minuteman financial structure is just plain crazy, but I was told that it was out of the legislature’s jurisdiction. Like so many things in this State (veterans’ services, public health, mosquito control) the ability to serve all citizens equitably just doesn’t exist because the core of it always starts at the town/city level with people voting for what THEY need. The whole purpose of government, in my opinion, is to organize services for the greater good in the most efficient manner. Those decisions need to be made by thoughtful, knowledgeable people who know what all citizens need (other than not spending money). The idea that all of us, knowing practically nothing about the need for vocational education across the State, are being asked to vote on whether to build a new school is an illustration of how broken the system is. Several comments were directed at the idea of the legislature trying to force Minuteman to do one thing or another. What the legislature needs to do is look at how vocational training is offered throughout the State and find a reasonable way to offer equal educational opportunities to all the students. It is said that health outcomes can be predicted by zip code. I dare say, educational opportunities can to. I am going to vote for the Minuteman school because I want to support those who need that school.

    1. It’s a conversation that should happen and has been happening, but it doesn’t take off. The only thing that would really force it is if this referendum fails. I’m not hoping for that. I just feel that Belmont should vote No and withdraw. A yes vote may be right for other communities.

  23. Granted the membership funding model requires updating. But I would love to see us consider this issue from another perspective. Perhaps our overall education model in MA is outdated. I have heard of school systems that integrate healthcare, technical, science, and vocational training into the public school systems allowing students to choose from a range of classes which prepares them for employment, college, and beyond. We have top ranked public schools in MA that do not offer sufficient technical education! I work in IT and struggle to hire college educated business and systems analysts with sufficient technical skills to fill professional level positions. In 2016 it’s hard to believe that we can graduate a student without technical skills beyond PowerPoint. Minuteman growth presents an opportunity to be on the cutting edge of education in Massachusetts. It can support a growing economy by providing an education that our smaller school systems cannot offer. Our college prep students need more opportunities as well. Perhaps Minuteman can be a resource for ALL our students; Perhaps it’s not college prep vs. vocational at all; Perhaps all students are allowed to take a class at Minuteman to round off science and technical education; Perhaps there are more opportunities for students with different learning styles. Imagine what it could become!

    1. I heartily agree with Lisa. We treat vocational training as a lower track for lesser people, and segregate it from “education.” This is wrong for moral and practical reasons. Of course, many of today’s “brainwork” jobs require certain technical electronic skills; that integration is obvious. But mechanics and plumbers can work with their hands and also be cultured, well-read, thoughtful people (as all citizens should be). Students in regular schools may want to take some vocational training classes so they can handle a few things in their daily life without expensive service calls; everyone should know “how stuff works.” Every youngster should be taught some of everything, and later they can decide what they want to know more about.

      After years of university study, I was motivated to take a car mechanics class and a wood-working class, and loved them. Although I didn’t become a care mechanic or a carpenter, I learned a lot that has been useful to me, and, frankly, it was gratifying to do things with predictable results — very different from most of the work I’ve done. I wish I had been able to take these as part of my schooling. But in my day, only boys got to take “shop” — I had to take “home economics.” This, despite my Aptitude Test result saying I had a high mechanical aptitude.

      I know many people in brainwork who would have been much happier and more successful if they had gone into some “voc ed” occupation. And often, these can be integrated in creative ways.

      Kids don’t know which “track” they want to be on; they are usually pushed in the direction their elders expect from them, perpetuating cycles of development without regard for individual talents.

      Lisa has the right idea. It’s not OR but AND, for everyone. In education and work, as in life in general, everything is connected.

      Minuteman appears to be a flawed exemplar for such a rearrangement (and an odd subject for a statewide vote), but as Lisa so well articulates, it brings out the issue that the legislature should really be working on: a statewide integration of “education” and “training” with equal access for all.

    2. I am a big enthusiast of alternative learning models. But I really don’t think an institution which is desperately trying to broaden its revenue base is necessarily the best vehicle for finding the most useful new models.

  24. Will, You have provided significant data that I had not known, nor heard anywhere else. I hope you attend the Forum on Minuteman next Monday.

  25. Will, you have provided a cogent explanation of the financial disparity between member and non-member communities who send students to Minuteman. A YES vote means that Belmont will be assuming a arduous financial burden on behalf of non-member towns who send their students to Minutemsn. I would like you to broaden your description that clearly describes the financial burden that each Home in Belmont will be facing over the next 30 years if we vote to stay in the consortium. At the spring Belmont town meeting, a chart was presented that described basic costs/number of students/sq footage of several other vocational schools etc. It was very clear that using these parameters, Minuteman would cost 4 times as much per student than the other vocational schools cost. and I understand the new building will be built where the current football field is located, but this cost does NOT include a probable additional cost to construct a new football field. The devil is in the real details.
    Time for editorial: over the past fours years, the superintendent has promoted a plan to build what I will characterize as a Taj Mahal, or a Mercedes ediface thst is totally out of proportion to the reality of member communities wants and needs for their children. He has also been resistant to open and ongoing discussions of what kind of a Minuteman the communities want and need. There has not been a REAL audit of the school’s financials by an outside and therefore unbiased auditor in a very long time, if ever. The school is sorely in need of an updated Mission Statement with specific Goals that lead to appropriate educational streams. This would lead to developing meaningful programming objectives. As a consequence, a building that fits those Goals and Objectives could then be developed. Many people believe the superintendent acts as if Minuteman is his castle and he the king. I would not be surprised if he dreams of having the building named after him!!!
    Finally, As town meeting representatives and me, a now retired speech-language pathologist who always worked in public schools, my husband and I have been dismayed at the stone-walling that Belmont Town Meeting has experienced over the past Four Years on this issue. It is sad that we have reached this impasse. Perhaps, just perhaps, a NO vote will, also, be understood as a vote of no confidence in the superintendent. The Minuteman communities and their children deserve much better than they have been getting. Thank you all for presenting your thoughts and views.

  26. I agree, Will. I voted (with the overwhelming majority of Belmont Town Meeting) against this. It is simply unfair that a member community like Belmont would end up paying about $50,000 a student while a non-member community like Watertown sends twice as many students and is likely to pay about $30,000 a student.

  27. Your thoughts are correct. Stow a member community could send students to other vocational schools at half the cost as minuteman. I will vote against this cost and urge the Town to withdraw from Minuteman.

  28. Will makes a solid argument that the current funding and pricing model for vocational schools in MA is broken. Non-member communities get the benefits and avoid the fixed costs. This seems to be a typical “tragedy of the commons” situation. The “rational” thing for an individual actor is to maximize his/her benefits and offload the costs to others. But over time this leads to a bad situation for all.

    I see two separate issues here: what should Belmont do and what should Will do, as our state senator?

    I’m not a citizen of Belmont but I would urge the citizens to avoid freeloading here. Belmont’s per-capita income substantially exceeds that of Middlesex County as a whole. While it’s always tempting to freeload and one can rationalize this as a noble protest against a broken system, the reality is that it’s just freeloading. No system is perfect. Leaving the system but continuing to benefit from it is hypocritical.

    Since I am not a citizen of Belmont but I am a constituent of Will’s, I’m more interested in Will’s duty as a state legislator. I have a great deal of respect for Will, both for his intelligence and for his integrity. However, it seems clear to me that the duty to fix the problems with this system falls mainly on the state legislature. I hope that Will will try to get things fixed. I’m sure that it won’t be easy and it may not be his top priority but it should be on his list.

    1. Pat, Will’s comments are specific to his opinions on Belmont’s situation. Please don’t apply them to Watertown.

  29. Dear Senator,
    Although you agree with education expenses, you seem to be backwards and archaic in your thoughts about vocational learning. Vocational education needs to continually evolve and stay current with industries and technology. Minuteman has always been in the forefront of evolution and by starting new programs and introducing new ideas, they are paving the way for the next generation to be successful.

  30. Dear Will,

    Thank you so much for clarifying and distilling the reasons behind a yes or no vote. I shall follow your lead.

  31. I believe your assessment is quite accurate and even more relevant in an age when fewer students and families find college affordable.

  32. Your efforts to inform voters about issues like this one and to explain your reasoning for the decisions you make are very much appreciated.

    I will follow your lead on this one but even if I disagreed I would be proud to have such mature representation as you provide.

    yvonne s.

