Editorial: Lobbying for change isn’t a one-time thing

Friday, January 26, 2018

Glenn Koocher had some advice for the Pioneer Valley Regional School Committee during its Jan. 10 special meeting: This is a great time to ask your state lawmakers for more education funding, said the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, a lobby group.

“The economic forecast’s pretty bold,” Koocher said. “We’re hoping to see some strategic action by our legislators.”

Specifically, Koocher urged the members of the Pioneer School Committee to ask their legislators to fully fund the Special Education Circuit Breaker program, which was started in 2004 to provide additional state funding to districts for high-cost special education students; to reinstate transportation funding and/or increase Chapter 70 reimbursement, a particular concern for rural regional school districts with hefty school busing costs.

Koocher’s intention was to remind the committee of its lobbying role as the district’s budget season gets underway. School committees, he said, have been particularly effective in lobbying the Legislature.

We’d like to take Koocher’s advice one step further: Don’t just contact your legislator — cultivate a relationship.

Successful lobbying is not a one-time thing, it builds upon a string of contacts, the kind that instill trust. And there are many avenues to building a relationship with the legislators who have the power to help you. There is, of course, old-fashioned letter-writing; there’s the telephone; there’s email and social media. Your first contact will lead you to the right combination of outreach to your legislator and the people in his or her regional office.

Alert readers typically squirrel away the Greenfield Recorder’s annual Almanac of vital statistics about your town, which is updated and published as a free supplement in the paper in early August. Page 26 of the current Almanac presents our legislators with their contact information, and maps showing our legislative and congressional districts. This is your guide to whom to contact.

You can also view this information online at: https://frcog.org/about/legislators/

The Pioneer School Committee has been proactive in educating its members, with a district leaders workshop last fall that brought in a bank of experts to share their experience, and with appearances like Koocher’s at special meetings. Koocher said, “The legislature has been the one place we could go for understanding and relief.”

The current rosy economic forecast for the state budget may or may not survive the actual receipt of taxes, but lobbying is worth the effort, in good times or bad — and that’s a message for us all.