The following is an opinion column and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Framingham Patch
FRAMINGHAM, MA — In the Sept. 6 Democratic primary, voters will choose their candidate for the new Middlesex 6th District State House seat. The two most serious contenders on the ballot are: Margareth Shepard, an experienced member of the town assembly, a two-term Framingham councilor and a small business owner for 30 years; and Priscila Sousa, six months into her second term on the Framingham School Board and her first year as President, and three years as Sales Director at Vivint Solar.
Both candidates share Brazilian heritage, are immigrants, speak Portuguese and Spanish and have experience in local government, so naturally align with building a more effective representation of a Framingham community of increasingly diverse. Margareth has a broader civic experience, which translates well to a move to state representation. Priscila has just taken on a key instructional leadership role in the school district and seems better positioned to continue in that role.
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Each candidate has a somewhat comparable number of endorsements, although Margareth has specific endorsements from six councilmen she served with, and support from Jack Lewis, one of our currently serving state representatives. Additionally, Margareth has the endorsement of the Sierra Club, which is a critically important endorsement in these times.
Each candidate also has a set of priorities. Margaret maybe found here.
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Priscila has a Priorities link on her website, but it’s been broken for a few months. You can find them at the bottom of her Page “Meet Priscila”.
We will focus first on their environmental priorities, then on education.
Margareth captures key environmental issues well with: “Secure vital funding to clean up polluted local sites, invest in green energy jobs and accelerate our transition to renewable energy.”
Priscila’s message is: “Sponsor of first-state school climate change policy” and “Cleaning up contaminated sites: our district needs a representative who will not just speak loud and clear about environmental justice, but who will will take steps to clean up the contamination.”
As we experience the local effects of climate change, with an unusually hot summer and the early stages of a drought in Massachusetts, and see all the other global data of fires, droughts, floods, crop failures , the destruction of ecosystems, etc., it is clear that the transition to green energy must be accelerated. How can Priscila, as a candidate for state representation, not be at the center of this?
Also, the request for “sponsorship” is worth considering.
The school committee’s policy on climate change, the environment and sustainability is indeed the first of all school districts in the state. I have extensive experience of the effort to achieve this. I advocated for the creation of the School Committee Subcommittee on Climate Change, Environment, and Sustainability in January 2020, and chaired the subcommittee for two years, along with Adam Freudberg, Priscila Sousa, and William LaBarge, like the other three members. The policy was developed with input from school committee members, school district administration, teachers, students, and local community environmental activists. It was a huge collaborative effort, so if you could call anyone a “sponsor” there would be dozens. Based on all these contributions, at the end of 2021, I wrote 90% of the first version of the policy, the rest being done by Adam Freudberg. This first project included 51 specific areas of action. Subsequent subcommittee review, feedback from the student forum, and feedback from the administration brought that number up to 70. The policy was eventually approved by the school board on May 18.
There were, however, two major issues that threatened to derail the political effort. As the newly elected School Committee reorganized in early 2022, under the leadership of Priscila Sousa, there has been a concerted effort to dismantle the Climate Change, Environment and Sustainability Sub-Committee, which has been successfully blocked by lobbying from me, the superintendent and community environmental activist. Then in April, as the finalized policy was being prepared by the policy subcommittee to be forwarded to the full school committee for a vote of approval, there was an attempt to kill the policy. Margareth joined the lobbying effort to block this effort and ensure the survival of the policy.
In my view, both hurdles in the road could have been avoided with more committed leadership from Priscila, especially since she had been part of the entire policymaking effort from the beginning. But Margareth recognized the problem and helped when it mattered. Politics view here.
The final comment is that almost none of this political content leaked into Priscila’s campaign, which remains a mystery to me.
Moving on to education, there is a huge difference between applicants for state Chapter 70 funding for our students. State Budget Chapter 70 funds are specifically designed to strengthen local educational support for low-income, special-needs, and non-English speaking students.
Margareth has worked hard to ensure that Framingham’s share of Chapter 70 funding always fully reaches our students. In 2019, the city tried to divert $700,000 in late supplemental aid from the school district’s Chapter 70, but the city council unanimously thwarted that effort and added that money to the school district’s budget, where the state l ‘planned. go. Margareth contributed significantly to this effort, and it was greatly appreciated.
In contrast, in the recently completed budget cycle, with $11.8 million in additional Chapter 70 aid allocated to Framingham by the state, only $7.3 million reached our students. $4.5 million was diverted for municipal purposes, such as road repairs and roof replacements. The irony is that the state specifically increased Chapter 70 funds with the Student Opportunity Act because Chapter 70 has been found to be underfunded in recent years. In addition, the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the academic progress of students, especially those targeted by Chapter 70 funds, whose families have been hit by job loss, health issues, poor internet access. during distance education and rising inflation. If ever there was a year for Chapter 70 funds to be fully invested in our students, this was it. Even more compelling is the fact that over the past school year, 140 assistant positions for students with special needs and English language learners went unfilled due to hiring difficulties. Chapter 70 funds could have been deployed to remedy this situation in the next school year, but they were not. This is particularly troubling, as it builds on the fact that the school committee’s subcommittee on equity, diversity and inclusion did not meet at all in 2021 when Priscila was chair of the subcommittee. , and the first indications of this problem could have been detected by an operational subcommittee.
Under Sousa’s leadership, the newly elected school board didn’t even have a substantive discussion of the issue, as the city cut $4.5 million in public funding for schools. For the past eight years, 100% of the state’s Chapter 70 funds have always gone to the school district. Margareth helped make this happen. But under Priscila’s watch, we have seen the biggest diversion in Framingham’s history of Chapter 70 funds away from their student targets.
Our next state representative needs to be able to effectively advocate for Chapter 70 funding, but if he was involved in diverting 40% of Framingham’s latest Chapter 70 funding increase out of schools, he won’t. will have no credibility to defend.
My best advice for voters would be to send Margareth to the state Legislature by checking her box in the Sept. 6 primary ballot. Margareth is the real real deal. She gets up when it matters, has handled very difficult life circumstances in an impressive way, follows through when it matters, has the stamina to stick with tough issues until they are resolved, and will make us all truly proud of our next representative state, as she addresses the wide range of issues articulated in her campaign.
Geoffrey Epstein is the former member of the Framingham District 6 school board and former chair of its subcommittees on climate change, environment and sustainability, and finance and operations.
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