  33. Mr. Brownsberger,
    You are a smart politician! You tell the people exactly what they want to hear and you get their vote! Have you spoken to anyone at Minuteman about the project? Have you ever visited Minuteman during this entire process? Have you toured Minuteman with the Superintendent? Have you talked with Belmont residents that attend Minuteman now or any Alumni from Belmont? As a citizen of Belmont please tell me how involved you have been with Minuteman for the past 8 years of this project to get to this point. Forget about the $$$$ tell me why we should not invest in our kids vocational education oppurtunity and stop worrying about how little our taxes are really going to go up each year. Not much Sir!

  34. As a current student from Watertown at Minuteman, there are MANY MANY issues that occur because of this, for example- last year, a fight started on the bus on the way to school. A bunch of us went to the Dean’s office, and he told us that there was nothing he could do, and we should report it to someone who can actually do something about it (aka. the person in charge of Watertown transportation).

    The building also lacks in a lot of things that we currently need. Watertown is sending ~62 kids, and we are always having problems because we are out of district

    Furthermore, whats the problem with going to college afterwards? In my shop, Engineering and Robotics Automation Technology, we can get transferable semester credits at RIT in New York. But kids even not in the more technical majors are going to colleges too. My best friend is in Carpentry, and he is going to college after high school too. More and more people from Minuteman are going to colleges, even from the more vocational shops. Just because you choose a vocational shop doesn’t mean that you don’t want to, or won’t, go to college.

    About it being more money in-district–It should be. We need the money. Come to Minuteman’s building, and tour everything. We simply don’t have what we need in a 21st century Voc Tech school.

    Just a little example, is we don’t have an auditorium, or a formal place for assemblies at all. Another example is that there is only one temperamental elevator in the school, that does not give a student enough time to get from one class to the next. (I know this, I was on crutches last year).

    Overall, Minuteman needs to be in a new building. Now I don’t know about Belmont, but for Watertown at least, Watertown High School (WHS) is not a good option for a lot of people. People have different styles of learning. In Watertown, every class is basically a lecture class. Sure, there are a couple electives, such as woodshop for one block (around 50 minutes x5 days per week = ~4hours). Now honestly- Do you think that you can get as much experience in wood shop from 4 hours every week, than to Carpentry for literally half the year? (90 days, All day)

    Don’t think also that Minuteman is trying to outreach to out of district students, because they can’t, and they don’t. People choose to come from very far away because of how good a school it is. It works for vocational students who may or may not want to go to college, and it works for technical students who may or may not want to go to college.

    Minuteman prepares you as an individual for what you are going to grow up to be. I also don’t think that your tax dollars are going to waste paying for a good education for me.

    Lastly- Don’t make me and other students in my grade, and grades after me, wait longer for a new building. If Belmont wants to leave the district, I can’t necessarily change your mind, but it hurts me and other people’s education if we don’t get a new building. If there is anyway, vote yes for the building, but leave the district as soon as you can if none of this changed your mind.

    1. Thanks, Teddy for speaking out.

      I don’t oppose the new building. I’m sure the points you make are valid.

      But here’s the thing — in the place we are now, Belmont cannot leave the district unless it votes against the building.

      The district as a whole can vote for the building, and unless Belmont as one community votes against it, Belmont has no option to leave.

      1. Belmont should’ve left the Minuteman community earlier, as Sudbury and Weston and others did, and as was their right. Their Town Meeting did not exercise this option. Sudbury, Weston, and the other departing communities are not on the hook for the new Minuteman building, and they did not stab us (the Minuteman community) in the back. Only Belmont took that route. I’d love to know why.

  35. Thank you for starting this discussion. I see Minuteman’s mission as serving students desiring programs that are unavailable at their local high schools, whether or not they are college-bound. For example, biotechnology is probably more feasible at a regional level than a local level, and I think it’s great that students have the chance to take it at Minuteman. The same is true for the more practical, less pedantic style of teaching. I am sure that a lot of Minuteman students who go on to college would NOT go to college if the only high school programs available were those offered at the local schools that do not address those students’ needs.

    1. I just don’t buy that we need a regional biotech school.

      People going into biotech needs several years of basic science in high school and then a relevant college education.

      And if Minuteman goes that way, I think it not only duplicating ( to a substantial degree ) offerings available in most districts, but also moving away from what I think is a great focus — vocational training that allows people to enter the work force without a college education.

    2. It cannot be overstated that Minuteman offers something that none of the feeder communities offers in its comprehensive high school: a balanced education that alternates academic seat work with hands-on, context-rich vocational education. This dynamism and balance is essential to many students, whether they are preparing to launch careers in the trades right after graduation or they are preparing for college (where they will be more effective and directed due to their workplace experiences at Minuteman).

  36. I’m a resident of W’town who has spent considerable time comparing the costs of sending our students to MM on a member vs. non-member community basis, and I want to add some more information on the total expenses to those of you in Belmont weighing the relative costs. Unfortunately, some of the variables involved are still in flux so it is impossible to give an exact comparison.

    Will gives the tuition cost for out-of-district students as $16,464. for FY17. However, that is only 1 of the line items in your out-of-district expenses. Here are the others:

    1. There is also an add’l. $4500/student cost for each o-o-d student on an IEP. That rate is set by DESE, as is the base tuition rate that Will quoted. The Regional schools are only allowed to charge the sending school districts for SPED services that they actually provide, and believe me, MM provides good SPED services. I don’t know what percentage of Belmont MM students are on IEP’s, but about 57% of W’town’s students at MM are, and close to 50% of the total MM student body are. Bottom line, it costs more to educate these students effectively wherever they go to school. Therefore, you need to add the SPED costs for these students into the costs you would have to educate them at Belmont HS, as well as your calculation of the o-o-d MM costs. (As far as I know, these costs are included in the standard calculations for member community costs/student.)

    2. If the bldg. plan is approved, and the MM district floats bonds to pay for it, DESE has agreed that a new fee will be charged to non-member communities, based on the cost of those bonds, to help the District recover some of the capital costs. However, the fee has not been set by DESE yet for this year. As of now it is unclear how it will affect the comparative costs between member and non-member communities, but it will increase the absolute costs to non-member communities.

    3. Non-member communities must pay for the transportation to/from MM for their students. In the case of W’town this is costing us approx. $958/student this year. Of course Belmont’s transportation cost would be different from ours but regardless, the transportation cost is not negligible.

    1. Thanks, Ilana, this is a fair point. The total per student for a non-member community may work out to closer to $20K depending on special education and transportation costs for the students they send. I’ve worked that into the text above.

  37. Thank you for your comments and I agree that it is a broken model. A vocation program is critical to a healthy economy, but it must be equitable.
    This statement says it all: “Non-member students pay a much lower rate than member community students, $16,464 in FY17 (which may work out to roughly $20,000 after transportation and special education charges), instead of the $25-30,000 per year paid by member communities. The theory is that non-member communities should pay only the actual marginal costs involved in accommodating them. They aren’t expected to cover their share of the fixed costs of the school.” How can a plan that penalizes member towns and rewards non-member towns with lower costs ever be considered equitable?
    Thank You

  38. Very sad to me that Belmont is turning its back on Minuteman. I have nieces and cousins who went there and received a good vocational education. I know we need a new BHS, but this decision strikes me as another example of the fracturing of community, I will vote yes and hope enough voters see the value that Minuteman provides to so many students and families – and hope we can be open to a broader sense of commitment to this type or education. Other countries have fugues this out. Maybe we will someday.

  39. Will, this is a disappointing analysis. Fundamentally, you appear to be saying Belmont voters should vote no, because, hey, they can send their kids to Minuteman more cheaply by withdrawing from the district and then freeloading off of the taxpayers in the other district communities by sending their kids to Minuteman under the broken out-of-district formula. How does this makes sense? You also don’t address the state funding available to the project or the costs of required repairs to the existing physical plant if the new school project does not go forward. My understanding was that since the state funding is not available in the same way for repairs, member communities could wind up paying as much or more for a patch job that doesn’t deliver the same educational improvements and benefits as the new school would.

    1. Hi Heather,

      I think each community needs to decide how strongly they feel about supporting the institution.

