At the Kennedy Elementary School in Brockton, a typical kindergarten class has 28 kids — and one teacher. Teachers and teacher aides have been among the casualties of painful budget cuts. Over the last couple of years the city has laid off 150 educators.
“Just trying to sustain what we’re doing this year, we’re looking at a $10 million deficit,” said Brockton Mayor Bill Carpenter.
Carpenter blames the way the state allocates money for schools. He says it’s failed to keep up with challenges of Brockton’s school system, where most students live in poverty and a third are English language learners.
“We’re getting to a tipping point where not only is it unconstitutional, but it’s unfair,” said Carpenter.
He may sue the state to force change in the way it funds education, but that could take years. His schools need money now, which is why he’s hoping to cash in on what he calls the fastest growing industry in the state: recreational marijuana.
“Right now, there are companies and investors looking to invest millions of dollars in this state to set up shop,” said Carpenter, “and I think the cities and towns that get in first are going to attract the majority of that investment.”
His plan is to encourage pot shops to open in downtown Brockton. The pay-off for a so-called host community: up to six percent of the earnings.
The mayor says it may not be enough to close the school funding gap, but he says taxes on pot sales could make a difference: “I know what two or three or five million dollars would mean to our school system, if we had it.”
Brockton already has a medical marijuana dispensary. The mayor says last year it did $10 million in sales. He thinks the demand for recreational marijuana will be equally strong, but not everyone’s so sure.
“I think it’s so new, none of us knows how much revenue might actually come into the city,” said Brockton City Councilor Win Farwell.
He worries pot shops will potentially drive away other downtown businesses and come to define the city.
“I think with the mayor’s plan, if we were to turn the entire downtown area over to a marijuana overlay district,” said Farwell, “I think forever and a day, Brockton will be known as 'Pot City, Southeastern, Mass.'”
State law limits the number of marijuana retailers to a percentage of the community’s alcohol licenses. In Brockton, the mayor says, that adds up to a maximum of seven.
“For the folks who think, 'Oh my God, we’re going to have a marijuana store on every corner, it’s going to be like Dunkin’ Donuts, you won’t be able to drive two blocks without seeing one,' – no,” said Carpenter.
Instead of street level, he wants the stores to be restricted to second- and third-floor spaces where they’ll be less obvious. And on the outskirts of town, where there are thousands of square feet of available industrial space, he wants marijuana companies to set up indoor cultivation centers.
“Employees show up, they go in the building, they work,” said Carpenter, “they get in their car and they go home, just like they always have in these industrial zones.”