By Seth Daniel
For the first time ever, Chelsea played host to a state budget hearing of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus on Monday night, April 10, as one stop on a statewide listening tour.
Chaired by Rep. Russell Holmes of Roxbury and incoming Chair Frank Moran of Lawrence, the Caucus made a brief statement telling the crowded Council chambers that the tour was part of a way for the Caucus to get a pulse on the communities they represent. By hearing the community, they can take back those priorities to the state and fight for money in the overall State Budget.
Gov. Charlie Baker released his proposed budget earlier in the year, but the House of Representatives released their proposal on Monday, with public hearings now coming and debate ready to ensue until July 1 – when the overall final State Budget is supposed to be signed.
Key to getting the tour to Chelsea was Councillor Roy Avellaneda and Council President Leo Robinson.
“This is a great opportunity for our community to speak,” said Avellaneda. “I’m grateful you’re doing this tour around the state and that Chelsea is a stop on the tour.”
And speak the City did.
Kicking off the proceedings, given the changes in the administration and especially within immigration regulations, Attorney Ivan Espinosa was allowed to testify about the case that he has brought against President Donald Trump for the City of Chelsea and the City of Lawrence.
Espinosa represents the Lawyers Committee for Economic Justice, which he said started at the behest of President John F. Kennedy in 1968.
He spoke about the importance of sanctuary cities and the designation of Massachusetts as a sanctuary state.
“We do not need to spend our local and state resources to do the federal government’s bidding,” he said. “They have plenty of resources.”
He also relayed a story about a woman whose son had been beaten up at school and sent home without a report to the police or medical attention. Espinosa said the principal told her that it happened because the son and mother had no rights because they were not in the country legally.
This, he said, happened in Massachusetts.
“These are not stories from South Carolina or Texas; they are stores from local families here in Massachusetts,” he said.
He said it’s important to fight for sanctuary status in Chelsea and to expand it statewide so that it doesn’t become like other states that are “laboratories for bigotry.”
The greatest part of the meeting, however, came from school officials in Chelsea and Revere – who testified that the state needs to address the problem of low-income kids not getting properly counted in the two-year old education funding formula. In that formula, only kids whose families are on public benefits qualify to be classified as low income or economically disadvantaged. Having such a status allows for extra funding for the school district to address the needs that come with poverty.
However, those funds are not coming to districts like Chelsea, Revere and about eight others.
Supt. Mary Bourque implored the Caucus to fund the ‘pothole’ account again, which provides temporary monies to the districts to make up for what has been lost. However, she said a permanent fix is needed.
She said 2,000 students were missing from the count in Chelsea, resulting in a potential loss in the coming budget of up to $2.7 million.
“If the pothole account comes before you, support it,” she said. “If it does not, please propose it.”
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said a permanent fix is necessary.
“It needs addressing,” he said. “DESE recognizes it. We need a permanent fix.”
School Committee Chair Jeannette Velez said Chelsea cannot retain the best teachers because so many cuts are implemented to make up for the shortfalls.
“We can’t keep having this turnover of teachers,” she said. “We need the right people here because Chelsea is unique.”
Revere Supt. Dianne Kelly implored the Caucus to find a permanent solution.
“They have not come up with a fix to change the formula,” she said. “The pothole account is not sustainable…It’s not fair to our communities.”