Monday, October 31, 2016 GREENFIELD — Student loan debt, disillusionment with government, barriers to political engagement and a disconnected education system — those are the topics at the top of local millennial’s minds, state Senate. President Stanley Rosenberg learned Thursday night.
Rosenberg held a forum at Greenfield Community College as part of his Millennial Engagement Initiative, which sees he and state Sen. Eric Lesser criss-cross the state to hear from millennials about the issues most concerning to them. He was joined by state Rep. Paul Mark.
“I’m here to be informed about your hopes, fears and aspirations,” Rosenberg told the group.
Amanda Abramson, a realtor with Cohn and Company in Greenfield, told Rosenberg that the substantial student loans that she and other college graduates have found themselves saddled with has her feeling “suffocated.”
“We can’t find jobs that pay enough to pay them off here, and we’re losing a lot of millennials to larger cities like Boston and New York,” Abramson said.
Town Councilor Ashley Stempel echoed those concerns, noting that many younger people can’t afford to buy homes or start families, and the impact of those decisions is reflected in town budgets and the ability to fund local school systems.
Bernardston Selectman Andrew Girard agreed, noting that local schools now typically consume about 60 or 70 percent of a town’s budget. “It hasn’t always been that way,” he said. “Having less kids doesn’t affect the cost of the school, it continues to rise.”
“We need to plan what we do differently, based on the generation,” Stempel said. “We need to be proactive, not reactive. We need a strategic plan for that population.”
Rosenberg responded by noting that the previous administration under former Gov. Deval Patrick tried to push an initiative to regionalize larger schools districts, but found little interest from the towns.
He said reviews to the state’s foundation budget for educational aid and the possibility of “scarcity aid” to rural districts — an idea being promoted by a group of local superintendents headed up by Mohawk Trail superintendent Michael Buoniconti.
Lila Lofuing, a Stoneleigh-Burnham School freshman, asked Rosenberg what the state’s leaders plan on doing about younger members of society who’ve lost faith in their government. Rosenberg said the Legislature is planning to take up a millennial agenda this session.
“I hope you’ll believe it’s worth the time and efforts (to pay attention to politics),” Rosenberg told her. “Our job is to help you see a reason to get involved in state government, it’s important not to give up.”
He said many of his colleagues have used social media to increase the transparency around what they do on a daily basis, and most legislative sessions can be streamed from an online archive.
Mark told the audience that he holds regular office hours on Mondays in Greenfield, and invited any of them to come participate as an intern in his office.
Many attendees decried the state of public education in Massachusetts. Local farmer Diana Van Cott of Greenfield said much of what’s taught in schools is “outdated” and doesn’t adequately prepare students to address issues like climate change, water and food crises, or drought.
“This will start impacting us, they’re multifaceted issues that affect things, and the education system is starting to fail young people,” she said.
Matthew Leger-Small of Community Action said he would like to see more practical education about how local communities operate — from sewer system operations to infrastructure repairs and running school districts — as well as more civics curriculum.
Other called for the elimination of standardized testing.
You can reach Tom Relihan at: 413-772-0261, ext. 264 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter, @RecorderTom