      There are a lot of factors that each community needs to consider and I haven’t covered them all in this piece. Given Arlington’s proximity to and heavy use of the school, Arlington may be and perhaps should be more willing to overlook the problems I point to.

      But from a Belmont perspective — given the strain our local schools are under — I think the inequity and mission drift are good enough reasons to withdraw membership support.

      I agree that the legislature should force the development of a better model, but the politics of that are essentially the same as the politics we have been watching among the member communities. Until enough communities put their foot down, the model won’t change. And, again, for many communities, the pluses may outweigh the minuses.


    2. Heather, I believe the MSBA has supported certain major repairs through their Accelerated Repair Program ( “As a result of the lessons learned from its Green Repair Program, the MSBA has instituted an Accelerated Repair Program (“Program”) as part of its ongoing repair program. The Program is primarily for the repair and/or replacement of roofs, windows/doors, and/or boilers with the potential to include additional systems as may be determined by the MSBA contingent upon available funding and capacity in the capital pipeline.” For example, Shawsheen tech received about $360,000 or 36% of the cost of a new boiler. We don’t know if some major repairs to MM would have been subsidized, since as far as I know, application was never made.

  40. I agree wholeheartedly with your comments, Will! MMT has for too many years tried to make itself a competitor with the local high schools such as Lexington and Belmont in terms of its academic offerings in science. It has failed to focus on its role in terms of vocational education. In addition, the cost and method of funding greatly favors the non-member districts, which is patently unfair.

  41. Will, Very shortsighted and not very even-handed analysis of the Voc-Ed problem at hand. Minuteman’s catchment area is a high rent district where there is more than a fair amount of snobbery about sending students to a vocational school.

    The problem is not Minuteman’s widening curriculum, where reasonable adjustments to changing interests and new fields is very appropriate. The state is not addressing funding issues in an equitable manner.

    As you pointed out, students, their education, is the most important investment we can make in the Commonwealth. Slicing and dicing the funding does not do justice to our common good and welfare.

    1. Thanks, Kathy, I respect your long-term commitment to vocational education. And I really share your belief in it — my problem is that Minuteman has drifted from that mission.

      Also, I do think that “slicing and dicing the funding” is one of the things we need to do to best support education for all our kids.

      Each community needs to make its own call. Arlington sends roughly 4 times as many kids as Belmont.

  42. I am trying to reconcile statements by “yes” and “no” proponents. A “yes” guest commentary (Jim Gammill) in the Belmont Citizen reports that tuition for out of district attendees is scheduled to change in fiscal year 2019 when non-member towns will be required to pay at least their annual operating costs proportionate to their enrollment. This will include their fair share of the debt payment for the new building. Is this true? Does this level the playing field? What are the “gotchas”? If they aren’t significant, the “no” argument is less compelling. The “no” commentary keeps referring to lower costs for Belmont, which would only happen for two years and if Belmont doesn’t send ~30 students to Minuteman.

    Another thought — are schools like MM in a unique position to prepare many learners for the 21st c? Does a new Belmont HS intend to prepare students in specific fields in such a hands-on in-depth way? Will other vocational opportunities open to Belmont students cost less or equal. If equal, is forfeiting control over management of MM worth a “no” vote?

    1. There will be some kind of capital add-on for the non-member communities, but it will not exceed the capital add-on for the member communities — in other words, it will not lessen the existing disparity and may increase it, depending on how DESE does it.

      All our kids should be getting a good science and math education for the 21st century. We need to keep doing that strongly in our local system — we shouldn’t be spreading our resources thin by duplicating programs.

      1. Will, I’m sorry to chime in again, but I think you’re missing a vital point. You said, “Minuteman has lost its vocational focus.” & “We need to keep doing that strongly in our local system — we shouldn’t be spreading our resources thin by duplicating programs.” By adding the technical, more college bound programs that MM offers, it has EXTENDED, NOT LOST, its focus. MM is NOT duplicating programs offered in the local high schools. The difference is in HOW the subjects are taught, not just WHAT subjects are taught. As Pam Andrews asked above,”Does a new Belmont HS intend to prepare students in specific fields in SUCH A HANDS-ON IN-DEPTH WAY?” Students at MM do much more “project based learning” and the students take their “shops” (majors) for a week at a time. A lot of the MM graduates who go on to post-secondary schooling, including 2 or 4 yr colleges, would likely not be in the college-prep tracks at BHS and therefore would not go to college without the alternate environment and support that they get at MM. Minuteman is serving the traditional voc. students, but it is ALSO serving a group of students who would otherwise fall through the cracks between voc. ed. and the mostly lecture-style classes at the typical academic high schools. If you want MM to go back to being only a traditional voc. ed. school, then we need to include new programs to help these other students succeed at the local high schools; they do not fit in at the local schools now, that is why they choose to go to MM.

  43. Mr. Brownsberger: I would appreciate it if you would comment on Dante Ramos’s article in today’s Globe about Belmont withdrawing from the coalition of 16 towns supporting the Minuteman School.

    I was shocked to learn that Belmont’s proposed action would pull the plug on the entire coalition.

    Is that fair? Or is it a case of local control running amuck?

    I realize that although Belmont has many wealthy citizens–from the Romney clan on down–it has a small tax base. Perhaps we need to merge Belmont with other tax districts, such as Watertown?

    1. I think Dante missed the point.

      The issue isn’t a lack of local control — we get to vote on the proposal and withdraw if we don’t like it.

      The issues are fairness and efficient use of the educational resources that we have to fight so hard to get for our kids. Minuteman has lost its vocational focus.

      Dante quoted the Minuteman leader from Dover. Dover has over twice the financial capacity that Belmont has in relationship to its educational needs (personal income and tax base “combined effort yield” as a percentage of foundation budget). It spends almost twice as much per child as Belmont does — $24,262 in 2015 as compared to Belmont’s $13,028. Belmont has to be make much more concerned than Dover about the high costs and unfair allocation at Minuteman.

      Belmont is one of 16 communities casting votes on the project and the majority of all the votes cast will rule. Belmont’s votes are unlikely to be the margin of defeat.

      1. Thanks for your quick response. Could you be more specific about your statement that Minuteman has lost its vocational focus. Are you referring to its offering of courses in bio-technology and computer programming?

        I understand that the issue isn’t a lack of local control. The issue seems to be that we have too much local control. Localities seem to have a veto on projects that cannot be funded by one town only. What will happen to Minuteman if Belmont withdraws? Will it be able to go on? Would Belmont students still be able to attend?

  44. Hi Will. Full disclosure – I was part of an unsuccessful effort to persuade Arlington to reject the new building option (, and personally favor a flexible, incremental, less risky renovate/repair/reinvent strategy. Just the fact that MM has a new regional agreement with fewer members and more proportional voting may well result in a change in direction, such as the one you are advocating. MM should not be making this huge commitment without giving the new district some time to rethink its needs. Plus uncertainties from the DESE’s discouragement of freshmen out-of-district applications, cost sensitivity of the market for new students, whether the DESE will actually allow capital debt assessments to non-members against the resistance, and the growing option of charter schools. I’d love to see MM pioneer a model of a STEM magnet school combined with a voc tech program.

    It’s a shame that opposition to the new building plan is assumed to be opposition to the school itself. I am very much a proponent of voc ed in general, and am concerned that MM may enter a downward spiral of higher per-pupil costs, resulting in lower enrollment, with even higher per-pupil costs, until the district becomes simply unfeasible. Losing the MM option would be a real loss for all of our students.

  45. Hello Senator Brownsberger! Full disclosure: I am Lexington’s representative to the school committee of Minuteman High School. As you know, DESE sets the tuition rate for non-member-town students, including those who attend Minuteman. If Minuteman were able to control how much money out-of-district students were charged to enroll at Minuteman, it would be at the same level as students from the district. Not being able to do that, through efforts by Minuteman, DESE will allow a capital assessment to non-member towns to pay for the new school, but only for MSBA approved projects, which a new Minuteman is, but not for renovations or other capital projects. Thus, out-of-district towns will help to pay for the new school, but if Belmont chooses to leave the district, Belmont will not be liable for any debt associated with the proposed building project.
    I find it a bit ironic that the leadership in Belmont is considering leaving the Minuteman District. I find this ironic given that Belmont, among other towns, has not been happy with the cost differential between non-member towns and what Belmont as a member town has been paying. How does Belmont leadership feel about the possibility of leaving the Minuteman District, sending its students to Minuteman as long as it can, and shifting costs related to Minuteman to the nine remaining towns? Belmont is not the only town in the district facing capital costs for its local schools and municipal buildings.
    Think of Arlington and Lexington, two neighbors! Is it all right in the minds of Belmont’s leadership for us and the other seven towns to “pick up the slack,” if you will, created by Belmont?! Seems ironic, to me!
    I would hope that Belmont remains in the district and works with its sister towns to erect a new Minuteman High School building that will provide the best education possible for students who need such a school! Stay with the “sister” towns and work together!

