Middlesex State Senate Race Heats Up
Oct 18, 2018 10:32PM
● By Dan Marra
School funding is seemingly the main issue debated during every local election in Massachusetts. Otherwise known as Chapter 70, it’s the formula used to determine the amount of education funds given out to communities each year. It hasn’t been updated in more than two decades.
It is one of the main reasons Republican Erin Calvo-Bacci, a Reading resident, is challenging State Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) in the Nov. 6 election. According to Calvo-Bacci, the former owner of the Chocolate Truffle, school buildings have come under disrepair, teacher salaries have failed to keep up and the school budget is always squeezed year after year.
“Look at the schools in our district,” Calvo-Bacci said. “It’s raining inside Stoneham High School. My daughter’s school in Reading has such a high lead count the students can’t drink the water. This is unacceptable. We have 351 communities and they’re all fighting for the same small piece.”
But according to Senator Lewis, the legislature has made progress in updating the funding formula, albeit slowly. The Senator sponsored legislation that created the Foundation Budget Review Commission, the first step in reviewing and potentially updating the Chapter 70 school funding formula.
“Funding public schools is a top priority of mine,” Senator Lewis said. “The school budget has increased more than other areas in the state budget. The formula is out of date and it needs to be reformed, but we are making progress on that front.”
That progress is too slow for Calvo-Bacci, however. She has been critical of the state legislature, including Senator Lewis, for voting to approve a pay raise for themselves earlier this year.
“My opponent admits that the school funding is flawed but has no problem approving a $42,000 raise for himself,” Calvo-Bacci said. "As a small business owner you always take care of all your expenses first and take a paycheck last. And that should be the same for the state legislature.”
However, Senator Lewis has said that his raise is an increase in his stipend, which doubled from $7,500 to $15,000 a year. And that the $42,000 figure Calvo-Bacci cited was the increase the speaker and Senate president received.
“The stipend had not been updated in 30 years,” Senator Lewis said. “We want to enable people to run for office and to be able to do this job and still support their family. We want everyone to have an opportunity to run for office if they want, not just the wealthy.”
For Calvo-Bacci, she wants to see more collaboration between the public and private sector. She cited Keurig as an example of a community partner in Reading before they left the state. She has also expressed frustration with the legislature around it’s delay in coming up with a plan to spend the $1 billion surplus the state found itself with.
“How are we not taking that money and reinvesting in education,” Calvo-Bacci questioned. “I don’t understand why this isn’t a bigger priority.”
But according to Senator Lewis, while some of that money will be reinvested in the community, a portion should also be spent building up the state’s stabilization fund.
Senator Lewis, who has been critical of Calvo-Bacci’s proposal to cut the state sales tax, which helps fund the school building authority, also wants to bring back the Millionaire’s tax as a way for the state to gain additional revenue.
The tax, which was proposed as a citizen’s ballot earlier this year, did not qualify as an appropriate ballot question, according to the state Supreme Court. However, Senator Lewis said he plans to file the proposal as a legislative amendment to the state Constitution, and that tax could raise an additional $2 billion in revenue.
Both candidates will be on the ballot on Tuesday, Nov. 6 as Senator Lewis will be going for a third term, while Calvo Bacci is looking to parlay her experience as a town meeting member, small business owner and campaign organizer for Richard Tisei into a State Senatorial election.