STATE REP RACE Q&A: Judy O’Connell Discusses Education Issues, Negative Campaigning

WILMINGTON, MA — Wilmington Apple is asking weekly questions to the seven candidates running in contested primaries for the Wilmington/Tewksbury State Representative seat (19th Middlesex).

Below, in her own words, are the responses to this week’s questions from candidate Judy O’Connell (D-Wilmington).

#13) The Massachusetts education funding formula hasn’t been updated in 25 years. This Chapter 70 formula fails to provide the funding needed for school districts to fund core expenses. The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center published a report last week (“Building An Education System That Works For Everyone: Funding Reforms To Help All Our Children Thrive“) detailing the problem. The Wilmington & Tewksbury School Committees have long advocated for the State House to update the Chapter 70 formula. Do you commit to fighting for an updated formula? What else will you do as State Representative to help our public schools?

It is true that the Massachusetts education funding formula has not been updated in a very long time. It is also true that the Chapter 70 formula is a very complicated formula to explain and absolutely should be updated on an ongoing basis. In general terms, the formula sets a minimum budget (foundation budget) required for each city or town to provide for its public education. There are various factors that go into determining this foundation budget such as enrollment, demographics, student to teacher ratios, employee benefit costs such as health care, etc. Health care is a major contributor to the issue with the formula for example as the rates being used to estimate health care costs are outdated and therefore are creating a financial gap in the overall foundation budget calculation. Employee health care costs continue to increase year over year and if the metrics in the formula are not updated with current rates then the calculations will continue to create a shortfall. Other areas contributing to gaps in the overall budget calculations are special education costs and English Language Learner (ELL) costs. The formula needs to include actual costs versus applied formula costs. Governor Baker has made strides in increasing the rates in the formula, but once again there is still a financial gap. As a State Representative, I would strongly support incremental increases in key metrics within the formula to address the areas mentioned as well as any other areas that have a negative impact on the education budgetary process. I believe the key is “incremental” increases as these increases will impact the overall state budget which needs to be feasible and sustainable. The Chapter 70 formula also determines how much each city or town is required to contribute to schools which is based on total personal income and property values in each community. The Chapter 70 funding from the state is intended to fill the gap between the minimum budget for each city or town (the foundation budget) and the required local contribution which is calculated based on the Chapter 70 formula just described. Some cities and towns may elect to spend additional local resources and funds above the requirements to provide support and services to their public schools. This may happen often as the funding amounts in the foundation budget are often inadequate based on the current formula. In my opinion, both Wilmington and Tewksbury demonstrate their continued commitment to education year after year through their approved school budgets at Town Meeting and should be applauded for their efforts.

In addition to fighting for an updated formula, I will continue to be a staunch supporter of education in all areas. Some of these areas include maintaining and increasing state funding, pursuing grant opportunities whenever possible, supporting improved education and special education initiatives, increasing school safety and providing more services relative to social and emotional issues for students, their families and school personnel which includes bullying and the opioid crisis. As a former school teacher, I am very passionate about education. Therefore, as the next State Representative for the 19th Middlesex District, I will do my part to ensure that every student in Tewksbury and Wilmington has every opportunity to receive a public education of the highest quality possible.

#14) Define “negative campaigning.” Do you pledge not to engage in any negative campaigning during this election? Why or why not? When responding to an attack, will you follow the “when they go low, we go high” Michelle Obama mantra or the “when someone attacks me, I always attack back… except 100x more” Donald Trump mantra?

The technical definition of negative campaigning is a politician or party focusing on criticizing another politician or party rather than emphasizing their own positive qualities. Studies show that there is a backlash associated with campaign attacks and it serves to alienate potential voters from the political process. This is a disservice to the democratic process.

I do make a pledge not to engage in negative campaigning in this State Representative election. I will further state that I will not attack a candidate in a way that is embarrassing or humiliating to them. It goes against my core qualities as a human being. Lastly, I will not be complicit to negative campaigning by proxy which has already found its way into this race. Rather than reference another’s mantra, I will simply state my own. You never look good trying to make someone else look bad. However, if I am personally attacked, I will defend myself with facts separate from emotion. If a candidate chooses to go this route, I’m capable of matching their energy without negativity, sacrificing my dignity or losing sight of the important topic of debate and the impact it may have on the people of Tewksbury and Wilmington.

In answering this question, I would like to point out that there is a clear distinction between criticizing a candidate and pointing out where your viewpoints may be in contrast or conflict with those of another candidate. There are respectful and tactful ways to accomplish this. During this process, I will also be a keen listener. I am always open to listening to all sides of an issue. Separate from this campaign process, the hard work of the State Representative position will be engaging in intelligent debate, the art of compromise, and building a consensus toward achieving a common goal. I have a demonstrated track record on each of these fronts and I look forward to the opportunity to bring this skill set to Beacon Hill in representing the 19th Middlesex District.

(NOTE: Do you have a question for the candidates? Email wilmingtonapple@gmail.com and it may be asked in a future Q&A or in a debate.)

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