  46. I’ve been a supporter of the rebuild, but several of your arguments seemed cogent and worthy of consideration, right up until your second to last paragraph: “Belmont should say No to the referendum and, by so doing, be allowed to withdraw from the district and send its students to Minuteman on the same lower-cost basis that Watertown does.”

    In other words, the model is broken but you’re perfectly willing to have Belmont continue to participate in it, as long as you can do it at reduced tuition rates and fob the additional costs off onto the communities who vote to step up and support Minuteman financially?

    For shame. I really expected better of you.

    1. Ouch, but Matt, here is how I see it: until communities put their foot down, nothing is going to change.

      If other communities are so dependent on the school (e.g., Arlington) or so well-resourced (e.g., Dover) that they are willing to participate in an unfair arrangement, then I don’t fault them, but that is their call.

      Each community needs to make its own decision.

      1. But you are suggesting that Belmont continue to participate in this same unfair arrangement, only in a way that increases the lack of fairness. How does that help fix what you say is a broken model at Minuteman? How does it do anything but advantage Belmont residents at the expense of residents of towns who remain in the district?

        1. But I’m not telling other communities what to do.

          Other communities may rethink their approach in the wake of an adverse decision by Belmont. Or not. Belmont is a relatively small part of the district.

          But if a rethinking occurs, I will personally be very eager to help assure that we continue to have good options for vocational students in our region.

          If this does go through without a rethinking, then we are locked into the status quo for the life of the debt.

  47. Here’s another comment that will begin with “full disclosure”: I am Concord’s representative to the Minuteman District, currently serving as its Vice Chair and Chair of its Finance Subcommittee.

    When I first accepted appointment to the District’s School Committee, work of the Building Committee had begun, but had stalled, due in part to perceived inequities between who would benefit and who would pay for whatever project the Building Committee ultimately chose to pursue. The various Town Managers had already come together to attempt a reworking of the assessment formula, but the root of the matter extended more deeply into the District’s very structure and governance model. It is from that perspective that I find the dialogue stimulated by your statement to be most interesting.

    As we started to assemble and charge what became the Regional Agreement Amendment Subcommittee (RAAS), complete restructuring was suggested—perhaps something that incorporated features of a Charter and/or Innovation School. Intriguing, but practical? Where was the political will for something so groundbreaking? And how long would that take? We were pushing the limits on building conditions already, and initial comment from those in a position to know more than we was not encouraging. Be prepared for a strong push back, we were advised, if not from DESE directly, then from every Massachusetts school district that struggles to balance state-imposed standards with available financial resources.

    Even when the RAAS was assembled (I was Chair), dissolution and reassembly of the Minuteman District was considered an option. That too was quickly mired in thinking about how District assets and liabilities could possibly be redistributed among remaining, departing, and potential new members.

    Although we were successful in pushing DESE around the edges and ultimately achieved approval for a revised Agreement, the RAAS focused on what could be accomplished within applicable law and regulation. Please note, here, the updated DESE regulation that will allow a capital fee associated with this project to be charged to the sending community of out-of-district students. That in itself was no small accomplishment!

    And even all of that would have been too late, had MSBA not exercised a good deal of patience as we moved through that long process of compromise! It illustrates, I think, how strongly MSBA Board members recognize the need and actively support this project.

    So, Will (may I call you Will?), all these years later, the Minuteman Region is where it is, with the best it was reasonably able to achieve in terms of structure, governance, and finance. While its educational program continues to improve, its building continues to deteriorate and the clock is ticking.

    Belmont residents have every right to cast their individual votes relative to the building project based on their particular view of the situation. And Belmont’s Town Meeting may move toward the exit, if it comes to that, but the Minuteman District must move forward. In my own view, and that of many others, there is no other responsible choice.

    Thanks for reading,
    Carrie Flood

  48. Will,

    I share Matt L.’s thoughts entirely. A few more:

    * You neglect to mention that if Belmont leaves the district it loses it’s seat at the table: no curriculum control, no leadership control, and no guaranteed seats in enrollment in a new school that is downsized 40% from the current size.

    * The state has created a free rider problem. You are advocating that Belmont take advantage of that inequity and should pay less than its fair share. In the comment thread you apologize for being un-neighborly, but that apology is insufficient. I like to think that if the positions were reversed, I would be advocating that Arlington does the “right thing” and not try to take advantage of state-created iniquities.

    * In your mind, what does it mean for towns to “put their foot down”? This is more than a rhetorical question. Should we close Minuteman and stop providing vocational education, with their students sitting on the waiting lists of schools that are much farther away? Is that fair to the students? Is that strategy even possible? I don’t think that DESE will ever let us close the school, and we’re going to be paying top-dollar for a sub-par facility for the decade or more it will take DESE and the legislature to maybe come up with an alternative. I repeat the question: what does it mean for towns to “put their foot down”?

    * I’m glad that you’re willing to help with a “rethinking” but my extensive experience says that is not a practical or pragmatic option. When and how would such a rethinking that happen? In what forum? My involvement with Minuteman fairness issues goes back to 2006, and others have been working on them far longer. I’ve talked to MASB, DESE, my state legislators, the state treasurer, the list goes on and on. This is the best solution we’ve come up with.

    Building this school isn’t the best choice for any of the individual towns in the district. But, it is the best compromise available to the district as a whole. Regionalization requires this type of compromise.

    I have candidly and kindly told Belmont’s leaders during this process that part of what they need to do is propose alternatives. You need to do the same thing.

    Dan Dunn
    Selectman, Arlington

      1. I believe you have dodged the question. When I ask what is the alternative, I mean “What should the 10 remaining members of Minuteman do?” We can’t close the school – the state won’t let us. We can’t build a smaller school – MSBA won’t fund it, and the self-funded school we could afford is too small to support more than a handful of programs. The current proposal is close to the minimum of on the cost/benefit curve.

        Without an alternative, we end up doing nothing. The repair costs on an over-sized 40-year old building will keep growing, the quality of education will keep going down, and there will be no relief from the state. It will have all of the negatives that you cite in your post, and no motivation on Beacon Hill to resolve them.

        Your proposed alternative, that Belmont withdraw, is not a scaleable solution. We can’t all just leave and close the school. This is where the questions of community and regionalization and being a good neighbor. We can’t all get exactly what we want. We need to regionalize, and that means we all need to compromise.

        1. I’ll stand by my response. Each community will assess the diverse needs of their kids and determine how to meet them and, in the long run, I believe they will find good answers. For some kids, better answers.

          1. I agree with Dan, either you’re still ducking the question or your reply just doesn’t make sense. You say “each community will assess the diverse needs of their kids and determine how to meet them.”

            Now if you really believe that the Minuteman model is broken and the cost structure is unsustainable, a rational response would be for Belmont to withdraw from the district and create its own local vocational technical education program within the Belmont school system, if you think this can be done with ab better model and/or at lower cost. Belmont could try to be the exemplar of a better way to provide vic-tech education. Then other towns would similarly decide whether to remain with Minuteman or set up their own programs.

            But that’s NOT what you are suggesting. You’re suggesting instead that Belmont leave the district as far as funding a rebuild of Minuteman is concerned, but continue to send students there at the lower out-of-district cost. Forgive me for being so blunt, but that sounds more than a little hypocritical.

    1. Selectman Dunn,

      You raise some good points, but you also make a couple of puzzling claims:

      Downsized 40%–where in the world do you get that figure from? The capacity of the proposed MM will be about the same as the current MM.

      What makes you assume that there will be a need for an “alternative” to MM? Why do you think that Belmont’s vote will outweigh the other 15 towns voting on the new school proposal and sink it? Why single out Belmont? There will actually be six towns voting on this that are already off the hook, as they will be exiting the district as of July 1, 2016. Hard to see why they would vote against the other ten towns’ taking on the debt….

