Walid Basalamah

Natalie Higgins (left) debates Richard Palmieri (right) at LHS

Dylan Sousa and Kyle Costales

One Tuesday, October 9th, State Representative candidates Natalie Higgins (Democrat) and Richard Palmieri (Republican) had an education debate in the Leominster High School auditorium lead by LHSs’ S.T.U.M.P. (Students for Transparency and Understanding of Municipal Politics) program.


Should teachers be armed, how do we fund education, and MCAS testing were among the questions asked by the S.T.U.M.P. students.


In light of the recent budget crisis in the Leominster Schools, the first question was about fixing the state’s funding formula for education.


Both candidates agreed the funding must increase, but disagreed on how to pay for it.


Natalie Higgins said that the minimum budget the schools are needing nowadays has been on the rise. One method that Higgins proposed to raise money was to implement a fair share tax. The said tax would put an extra 4% tax on any amount earned over $1 million.


The question then went over to Richard Palmieri who agreed that we need to raise money, but the method we should go about it shouldn’t be what Higgins suggested.


“No us and them, just us,” he said in explaining he was against a targeted tax. He worried that what started at 4% could be raised without voters’ permission.


When asked about MCAS and other high stakes tests, both candidates agreed they wanted to move away from the high stakes testing.


Higgins suggested a 3-year break from high stakes tests, and said “All the curriculum is focused on that test, and it’s unacceptable.”


Palmieri said that final exams would be the best way to access a student’s ability to graduate and would end MCAS.


“I choose to eliminate them,” he said of high stakes testing. “Put it in the teachers’ hands.”


Students in the auditorium applauded both answers.


With school shootings in the news, the candidates were asked if they supported arming teachers in the classroom.


Both strongly believed teachers should not have firearms.


Higgins said LHS has excellent school resource officers and that was their job, not the teachers, adding “We shouldn’t be putting more on teachers’ backs… Let the law enforcement do their job.”

Palmieri, who is a former military police officer was as adamant against arming teachers, saying it is not a safe choice.


He said to arming teachers: “Absolutely not” and warned anyone can take a gun from anyone, and that police are trained to keep a distance from students to safeguard their firearms. It is not something he wanted teachers to do.


The State Representative debate was the second debate held this year at LHS. Previously the STUMP students hosted State Senate candidates Dean Tran (republican) and Sue Chalifoux-Zephir (democrat) to the school.


Following the debates, S.T.U.M.P. students helped eligible LHS seniors to register to vote.

Walid Basalamah
Natalie Higgins (left) debates Richard Palmieri (right) at LHS