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Economic Development, Social Justice, and Education

Thank you to all of you who came out to join me at my home for an intimate gathering in February. I hope you had a great time enjoying conversations with your neighbors or connecting with a new face.

For those of you who missed the event, you can still contribute to my campaign here.

That night, I spoke about how I went out on a limb in the last election to publicly support Holyoke becoming an economic cluster for cannabis in the state. Legalizing marijuana in Massachusetts was supported by 62% of Holyoke voters and I worked to ensure that we had the zoning and permitting regulations in place to be first movers in this industry in order to reap the best benefits for our community.

Two years later, we have permitted 7 of 8 applicants to manufacture or sell marijuana in the city. We have rehabilitated, renovated, and reoccupied over 210,000 sq.ft. of previously vacant building space in the city (an average CVS pharmacy ranges from 16,000-20,000 sq.ft!). And for the RISE Holdings property (the one company that is up and running) the city is receiving more than double the taxes than it was in 2017. Even The Boston Globe has recently taken note of the success of this strategy for bringing manufacturing back to the old mills of our Paper City. Holyoke IS Rising!

We also just permitted the first applicant of color locally. This is significant because we need to ensure that there is a Reparative Justice component to the legal marijuana industry in order to make up for the failed and racist policies of the War on Drugs that negatively impacted Holyoke and other similar communities over the years. The State’s Cannabis Control Commission has an eye on social equity and created several programs to fast track applicants from any of the State’s 29 “Communities of Disproportionate Impact” (based in part on demographics and marijuana arrest rates). The City of Holyoke in collaboration with Holyoke Community College and C3RN, a women-led cannabis research network, are working together on piloting the State’s first workforce training and development program for the emerging cannabis industry.

I also spoke about how Holyoke’s diversity is a tremendous asset and that I’m proud to be raising my family in a place where there is so much daily exposure to diverse people, culture, and ideas. I truly believe that it’s only in places like Holyoke that one can develop a social justice practice; it is our daily interactions with diversity that moves one’s commitment to antiracism into action– beyond simply holding the values of justice and equality.

My son, Lucien, is enrolled in the Dual Language program at E. N. White Elementary School. His Spanish language acquisition in just six months of immersion in the pre-K classroom is off the charts. I am so happy with the attention and care that he receives from his teachers and the administrators at the school. We are committed to the Holyoke Public Schools and to working out any kinks we may encounter along the way.

Because of this commitment to social justice and the ways that the public schools help us realize that commitment, I will be supporting the debt exclusion ballot measure to help fund the construction of two new middle schools in our city. I know that there is a lot of information floating around and that the City and HPS will have to work hard to create a clear picture of how these new buildings will support real gains in learning outcomes. In the meantime, here are a few key points to consider:

  1. The construction of two new middle school buildings has NOTHING to do with receivership; it is not an outcome of receivership, nor is it an action that can get us out of receivership. Moving to a K-5/Middle School model is something that our community has supported for several years now and the Receiver is simply responding to OUR community preference by initiating this building process with the State. If anything, moving forward on this investment is a way for us to signal, to the State and to outside investors alike, that Holyoke is ripe for more investment and more independence.
  2. The debt exclusion override is the only way that we can demonstrate to the State that we have secured the funding necessary to move forward on the project. The City is required to bond for the full project, but will be reimbursed by the State for 60% of the total project cost. The cost the City will bear is currently estimated at $55 Million, or an average increase of $270/yr for a home valued at $200,000. But, that is the maximum average–  once the debt exclusion is secured it can be offset by local revenue generation or other creative funding mechanisms in the years to come. The recent adjustment to the sewer rate is an example of how we can free up General Fund revenues to pay down the debt and reduce the tax burden more quickly.
  3. The State funding for the construction project is a completely separate funding stream than our Chapter 70 funds or Holyoke’s own net school spending responsibility. The State’s reimbursement includes all project costs– all aspects of construction, design services, management services, furniture, equipment, and technology– and does NOT take away from any money that the schools already receive from either the State or the City. In fact, because the both the City and the State are obligated to meet their spending minimums, the new middle school model is expected to free up over $4 Million in the school budget that can be reinvested in school programming annually.
  4. Bricks and mortar DO have an impact on student learning. Classroom design, team learning spaces, and appropriate environmental conditions– windows that open, heating and cooling systems that work appropriately, natural light, and proper ventilation– all contribute to student learning and engagement! Beyond that, the middle school model creates operation efficiencies and eliminates redundancies at the district level that create space for additional enrichment programming i.e: arts and music, universal pre-K, health centers, STEM, etc.
  5. EQUITY. The location of the two new middle schools truly serves the City’s HPS student population. Building two new middle schools at the same time means that every Holyoke student in the public school system will be able to one day soon walk into a brand new, state-of-the-art facility. Furthermore, the construction of two new middle schools gives Holyoke students a chance to learn in an environment that is at educational parity with many of their peers across the state.

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It is an honor to serve as your City Councilor. Thank you to all of you who have been supporting me. I look forward to connecting with you throughout the year and to creating opportunities for Holyoke together.

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