  49. The comments by everyone contain important kernels of truth as well as mis-information, some focus on the $$$$ issues that range all over, some are emotional (if we don’t vote yes, then the sky will fall).

    Underlying all of your comments is a deep-seated unhappiness with process and lack of transparency that has lead to a lack of full faith in how this program has been presented and managed by the superintendent. “We may not like this plan, but perhaps it is better than band-aiding the current school.” That position is not good enough for our MM students.

    For members of Belmont Town Meeting, the devil has always been in the $$$$ details.

    And over the past four years, we (as well as other member communities) have NOT been provided with financials that make sense on the day-to-day running of MM. This despite repeated requests by our representatives to MM. If we do not trust annual reports (forget about quarterly reports) that describe the real cost to run the current MM, how can we trust how the $$$$$ will be spent to build a new edifice? And what if there are cost-overruns? And what if the bids received are greater than anticipated?

    A majority of Belmont Town meeting, based on our votes, has an opinion that the the current administration’s attitude has not lent itself to having a respectful and trusting opinion of the current superintendent. It is disrespectful and disingenuous to be told to TRUST US with the financials we present you.

    Lastly, contrary to some people’s thinking, Belmont is NOT the thoroughly wealthy community that some presume. Belmont Hill is a very small sliver of the Belmont residency. Most of the town’s homes are small single family, many are 2 and 3 family residences. We lack a large commercial base to off-set the taxes required to run our town. Families are drawn to Belmont because of the excellent schools, recreation and community-wide programs. Our schools are bursting at the seams and our teachers provide extraordinary opportunities for learning.

    It is vital for everyone to read the fine print of this compact/contract as our representatives have and have presented at several Town Meetings. We do not take this vote lightly; we have examined all the parameters and have voted that this project is not in the best interests of the entire Belmont community.

    Thank you.

  50. Support for career readiness education and support for Belmont to stay in the Minuteman district should be separate issues. Yes, Belmont should do more to support career readiness education programs. Belmont High School operates with very tight resources and the school lost breadth of program many years ago, including programs that focused on technical skills. There are many Belmont students who are less well served by a narrow high school curriculum that is restricted to what are considered the most essential academic offerings. Belmont should vote against the building project because it is so financially disadvantageous to Belmont. Belmont should continue to send students to Minuteman, just like Watertown does, as a non-member town. Belmont should grapple with how better to fund career readiness for students and to restore this type of programming in town. This is the perfect time to advocate for increased local funding and to make sure that the new high school building is designed with space to house a broad array of curriculum offerings needed for 21st century learning. Belmont can and should support and pay for career readiness education for its students. I hope the Minuteman HS building is successful – I hope there are enough towns who can finance the project. A new school would be an asset to the greater Boston community, and Belmont should support the school as a non-member community (capital assessment and all). But Belmont shouldn’t continue in the district because it has been financially disadvantageous for the town for decades.

  51. Neighbors,
    Let’s face it. This is about the money. It’s always been about “being on the hook” for this building and tuition. While the out of district tuition schedule needs to be addressed, that should not be the backdrop of this vote. This is about Belmont’s ability to help finance a much needed facility. That ability is not in question.
    Public education in Belmont is rightfully expensive. It’s expensive to be among the top school systems in the country. There’s a cost. Our town buildings have suffered as a result of that commitment. We’ve been kicking the can down the road for some time with many of our town’s public facilities. Minuteman has suffered from this same sort of short sightedness. It’s time to step up.
    Minuteman is a valuable asset to our town, affording exciting opportunities to all students. Quite a few Minuteman graduates proudly serve our town within the police and fire departments. They’re the thousands of electricians, carpenters, plumbers, designers and landscapers in and around our homes. They’re the chefs at our brunches and the bakers of our pastries. Minuteman has been teaching service and character, hard work and achievement since the late seventies. Now it’s breaking new ground in emergency medicine, robotics and biotechnology. These are sought after, fascinating and well paying careers that help our communities grow.
    Friends, our town and all the towns that Minuteman serves benefit 10 fold from a relatively small investment in this facility. Please don’t let this opportunity for state funding assistance slip away.
    Senator Brownsberger said this is probably the only school project he would not vote for. It’s an unfortunate but telling position. A no vote on this question is turning your back on a segment of students who, otherwise, simply wouldn’t be afforded these same opportunities. He states above, “In particular, vocational education, as an alternative path into the work force, is something we should be trying to create more of.” The only logical conclusion is a yes vote.

  52. Minuteman provides an excellent education for students that are not fit for the high stress academic environment at BHS. For my son who attended MM it was either MM or some specialized high school at $60-$100k per year. Looking at that comparison, $30k for MM seems like a bargain.

    With DESE agreeing to the capital fee, the difference between in-district and out-of-district tuition will shrink dramatically. By withdrawing we are not only giving up the control and influence over MM direction and management, but also risk the future ability for our Belmont kids to get a good hands-on education. I believe that the school will be filled to the brim once it has been renovated, with the member towns being eager to promote their own kids to get in first and member towns having severe resentment towards Belmont and possibly rejected Belmont to rejoin the district. It is only three years that we have the guaranteed seats, then it is totally unclear where we can send the students.

    Anyone thinking we can provide a similarly excellent vocational education at a new high school for lower costs is just naive. It will be either much less options and quality or it will be much more expensive because costs have to be shared over less students.

    I do believe that MM could be managed better and that member towns need to take a more active role in overseeing its leadership and direction. The unsatisfying analysis and presentation of the new building project and lack of properly explored alternatives clearly left a lot to be desired. However, this does not remove the need for the MM school and a place for our students to study. Only by staying in the district we can tackle the issues of unfair tuition and ensure a good future direction.

    I will vote YES and I urge everyone else to do so to ensure that we retain this fantastic option for our Belmont kids that are not Harvard law school bound.

    1. Thanks, Martin.

      I do not doubt that your son has had a good experience.

      One thing that is important and misleading in your statement. You say:

      With DESE agreeing to the capital fee, the difference between in-district and out-of-district tuition will shrink dramatically.

      The capital cost will also be paid by member districts, so at best, the capital fee on non-member districts will allow the existing difference to remain the same. It is also possible that even with the capital fee the difference will go up. DESE has plenary authority to set the fee and may choose to set it below the average debt service levels, so as not to push non-member costs too high and drive them out of the school.

      1. Hi Will:
        You are right on the capital fees being charged to both member and non-member towns. However, it just seems crazy to me that non-member towns should get away with paying so much less than member towns and we need to do everything to eliminate that difference. If anything, non-member towns should pay more, since they do not take on any capital risks. Can you please help on the state level to work towards that goal.

        And we also need to work on Minuteman’s operating costs. It seems crazy that MM is so much more expensive than other vocational schools. There needs to be more fiscal oversight over the administration.

  53. I know many may not believe it, but most of us support vocational education, as do I. But not at any cost, and the current proposal is not right-sized.

    In an ideal world we would consider the merits on their own, without other context. But unfortunately we cannot, and the fact is that Belmont as a town will have to go to it’s tax payers to fund a new high school, for ALL of it’s students. We have to make hard choices, and a wrong-sized proposal that’s continuing to propagate a bad situation just has to be second.

  54. Will, Thank you for describing this matter clearly with helpful information, and thank you for standing up for the decision that best serves the town of Belmont.

    BTW, You are not being hypocritical. People who want to feel good about themselves by forcing other people to spend money are the real hypocrites, no matter how good they feel about themselves.

    I urge everyone else to vote “NO” to disapprove the referendum and withdraw from the district because:

    1. Fiscal Responsibility. With all the challenges at present and coming soon to Belmont, we need to get the priority right and address the issues with highest impact to Belmont with the limited money at hand.

    2. MM is not being true to vocational training. Based on its offering and graduate placement, half (or maybe more) of its students should go to regular high school – that means BHS for Belmont students!

