COVID-19 Response Requires New Deal-Style Investment, Not Austerity

Educators, parents and supporters from across the region joined the Haverhill Education Association for a rally at City Hall on June 11, 2019. (Courtesy photograph.)

To the Editor:

By now it is evident that the effects of the current world-wide coronavirus pandemic are being felt locally. Though our school buildings have closed, the learning continues. Despite incredible obstacles, the educators of Haverhill developed and implemented a remote learning program in mere days. Over the past eight weeks, the educators in our community have worked longer days under more challenging conditions than ever before to provide for our students. With their own children at home, their own lives disrupted, and their own fears about themselves or one of their loved ones becoming ill, they have stepped up to the plate like never before.

With this “can-do” spirit in mind, I recently asked Mayor Fiorentini to join the Association and me as we lobby our Congressional delegation to pass a robust federal COVID-19 relief package to bail out the middle class and help state and local governments meet their obligations. I believed that, with his support, we could not only get Congress to do for Main Street what other coronavirus stimulus bills did for Wall Street, but we could also work to pressure our state legislators to fully fund the Student Opportunity Act which was only recently signed into law by Governor Baker. I asked him to reject the politics of fearmongering over budget cuts and to help lead us to a New Deal-style investment in our schools and public services. “Now more than ever,” I wrote, we need our leaders to invest in our public institutions.

So, how did Mayor Fiorentini respond? Instead of a commitment to work together for the common good, Mayor Fiorentini publicly dismissed my call to support our anti-austerity campaign as “nonsense.” On April 3, 2020 Mayor Fiorentini told WHAV, “We have a problem, not a crisis,” as he bragged about how his tight-fisted budgets of the past have helped to build a “rainy day fund” of over $5 million in addition to nearly $12 million in free cash that was certified at the end of 2019. Now he is declaring the City is unable to keep its commitment to your children and the people who serve them. While we support keeping working people employed and paid, his proposal to turn bus drivers into parks employees would spend $720,000 to save $120,000 over the next two years. This myopic scheme is merely a distraction designed to make voters believe that he is looking out for the working class while beneath the surface he is planning to eviscerate it by proposing layoffs of “at least 10%,” according to Dr. Marotta.

After years of talk of being prepared for the next recession, and despite recently published assertions that the City is well-positioned to handle this “problem,” the moment of truth has arrived. So far, Mayor Fiorentini is failing to rise to the occasion. While masquerading as a champion for the working class he is maneuvering behind the scenes to threaten teacher layoffs and reject a living wage for our ESPs. With millions in reserves for exactly this moment, Mayor Fiorentini should join us in this fight with state and federal leaders and live up to the example of his idol, Franklin Roosevelt. He should use all available resources to recover from the disruption, restore the economy and public services, and build a better society here at home.

Make no mistake – whether or not the City funds our schools is a matter of choice. As budgets are developed, our elected officials are choosing the direction of our city and our schools. A budget is more than just the dollars and cents of operating a city, but the place where our values are identified, and where we are forced to decide what matters to us as a community. Where we spend our money represents how we value our children, our educators, and our moral center. In short, the choices we make now will define who we are as a community for generations to come. I urge everyone to call upon Mayor Fiorentini to make the moral choice for Haverhill. Our community not only deserves it, it needs it now more than ever.

Anthony J. Parolisi
President
Haverhill Education Association

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