STATE REP RACE Q&A: Dave Robertson 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 his own words, are the responses to this week’s questions from candidate Dave Robertson (D-Tewksbury).

#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?

Chapter 70 funding, nick-named after the section of the General Laws that cover educational structures and operations in Massachusetts, is the foundation for why Massachusetts consistently places as an international powerhouse in education. That being said, I agree and have worked in support of revamping Chapter 70 to reflect the modern costs of educating students and individuals in Massachusetts. First, a bit of background for those who may not know how Chapter 70 works.

First, a town or city is given a funding requirement per student referred to those as the “foundation budget” which is considered adequate for providing a student an adequate education. This average is calculated based on part of the student demographics, including low-income or English-language-learners, as well as things such as maintenance, teacher salaries, and more. This foundation budget is then divided down further into subsections, each of which is assigned to the town or state to provide for funding. Let’s say for Tewksbury or Wilmington this costs a theoretical $10,000 total contribution, split between the town and state, per student.

The “local contribution” ,which is money allocated by the town or cities annual budget, is often the towns largest category overall of spending. This tax is paid for by local residents, businesses, and other local levies as part of their annual local tax payments, and local contribution is determined by the formula taking into account things such as property values, resident income, commercial property tax, and more. After determining a town’s local contribution rate, let’s say a theoretical $7,000 per student for Tewksbury or Wilmington, the state then allocates additional funding to fill the remaining amount of funding required between the set foundation budget and the local contribution. The state would pay $3,000 per student, times the number of students enrolled in the district,allowing the budget to provide the required foundation budget of $10,000 per student we set above. A richer town, like Andover, may find itself required to pay $8,500 per student, as it has higher property values and resident incomes, with the state providing the remaining $1,500. If any town finds itself in a budget surplus, or if residents want to, it can then further supplement the school budget past the required foundation.

While this is only a simple explanation the formula at face value seems fair, with more affluent towns paying a higher share and lower income towns receiving more state-aid, right?

Well, while the formula was developed with the goal of improving education for all Massachusetts students and has to an extent, but it has several serious flaws. Using our example above, more affluent Andover easily may provide $10,000 per student locally, and it still collects the state aid (which is legally mandated the state do). In addition, cities and towns like Lowell, Boston, or even Tewksbury or Wilmington which are far more affordable and diverse are could be required to have a higher foundation budget per student. Why? Due to more affordable rents our town is home to more low-income students and a higher percentage of those learning English, which the Chapter 70 formula requires more money to be set aside for. Our foundation budget, again higher due to ELL or low-income students, may require us to theoretically provide $10,500 per student, while Andover only needs to set aside $10,000. While the amount state aid for Tewksbury or Wilmington may be higher, Andover can easily surpass the required foundation budget and in the end offer more money per student.

So what can a State Representative do to improve Chapter 70 allocations to towns and cities?

Well, in the short-term our next State Representative should do everything to continue restoring state tax revenue towards Chapter 70 until levels are restored to where they were before the previous economic recession. This has been the trend the past several years, but it wasn’t until just recently that levels approached to what the state was paying before the market crash. In addition, they can to support our schools during the annual budget formation by requesting budget line-item requests specifically geared towards assisting and supporting the local schools.

First and foremost, and to readers it will be obvious, the formula itself needs to be changed. The growth of the international community in Massachusetts due to our booming economy and widespread introduction of cheap and quick airtravel has led to many recent arrivals requiring English Language classes, a resource intensive demand on local school budgets, something Chapter 70 no longer adequately addresses in its formula composition. In addition, requiring the state and not the town to shoulder even more of the contribution to towns with higher percentage of low-income students would boost our local education levels without increasing local taxes on residents. Long story short, the state needs to pick up the slack itself and allocate more money to towns who are doing the hard work of educating marginalized student groups.

Secondly, and something that I have seen firsthand working in the State House; unfunded mandates are absolutely murdering local school budgets. While striving for better education is something both the local school boards, its members, and the state legislature all agree on, the state legislature has an apt for implementing requirements on communities but lacking any sort of follow through on financing these programs. We all would love to see the next generation of children speak two languages, play a variety of sports, and even know how to play an instrument or sing, but when such educational requirements are codified into law local school boards are left to their own in figuring out ways how to pay. Each year these local boards work miracles stretching dollars while working with the teachers to maintain educational quality, but how long until they cannot do anymore? The state needs to stand behind the boards and give them the support they need. To help achieve this, I believe that Chapter 70 should reflect the price these mandates have on our cities and towns, and alleviate such a burden.

We have a lot of to be proud about in Massachusetts about our primary and secondary education, and we owe that in a large part to Chapter 70. As folks can see from above, however, we have outgrown and need a new formula to support our next generation of Bay Staters.

#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?

Negative campaigning is a broad spectrum to cover; and if I had to define it in only a few words I would describe it as lying about their policies, attempting to deceive voters, or attacking the person rather than their qualifications and ideas. This has unfortunately become, at least in my eyes, a regular occurrence in both parties on the local, state, and federal level. Civil discourse has been replaced by shouting, lies, and refusal to listen to one another for the most part.

I fondly remember when Obama and McCain respectfully met each other with dignity and respect at a debate years ago, as two US Senators on the Presidential-campaign-trail would, and I believed that their actions showcased the right way to conduct oneself while on any campaign trail. Candidates are supposed to disagree, it’s vital to our democracy, but they are supposed to disagree with dignity, honor, and public discussion. Even if their respect is not for each other, they should conduct themselves with dignity out of respect to the voters and citizens of the towns and cities they represent. Not doing so is simply a slap in the face to those who live and work in the area, who pay taxes, who served in the military to defend our system of democracy. We are fortunate to live in two lovely towns, and as candidates we partially represent our district to the public-at-large; because of this we should always have our best foot forward and run campaigns that reflect the values of our homes.

That being said, I am sad to say some campaigns have already tried going negative towards myself and others. I am blessed that when faced with such events, I can simply address such negative attacks with the truth. People in the towns know me as an active and caring resident, and my ideas and platform is widely available for anyone to see and reflect on. Simply put a negative campaign towards a candidate is offensive as it assumes voters are stupid and naive, which in Tewksbury and Wilmington is simply not true. The hard working men and women of the 19th Middlesex may be busy but they always take the time to learn the truth, and I know they do not take kindly to liars, as liars waste their time. This brings me to my last point on negative campaigning, if a campaign is willing to lie on the campaign trail, their candidate WILL lie in office. I only seek office for one reason, which is to represent the people of the 19th Middlesex with honor and dignity. If I campaign negatively I cannot do that, and I will betray the very reason I am running, so I vow to always tell the truth and put my best foot forward, just as the towns taught me to do growing up.

(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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