It is our duty to speak out
Op-ed by Jackie Doherty published in The Lowell Sun in June 2006 Thank God we live in a democracy where it is our right to speak out on issues that concern us. As an elected member of the school committee, I believe speaking out is a responsibility expected of me by the voters in my community. Speaking out is also a media and government responsibility. Sometimes these groups let us down by not telling the complete story or by enflaming the controversy rather than focusing on the substance. Perhaps this is done under some misguided sense that truth is less important than selling papers, protecting certain interests from public scrutiny, or being seen as a team player. Speaking out often causes controversy, but with accurate information, this discussion leads to a more knowledgeable society, and that is when democracy works best. Our state legislature is currently hammering out an agreement between the House and the Senate regarding the future of public education in the Commonwealth. The Senate proposal will enable a fair mechanism for funding our schools that is not predicated solely on the backs of property values. The Senate plan addresses the needs of students by providing added funding for the poor, non-English speakers, and those requiring special education services. It will also bring $3.4 million more to Lowell schools, which is desperately needed given recent federal cutbacks and fixed costs increases.
The Senate did a good job and developed a fair plan with far-reaching benefits to public education statewide. Now in Conference Committee, it is the responsibility of the House to work very hard to bring that plan home. If our local delegates find it difficult to continue to fight for funds for Lowell because our city is not at its tax levy or for whatever reason, the public should be told. Currently 84% of our school budget is state funded, and while other communities struggle with overrides, Lowell is not at its tax levy. We have been told that the city has no money and that tax increases over the last few years have been “to pay for the schools.” Yet the city contributes nearly $5 million less to educate its children than it did in 1992. In its FY07 budget, the city has no funds to repair roofs at two schools desperately in need of them. Certain councilors have also indicated that a shortfall in state aid may require substantial cuts for the schools. Yet, when comparing the city’s budget for the last two years, it is apparent that many employees have enjoyed salary increases of more than 15 percent in that time period. Perhaps the cash-strapped city has legitimate reasons for raising salaries so significantly. Regardless, the people have a right to know and a right to question funding priorities, especially during tough fiscal times. I have been criticized for airing these concerns, but that has not shaken my opinion on these issues or my conviction that the people of this community have the right to know. My duty, although not mine alone, is to tell them.