    1. To quote the person who posted 2 comments before yours, “Minuteman provides an excellent education for students that are not fit for the high stress academic environment at BHS. For my son who attended MM it was either MM or some specialized high school at $60-$100k per year. Looking at that comparison, $30k for MM seems like a bargain.” And other posters have said very similar things. Even if minuteman is no longer solely a “Vocational School” in the traditional sense, it is an alternative public high school that is **succeeding at reaching many students who would survive in Belmont High, or other typical local academic high schools. One great thing at Minuteman, is that most of the classes have much lower student-to-teacher ratios than the local academic high schools. And yes, $30,000/student/yr is expensive, and much higher than the cost for educating a “typical student” at BHS, but as the other poster said, it’sa a bargain compared to the $60k-100k/student/yr that it would cost to send these students to private schools. Now in some cases that additional cost would be born by their families, but what would happen to the students whose families can’t afford it? And please remember that a very high proportion of the students we send to MM are on IEP’s so that additional cost would have be born by the “sending districts” anyway. Not all non-vocational students belong in a “regular high school” e.g. BHS.

      1. I did read many comments (not all), which included the two you mentioned.

        As one commenter said, things rarely are judged on their own merits in real world. While I do see the benefit of MM to some families, compared to the challenge we are facing with BHS and all Belmont public schools in general, I’d take the public schools as a priority any day.

        I am sorry but the fact is that the town of Belmont does not have the money to do everything, so you have to pick and choose.

        I encourage every town resident and tax payer to understand the situation and make their choice.

  55. The Minuteman model is a challenge due to the lack of leadership from the state, including Mr. Brownsberger who has been AWOL on this issue since we started down the path in 2010. Whether you support or oppose this project, you should be unhappy with Mr. Brownsberger’s apathy toward this issue. Words and actions are completely different on this matter.

    The Minuteman building project is not a new issue. Minuteman has been engaged in the longest feasibility study in state history, 6+ year and has been working hard on governance reform to make its members happy. While going through this process they have received zero support from many Beacon Hill legislators, including Will Brownsberger.

    Here’s the question Will should answer: over the last 6 years that Minuteman has been in a feasibility study and governance review, what specifically if anything did he do as a Representative or Senator to help the process?

    At the same time, I think it would be helpful to knock off the political spin:

    Comparing Belmont’s K-12 per pupil spending to Minuteman’s 9-12 vocational education spending is absurd. Everyone knows vocational education spending is more than traditional education, and 9-12 spending is more than K-8. Add on top of that how Minuteman has almost 50% of its students on IEP’s, while I would expect Belmont to be under 20%, and it highlights again why the comparison is silly. You can make an argument that Minuteman is an expensive school but use the right comparison versus lazy political spin.

    The difference in member and non-member tuition is driven by state rules. So think about this – Mr. Brownsberger saw a problem, did nothing to fix it, then criticized Minuteman for not doing better with the poor hand they were dealt. Really????

    Yes, 40.5% of the students are from non-member communities, but that’s again a state failure because the state allows a town like Watertown to not provide in-district vocation education while also not required to be part of a vocational education district. The state also allows a community like Waltham to provide a partial and frankly lacking number of vocational education options, then use Minuteman as a limited non-member town for limited offering.

    Minuteman is being built for 628 students because the state said that it would not support a building below 600.

    The operating theory that Belmont can vote “no”, withdraw from the district and come back as a non-member (or go elsewhere) is incorrect, which is why Attorney Brownsberger, is not offering a specific alternative. Belmont can only leave the district through the process outlined in Section IX of the Regional Agreement. The Town of Arlington has already made it clear to Mr. Brownsberger, Libeson, Paolillo, et al that it will move to block Belmont from leaving, creating a crisis for Belmont. The Regional Agreement prevents Belmont from creating competing voc ed programs in-house, Belmont can’t use the Minuteman building if it doesn’t pay for it, and Belmont cannot go to a different vocational education district under the Regional Agreement. Does this mean that Belmont children are now banned from vocation education, or does it many years of expensive litigation?

    Again, let me make this clear – whether you support this building project or oppose this building project, you should be concerned over the lack of effort from your legislators in the district, including Mr. Brownsberger.

    Dean Carman
    Belmont High Class of 1995
    Member, Arlington Finance Committee

    1. Thanks, Dean. I understand your frustration. I know you’ve worked hard on this, although I don’t think you and I have spoken about it.

      It is, in fact, an issue that I’ve had continuing discussions with my colleagues about.

      The problem is no easier to solve legislatively than it is at the community level — the fundamental political and economic dynamics are the same.

      As long as people keeping going along with Minuteman’s plans, the problem will remain difficult to solve.

      One point that you make is quite right — Belmont will not automatically be allowed to withdraw from the district if it votes no. But, it will be relieved of buying into the new school debt.

      You are also quite right that the legislature has been unable to help.

      We can agree to disagree about the numbers, but one thing I think does need correction in your comment is the notion that somehow, Belmont students will be barred by the agreement from getting a vocational education if it votes no. That’s just not in the agreement — there is no such Catch-22.

      1. For the future record, what Will disagrees with me on is MGL Chapter 17, Section 16(d), see below.

        I’m definetly not ther lawyer but I don’t see how a “no” vote in Belmont does not put a de facto restriction on their access to Minuteman, assuming Belmont’s vote to withdraw is disapproved by the membership or commissioner.

        “The member towns of such vocational regional school district which have voted disapproval of the new indebtedness shall have the right to retain their membership in the school district as provided in their district agreement except that they shall not be allowed any added enrollment that might result solely from the expansion of facilities that occurs on account of said new indebtedness.”

    2. Mr. Carman,

      So much of what you have said seems to be factually incorrect. Most important, your comment about whether Belmont can withdraw from the district is bizarre. According the same Section IX of the Regional Agreement that you allude to, it is clearly stated that a two-thirds vote of the Belmont TM will initiate the process of withdrawal from the district. There is absolutely no mechanism by which Arlington could “block” Belmont’s withdrawal, so what you say is absolute nonsense.

      1. The agreement also says that a majority of the other member communities must approve the withdrawal. So though Arlington alone could not block it, it is not a unilateral choice for Belmont.

        1. Dan, eight member towns would have to convene special town meetings within 60 days of learning of our vote to leave. That’s a pretty heavy lift to begin with. And what incentive would those towns have to block Belmont’s withdrawal? Six of the fifteen are already leaving. Then, perversely, if they vote to block, Belmont doesn’t have to pay ANY of the capital costs! The only scenario in which that would be the case.

  56. Dan Dunn and Dean Carman,

    Thank you for contributing to the discussion here and make clear your stand on this issue – REPRESENTING ARLINGTON LEADERSHIP ON BEHALF OF ARLINGTON.

    Now Belmont residents, please spend some time to understand this issue and make the best choice for Belmont!

  57. Thanks for posting the letter from the Commissioner of DESE here. You say that “Non-member districts who don’t have vocational programs of their own will pay the same amount as member districts.” That would be what Belmont would be looking at. So can you help explain the numbers, please. Does that mean that Belmont’s costs will be the same if we continue to send the same number of kids each year, whether we are a member district or a non-member district?

    1. No, and thank you for asking — there is a lot of confusion about this. Here are some rough numbers based on what the Commissioner announced yesterday.

      For member districts, if the ballot question is approved, the per student assessment will rise from roughly $30,000 to roughly $39,000. The capital costs of roughly $9,000 per student will be added to the existing base.

      In parallel, for non-member districts, the per student assessment will rise from roughly $20,000 (including special ed and transportation costs) to roughly $29,000. If Belmont does some vocational programming of its own, then it could pay a somewhat lower capital fee for students it sends to Minuteman and have somewhat lower total costs — roughly $27,000 per student.

      These are round numbers which will be influenced by a number of variables, but the capital fee will not reduce the current difference between members and non-members. It will actually increase the difference as to those non-member districts that have their own vocational programs.

  58. Fifty percent (50%)of the Minuteman students are on IEPs. They have learning disabilities. Yet 65% of Minuteman grads go onto college. They are getting children with learning disabilities to go onto college.

    Belmont is known for its high quality schools and Minuteman is known for its high quality Vocational and Technical curriculum. Yes, it’s not just a traditional voc/tech. It also offers programs in in marine science, robotics, etc. That’s a bad thing?

    Many children just “learn differently” and the competitive environment at Belmont High School may not be the right place for them.

    Don’t we want to give our special education children the opportunity to learn a trade and also have the option to go to college? Minuteman is an excellent, cheap option for SPED children and a good option for children who just learn differently. It gives them valuable skills and career opportunities.
    I don’t think Minuteman is broken I think it’s a great educational model.

