ColuMBIA GAS, CHANGING EDUCATION FUNDING ARE TOP PRIORITIES
By: Tom Duggan, November, 2018
North Andover native Christina Minicucci – a Democrat – defeated Republican Ryan Losco earlier this month to replace outgoing State Rep. Diana DiZoglio representing Methuen, North Andover, Haverhill, and Lawrence.
We caught up to Minicucci the day after the election to find out what she plans to actually do once she takes office in January.
“Everyone’s primary concern right now is Columbia Gas getting heat and hot water restored and making the community whole again. When you talk to people in North Andover and Lawrence that’s their number one concern.”
“Roughly 50% of my district in North Andover is affected and their primary concerns are getting their gas back. There are still a lot of unknowns, and a lot of confusion and cloudiness in the process. Every day the answers we get from Columbia Gas are a little bit different. I have a very strong feeling that this will not be resolved by the end of December. There is a high level of concern about an investigation in the coming year. I think the entire delegation has been focused on this and I’m looking forward to getting some answers myself.”
Minicucci said she was also frustrated that Columbia Gas is not offering to pay for efficient heaters in their homes.
Asked what she was going to do about it, she said; “That’s a good question, because as I’ve been campaigning I’ve been focused on talking to the people affected who don’t have heat and their concerns that ratchet up as time goes on. I haven’t had a direct line to everything that’s being done by the current delegation. I think there will be a learning curve for me to figure out how I fit into that equation but I do believe we have to keep fighting to make sure they pay for everything and then I need to look at what didn’t they do, what is their failure, is this pressure issue really the problem? I believe that’s not really the issue here, the real problem is the crumbling infrastructure that Columbia Gas has been responsible for fixing that they haven’t fixed in years. Why didn’t they do this before? Why a 20 year long plan to upgrade infrastructure. If they can pull off replacing all these lines in 6 weeks why haven’t they been doing that all along?”
What are your other priorities?
“One of the most important issues to me is education. I see how each local community spends on education each year, it’s at least 50% of our local city and town budgets, the budget formula is based on foundation budget in, that’s the way the state funds schools. It hasn’t been revised since the 90s. When schools are underfunded, each city and town have to make up the difference. We spend a lot of money on education. The first thing that matters to me with 3 kids in the public schools is trying to revise the funding formula for education.”
“Look what happened in Methuen. The state funding formula creates a per-pupil [requirement] amount for each community to spend on education. So in Methuen they get a certain amount of money per-pupil. If that amount hasn’t been adjusted since the 90s, the formula doesn’t take into account the changing need of students in each city. Methuen probably isn’t being funded properly from the state level. You don’t know how many special education kids you will get in any given school year. If the formula is properly done they will get the money they need.
North Andover has a buffer to make up the difference but Methuen didn’t have that. We need to help communities like Methuen take the local burden off and fund them properly.
Special education is a very real concern.”
She said she is not in favor of what she called “high stakes assessment testing” like MCAS. “I am not a fan of high stakes assessments like the MCAS. A big chunk of our money goes to testing companies to administer these tests in schools. A lot of money. Is it really helping performance?”
Asked if she was going to just throw money at the problem or if she was concerned with how schools are actually spending the money they are given, she replied;
“We always need to be looking at how money in schools is spent. In Methuen the current city council has been doing that. They are going line by line now and I think that’s good for all of us. We should all be doing that.”
“Lawrence has a lot of challenges how do you plan on tackling those?”
“Most people don’t know because it’s not really reported (except in the Valley Patriot) but, Lawrence has its lowest level of crime in 35 years.”
“Lawrence is safer and there are a lot of positive improvements going on in Lawrence. I think it’s important to interface with local leaders and find out what their priorities are. I think it’s important to look at it from all levels not just going to listen to the mayor and council but hearing from the people who are using local services in Lawrence. Obviously the water infrastructure was a big deal. Public safety is the biggest priority they worry about getting drugs off the street.”
“I have gone to the different neighborhood meetings in Lawrence; they are very organized, very focused on their area, making sure that they are heard. I listened to what they feel is important, police DPW issues. People are most concerned about infrastructure and public safety.”
Right now, obviously most people in Lawrence are concerned about Columbia Gas. There are a lot of people who are nervous about what is going to happen now, will it happen again and when gas is turned on, will everything work the way it’s supposed to, are we safe? I don’t think anyone has answered any of those questions yet.”
“It’s going to be a very long process and I don’t think it will be resolved any time soon. This will go on at least until April, then they have to repave all of our roads and sidewalks. That can’t be a burden paid for by Lawrence or North Andover, and I sure don’t think they should be allowed a rate hike to pay for it which is what I fear they are going to try and pull. There is no way all of this should be put on the users in a rate hike.”
There are a lot of people who feel like they have been forgotten. A lot of people still being affected and they feel like they are an afterthought.”
“I get asked about Columbia Gas and I get frustrated that I can’t be more helpful,” she said with a sigh.
“I am happy to finally be on the inside where I will have more access to information to find out what’s going on. I want to help when people have questions and I hate when I can’t get them the answers Hopefully, now I can find new pathways to help people be made whole from all of this.” ◊