Councilor Belanger on refugees coming to Lowell

At the Lowell City Council on Tuesday, July 22, 2014, Mayor Rodney Elliott made a motion requesting the City Manager have the Chief Financial Officer and Superintendent of Schools produce a report regarding the costs incurred to educate newcomer students.  Besides Mayor Elliott, Corey Belanger was the only City Councilor to speak on the motion.  The following is a verbatim transcript of what Belanger said:

By Councilor Belanger:  Thank you Mr. Vice Mayor [Councilor Leahy was in the Chair].  I think this is a great motion.  And to get to Mayor Elliott’s points, that Lowell, we’ve always been a city of immigrants.  That is our foundation.  We have many nationalities here.  I visited many of the schools and it’s encouraging to see how diverse we really, really are, all the way to a young age.

But we got a problem that’s serious and it’s going to get far worse, of refugees, undocumented or illegal aliens, which ever term you choose to use, are pegged for Lowell.  We are on that list.  Many of which are unskilled and uneducated.  And they’re on their way.

There is no denying a child an education in this city, under no circumstances.   I get it.  But nonetheless, it costs money.  These children cost two to three times more to educate than an English speaking student, child.  Someone has to bear that cost.  So what the Mayor’s alluding to is that, you know, a tab, a number, if you will.  We need to know how many of these students are hitting our school system.

Now the Superintendent of Schools was on the radio just last week.  We have about 100 to 200 families from the Congo pegged for Lowell.  From Central America, the crisis on the border, six planes have landed at Fort Devens.  Don’t know what’s going to fall out there.  Strong possibility we’ll get some of those families in Lowell, as well.  This is going to affect our school system dramatically to an already ongoing problem that the mayor’s more enlightened than I.

Someone needs to pay for this.  All’s we can do is keep a tab on the situation and enter these kids into the system but nonetheless we need to know the correct amount and my strategy – I’m only one councilor on this – but we need to involve Congresswomen Tsongas.  OK, she needs to carry, to stand up for her city, OK.  Now if the President, by all means with all due respect, wants to have failed immigration policies, then let him pay for it.  OK.

The school department is going to be looking for more money in the coming years to pay for all of this and they’re not going to be wrong.  These things cost money.  We’re going to have to get teachers, English as a second language teachers and what not.  That’s what we need.  That’s what we’re going to do.  But I’m not going to be looking to tax the homeowners of Lowell to pay for it.  I think that’s wrong.  I’m sorry.

So, I think we need to get on this problem sooner rather than later.  It’s going to get very, very serious.  Where our schools are going to be bursting from the seams.  There’s going to be a middle school congestion to say the least in the next two to three years as we were briefed by the superintendent.  So we do need to keep a tab on the situation.  I’m sorry.  I hope I don’t come off to be offensive.

But I’m merely standing up for the taxpayer’s of Lowell that these children it costs money to educate them and it should not be on the backs of the Lowell taxpayers.  That’s my point.  Thank you very much, Mr. Vice Mayor.