    1. Thanks for this post Kathy. I couldn’t agree more. These students get an education and supports that are simply not available elsewhere. This is not just about alternative options for vocational education. It’s about supporting students with special needs, fewer family assets and more challenges a chance to enter the mainstream and have a future. We shoouldn’t turn our backs on them.

  59. Where does A(dult) B(asic) E(ducation) fit into all of this– if it does?
    What about the students who dropped out along the way and are/may be looking for their GED and/or job training programs elsewhere?
    Thanks for all your good work and honest communication.

    1. I’m not sure ABE does fit in. Anyone aware of things Minuteman is doing for adult English language learners?

      Some of Minuteman’s adult programs may be available to non-HS-graduates. Others can chime in.

  60. I’m with you, Senator. Your balanced analysis focuses elegantly on choice. At every stage of education, students should own their responsibility to consider all options, their obligations and potential ramifications. Out with the victim cloak and on with owning their lives. Many thanks.

  61. Hi Will,
    Thank you for your analysis of the Minute Man vote and the complexities that surround it.

    It has always been something that I never understood, but your thoughtful insights have helped me to be able to vote ‘no’ with confidence.

    Ellen Solari

  62. The key sentence in your letter states that Belmont spends considerably below the state average per pupil because of its limited commercial tax base and economically diverse taxpayers.

    These two facts contort Belmont’s major problems, not just the decision to withdraw from the Minuteman coalition. They are the cause of the Cushing Square Development fiasco, which the Selectman are praying won’t be derailed after 7 years. The embarrassing state of the Belmont Library, the destruction of the historic Clark House, the poor condition of the roads, etc.

    Belmont can no longer afford to be just “the town of homes”. Unless we merge with a town that has a strong commercial tax base, such as Watertown or Arlington, we will go from crisis to crisis.

    1. I happen to agree with you that Belmont should be more welcoming of development — not in its open space, but in the town centers and along the Belmont/Trapelo corridor, for a whole host of reasons.

      But merger is an amazingly difficult task — both towns would have to really want to do it. And, BTW, Arlington has roughly the same residential/commercial mix as Belmont.

      1. Why do we need a Belmont library when the Watertown library is so much better?

        Why do we need enormously expensive hook and ladder fire trucks that might be used a half-dozen times a year, when we could lease them from another town, such as Arlington?

        In short, why doesn’t Belmont exploit obvious economies of scale, instead of duplicating expensive equipment, building, and capital costs that we could share with other towns? Why is there so much distrust and unwillingness to cooperate with them?

  63. From what I have gathered, Minuteman governance is seriously broken. Six towns have voted to withdraw from the region. The simple fact that the capital plan is at risk this late in the process speaks to leadership failure. The whole scheme: who funds, who votes, is byzantine. I will grudgingly support the capital plan. But regardless of the outcome, Minuteman governance needs an overhaul.

  64. Will, The DESE decision is a landmark that tips me in favor of Belmont approving the debt.

    I changed my mind on this vote because DESE finally did the right thing this past week and set a capital charge that is fair for the member towns. This answers nearly all of the criticisms of the building project. With the capital charge resolved, it is appropriate for Belmont to approve the debt for a new school and remain a member town.

    Many opponents of the debt argued through the spring and summer that the proposed new school is too large for the member towns and DESE could not be trusted to set a fair capital charge. This argument is no longer valid.

    Belmont will pay the same capital charge even if we became a non-member town. That is the outcome we asked for—an equal per-student amount for the cost of the new building for members and non-members (recognizing DESE made a small adjustment for non-member towns that already provide a significant level of voc/tech programs).

    Many of those opposed to the debt now seem to be making the vote a referendum on the tuition charged to non-member towns for operating expenses. By leaving the district, they say Belmont will save money even with the fair capital charge because the non-member towns pay lower tuition.

    The new regional agreement as discussed in Town Meeting allows a district to withdraw, subject to unanimous approval by the remaining members, to avoid the debt obligation. Tuition was not the reason for this provision.

    Non-member towns are a part of Minuteman. This not ideal but it reflects circumstances unique to this district. The practical difficulties in getting new towns to join as members may be solvable in the future.

    If Belmont pays less in tuition, the remaining member towns have to pay more. It is a zero sum game at that point and I do not support shifting costs to our neighbors in this way.

    The amount at stake is something we can afford. In a perfect world of equalized tuition, Belmont might save $150,000 when our total town budget is over $100 million.

    In addition, leaving the district is not automatic even if Town Meeting votes to withdraw. The remaining member towns also have to vote unanimous approval for Belmont’s exit. Reduced to a naked economic calculation, they have an incentive to deny a request to leave. A member of Arlington’s Finance Committee has already signaled in your blog that Belmont can expect opposition to an exit request. Withdrawal is probably not the windfall that some have intimated.

    There should be a thorough debate over tuition for non-member towns but it should not be used to avoid approving the debt. If Belmont withdraws, our economic incentive will be to free-ride on a flawed tuition policy. Instead, the right course is to remain in the district and help lead that debate. That debate should also include how to make sure Minuteman is run efficiently and controls its operating costs.

    Belmont won the big battle over the capital charge. This justifies approving the debt on Sept. 20.

    1. Fair enough, Roy. For those whose vote was all about the capital fee, I agree that this should make a difference.

      For me, it is not about the zero-sum “let’s pay less than our neighbors”. I agree that is not an attractive line of argument.

      For me, the issue has always been larger — I do feel that the Minuteman model is broken and I don’t think we should support it. I think that Belmont made a good faith effort to fix it pushing a right-sized school, but that approach just isn’t working out and now is the time to leave.

      While there has been some saber-rattling in some of the comments, it’s hard to predict what the other member towns together would actually do in response to a withdrawal request from Belmont. They are actually likely to feel that it is in their interest for Belmont to withdraw.

      Economically, for the member towns, after a NO vote, Belmont’s withdrawal would be roughly a wash economically. This is counterintuitive, but here is why: Under the member agreement if Belmont votes NO, and Belmont’s Town Meeting votes by the necessary 2/3 to withdraw, Belmont is not on the hook for the new debt service, even if it is not ultimately allowed to withdraw. The member agreement is 100% clear on that point — see Section IV(I).

      So Belmont, if forced to remain a member, would be in a unique category — paying member-level tuition, but not the debt service. The debt-service happens to be roughly equal to the member/non-member tuition differential, so Belmont would pay roughly the same in total as the non-member communities. And member communities may ask: If Belmont is off the hook for the debt, why should Belmont keep a seat on the board?

      Additionally, remember that the other 6 withdrawing towns are still voting members who would be part of the voting quorum on the decision. So, 8 of the 9 continuing members would actually have to convene Town Meetings and vote to keep Belmont in — those communities that do not do so within 60 days are construed to have approved Belmont’s withdrawal and it is hard to imagine any of the withdrawing communities voting to force Belmont in. See Section IX of the member agreement.

      1. The proposed school is right-sized because MSBA will not help pay for anything smaller. A significantly smaller school cannot offer the range of programming at a reasonable cost. If we are going to have a new building in the foreseeable future, it will be for 628 students.
        The choice seems to be to allow non-member towns on an equitable basis or postpone a new building for potentially many years before Watertown and other towns can be induced to become member towns. I don’t see the upside of waiting when the current building is in poor shape and requires large maintenance expenses, and we lose MSBA funding in this round.
        The building decision and the operating policies should be addressed separately. And if the new school is built (as seems likely) but Belmont withdraws, the practical effect will be free-riding on the flawed tuition policy.

  65. Will, I agree with you 100%. Tuition
    should be set up as it it for state
    schools with out of state students paying
    a premium. Nonmembers should pay a
    premium over the cost for members. I do
    feel that Minuteman is a very valuable
    resource for area students.

  66. Will,

    Here’s the problem with your alternatives “analysis”. You’ve pointed to a number of general options. But without specifics that we can provide our Belmont parents, you leave them with no real options. While in my view there are a number of things missing from the “Vote NO” analysis, it is this advocacy for a very messy divorce from an innovative and high quality vocational/technical program — without a concrete alternative plan — that I find most worrisome. Good governance requires that we put real alternatives in front of voters so that they can make informed decisions. I’m hoping that you will understand this as your leadership on issues affecting Belmont carries great weight.


