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Forum shines light on the state budget

By Dan Cooper

Staff Intern

LONGMEADOW - The Select Board brought State Senator Gale Candaras and Representative Mary Rogeness (R-Longmeadow) to town on April 12 at Longmeadow High School's auditorium to discuss state aid for the town, but mostly concerning schools.

Select Board member Paul Santaniello organized the forum as a follow-up to residents' requests from the Strategic Plan Forum for state legislators to hear their concerns.

"Five years ago, the school budgets took cuts due to the economy," Rogeness said. "Last year, the state started getting the money back for Chapter 70 funding."

Candaras said that special education (SPED) students from other communities come to Longmeadow because it has a "spectacular school system."

"When students come here, the costs go up," Candaras said. "And SPED costs are very expensive. Several years ago, the legislature changed the SPED standards and Chapter 70 aid increased by $32,000."

Longmeadow received $4.23 million in Chapter 70 aid this year from the Legislature, an increase of $180, 567 from fiscal year 2007.

School Committee member Christine Swanson expressed concerns over the problems Longmeadow has with their schools, which include using outdated textbooks, a lack of books, and teachers working without a contract. "Some students are using textbooks in their classes dated from 1989," Swanson said.

Teachers in Longmeadow have been working without a contract for about a year.

Candaras admitted she was surprised to learn about the problems the school system has. "Contract disputes, though, are simply matters of local governments," she said when asked if she could help settle the issue.

Superintendent E. Jahn Hart invited Candaras to tour the schools at a later date.

Rogeness said she was able to secure $100,000 to repair the Community House, plagued by peeling paint, broken bricks, and falling roof tiles.

Candaras and Rogeness also addressed the issue of people leaving the state to live somewhere else. Rogeness said the loss of citizens concerns her.

"Housing is expensive in Massachusetts," she said.

"Massachusetts is the third richest state in the country," Candaras said. "Our living costs are too high, however, so people leave the state," adding that the state has a $1.3 billion deficit. "The Commonwealth recognizes this problem. Nothing is going to be easy."

Candaras said that young people have to follow jobs, also contributing to a loss of citizens. "There are no jobs here,' she said. "We have a lot of strength here in Western Massachusetts, and if we can increase financing, we may be able to increase wealth."