    Mike Crowley
    Belmont Town Meeting Member, Precinct 8

    1. Thanks, Mike.

      Your point is well taken — more clarity would be good to have. But this is about a long-term judgment call, not specific plans. I think we need to ask whether the model is right and whether we want to support it. If not, and that is where I come down, I think the very visible richness of educational options in our region should give us the comfort necessary in face of the uncertainty.

  67. Hi Will et al.

    I am not in either camp on this issue. There is one issue though that I disagree with Will on. The fact that almost half of the Minuteman students go on to college is not an argument against funding a new school. 1) The Minuteman population is radically different than Belmont HS; there is a much higher proportion of students with special needs and the curriculum is designed to accommodate this. A student who will be successful at Minuteman might not be successful at Belmont HS. 2) Half of the time the Minuteman students are receiving hands-on technical training, much higher than at Belmont HS. So whether or not you go on to college you can be much more employable in a technical job immediately after high school .graduation. If you decide to go on to college, all the better, has you will likely find a better paying job. 3) I think it is a good thing that Minuteman is expanding its offerings in response to changes in the job market. I don’t think this means that the traditional trades are being shortchanged. It gives its students more choices and opportunities.

  68. Is there a way to privatize MM? as a state run charter school? Or become a “campusless” school that would rent it’s space from the private sector.

  69. I’ve spent considerable time thinking about this in recent days and have been struggling to develop my own opinion, which I finally think I have come to. This whole discussion started with concerns about the Minuteman capital expenses and how they would be covered by member vs. non-member towns. DESE’s recent ruling has addressed that issue in a way that in my view, is reasonable. The other building-related issue was that the school was “too big”–i.e. aimed to accommodate about 600 students instead of the approximately 300 sent by member towns. I am not an expert, but my sense is that Belmont officials’ proposal for a much smaller school aimed to serve only member town students, is unreasonable. I believe that the smallest vocational high school in MA is currently around 500 students. I expect much smaller school would result in the need to greatly reduce the variety of program options, effectively gutting the schools’ purpose of providing students with a good, wide range of options. My (preliminary!) review of per-student costs as a function of size also suggests a negative relationship between those (i.e., larger school means lower per-student costs). However, that same relationship also shows how out-of-whack Minuteman’s operating expenses appear to be. They seem to be the highest of the vocational schools, and in my regression, based on school size, I think that a 624-student school as proposed, should cost closer to $22k/student instead of the current $28k/student. Maybe there are good reasons (higher cost of living? something else?), but I haven’t heard a clear explanation for that. Then, on top of that, for member towns, is the inequity with which operating expenses are divided. Some degree of inequity seems appropriate given the benefits member schools receive (priority for student acceptance, and a say in school management), but the extent of the inequity on top of the high operating costs makes for a significant financial problem. Absent some new revelation in the next couple of days, I plan on voting no.

    1. Alix, if the new building is not approved, operating expenses will be higher because the existing building is inefficient and requires a lot of repairs.

      If the new building is approved by the other towns and Belmont votes no, the School Department has indicated a preference to send Belmont students to the new school. As a non-member town we will have shifted costs onto the member towns, which I at least don’t support.

      How to manage MM’s operating costs in the future is an important but separate issue. If we wish to exit the district even with a fair capital charge (which is the implication of a no vote), we would become a non-member town with an incentive to perpetuate the current flawed tuition system. Wouldn’t a real improvement be to remain as a member and reform the tuition policy, and also have some ability to oversee MM’s cost structure?

      1. Roy – I appreciate your response. I agree that a new building is needed and I expect it will be approved tomorrow. I also agree that if Belmont leaves the district (or remains as a member that does not pay for the capital charge), it amounts to a cost shift to the remaining member towns, which is unfair, and which I don’t like. What I don’t see is how remaining would provide a plausible path forward to addressing the unfairness, or the high operating costs. It seems to me that the only potentially effective tool that member towns have, to push for such a change, is to leave the district. Non-member towns have no incentive to push for change, nor have they done so, as far as as I know. As the “Yes Responds to No” website states, “Belmont has spent six years fighting the practice of setting artificially low tuitions for non-members” ( and yet has made no progress on that score. Absent more drastic action on the part of member towns, such as choosing to leave, I don’t see why progress on the tuition equity issue would be likely.

        My hope is that Belmont leaving could be a step towards pushing for an overall solution, which I suspect the state may need to be involved in, but which seems unlikely absent a more whole-scale action on the part of member towns.

        As for remaining as a member to help oversee the cost structure better, that certainly has value, but with so many member towns and given the inability of the group thus far to do much about it, I don’t hold out a lot of hope for a significant change… at least, absent a shock to the system such as members deciding to leave, which may be incentivizing.

  70. Thank you for sharing the information with us.

    I tend to support your point of view on the vocational school. The school has not been operated efficiently and the building (which is much newer and in better shape when compared to Belmont High school) has not been properly maintained. And I don’t think that demolishing an existing building and throw in a new building can change that organizational problem.

    Belmont has a much more urgent school resource problems and property tax burden that we must solve that first. Belmont public schools are at a much larger financial/enrollment risk when compared to the Minuteman.

    We had extensive discussions in our Wechat groups of Belmont Chinese American community. There are voices from both sides. I think there is an overwhelming voice of dis-approval.

    We will try to mobilize our community to turn out and vote tomorrow.

    best regards,

  71. Dear Mr. Brownsberger,

    From your letter and other evidence, it seems that the Minuteman School is and will continue to be the flagship vocational school in Massachusetts and perhaps the nation. The new building would accommodate a computer lab and other facilities that will permit vocational students to obtain jobs in a dynamic, high-tech economy.

    Why should Belmontians cast a vote against a school that will inspire and be a model for the future of vocational education in our state and the country at large?

  72. Will,

    I too voted against the Minuteman referendum, despite living in Arlington (which sends more students to Minuteman than any other community), and because, along with Arlington’s other upcoming spending on schools (new high school, a middle school renovation, and one more elementary school renovation), it’s simply too expensive.

    For me, the gut-level, checkbook-level argument against the referendum is that I can’t afford the resulting tax increases: on top of annual 2.5% levy increases and periodic Prop. 2.5 overrides, there will now be additional debt service on multiple buildings. I (still) work for a living. If I can’t afford this, I shudder to think of those who are retired or otherwise on fixed or limited incomes.

    I read cogent, rational arguments against the referendum. As it is, tuition at Minuteman is far more expensive than at other vocational schools. The proposed building is too large and too expensive for too few students; as a result, some towns are already withdrawing.

    The differences in capital and operating costs for in-district vs. out-of-district students are more a financial issue than an educational one, but they too are compelling, especially given the large fraction of Minuteman students who come from outside the district. You yourself have suggested that Belmont withdraw in order to reduce the cost of its Minuteman students, an argument which, if some towns adopt it, would foist corresponding increases on member towns, and which, if all towns adopted it, would lead to financial ruin for Minuteman.

    I think that those arguments against were overwhelmed in these ways:

    1) By people sufficiently affluent enough to afford what I can’t (my income is below Arlington’s median income of $90,000). In much the same way, Arlington voted for the Community Preservation Act (nice to haves, but not necessities); I voted against it.

    2) By people concerned with providing equity for academic and vocational high school students, as in “If we’re going to build a new academic high school, we should be a new vocational high school too”.

    3) By people who simplistically believe that because education is inherently good (I agree), spending on education is inherently good (I disagree).

    4) By people who believe that because Minuteman is special in offering hi-tech programs for our growing hi-tech economy, and that it therefore should continue. Yes, Minuteman offers computer programming and biotech programs, and the latter of these two is exceptional. However, Minuteman is not the only vocational school to offer hi-tech programs. Minuteman also offers the standard, traditional vocational programs, e.g. carpentry, automobile repair, plumbing, metalworking, and cosmetology, and a large fraction of its students are in these programs.

    To sum up, I’m disappointed that popular sentiment overwhelmed rational argument. I’m concerned that I will not be able to continue to afford living in Arlington and may have to move elsewhere. And I’m concerned that we’ll replace a decrepit, under-enrolled school, with a modern, under-enrolled school.

    Aram Hollman

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