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Civics Sunday: Board and Committee Interviews

by Yvette Cain
June 16, 2019

In the recent Holliston Reporter Civics Sunday survey, readers showed interest in a more personal look at our town government boards and committees.  The publishers created a set of questions, will propose these to a member of elected committees and boards, and publish their answers in this and future Civics Sunday columns.   We hope you enjoy these insights into your town government.

In the recent Holliston Reporter Civics Sunday survey, readers showed interest in a more personal look at our town government boards and committees.  The publishers created a set of questions, will propose these to a member of elected committees and boards, and publish their answers in this and future Civics Sunday columns.   We hope you enjoy these insights into your town government.

Interview with Stacey Raffi, Chair, School Committee; Part 1

Publishers’ note:  Because of the quantity of information we wanted to elicit, we have split this interview into two parts.  Today’s article covers 5 of 6 questions.  Next Sunday, Ms. Raffi will discuss how the School Committee makes informed decisions that are the best for our community. 

Background:  Stacey Raffi has lived in Holliston for 13.5 years and served on the School Committee for 5 years.  Prior to her work with the School Committee, Stacey was Vice President of the Holliston Business Association and served as volunteer coordinator of the Elementary PTO.

How does the School Committee develop its agenda for each meeting?

Raffi began, “The agenda is very standard, by that I mean every year its very similar. “ She explained that the Administration shares its district goals in August, a vote is taken on the calendar, and the SC does not stray much from these points.  “Of course, they will vote on bills and warrants every meeting.  About 2 or 3 years ago, the SC stopped devoting fall meeting time to the examination of MCAS results in favor of Dr. Brad Jackson’s initiative “Holliston Innovates.”  The Committee begins to think about the budget in November, and presentations on the Special Education, non-Special Education, and Salaries are communicated to SC members.  By January, the administrators share strategic initiatives, followed by 3 months of budget discussion and debate.” There is a public meeting to elicit input from the community about the budget, but, Raffi noted, “In the past 3 years, only one person has attended.”  Even the Town Meeting garners barely any questions surrounding the budget.  The meeting agenda is posted on the School Committee website http://www.holliston.k12.ma.us/home/school-committee/minutes-and-meetings along with prior meeting minutes.

How does the School Committee interact with other boards and committees on a recurring basis?  Do you have any views concerning the frequency of these interactions?

“The two boards we have most interaction with are the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee.  We interact with the Finance Committee concerning our budget.  But I would like to see a change in our interactions with the Board of Selectmen,” Raffi stated.  “We all live in our own silos, each with our own causes and issues, vying to do our own thing.  I am excited as Chair to bridge 3 committees, the Park and Rec as well, as we share resources.  I see an opportunity with new faces to come together to look at planning together. 

I think a 3 to 5 year plan can be put together.  What does it look like?  What are year 1, year 2, year 3 needs?  We could see if priorities match.  It would be a great opportunity,” said Raffi.  “With a more holistic view, things can change.  Where do we want to be?  What are our ideas and plans?  We could make the budget fit instead of the other way around.”

How do you see the School Committee being more effective for our community?

Raffi spoke to a misconception some in the community have about the role of the School Committee.  “I wish the community understood the role of the School Committee better.  The School Committee votes on the budget, makes policy, but does not create procedures. We have a high level--$35 million budget—We look line by line.  But in policy-making, we don’t implement the policy, that’s not our role.  It’s policy, not procedures.”   Continuing, Raffi said, “ We’re about the budget, the policies, and hiring and evaluating the Superintendent.” 

What are the best ways for residents to provide input to the School Committee?

“Our agenda and meeting minutes on the School Committee website and the Town website. Our contact information is accessible here.  E-mail is best for me because I don’t answer my home phone.  We can set up a time to chat.  We’ve tried ‘office hours,’ but they were very unsuccessful,” answered Raffi.  “Tell us your idea and how it would work.”

Residents can keep abreast of the SC through its newsletter that anyone may “opt into.”  “All you need to do is send us an email. We’ll send one newsletter per month.”  The information on the newsletter embodies the entire SC, as the committee votes on all content.  This process is acceptable under the Open Meeting by-laws.  “The newsletter is the ‘voice of the committee,” Raffi added.  A link to the newsletter may be found on Facebook, and on the Town Hall website

Currently, what is the main priority for our town? (In general, not necessarily related to the School Committee.)

Raffi, after some hesitation and a chat about segments of residents she perceives In Holliston, came to the idea of “Quality of life—the best life for where you’re at in your life.”  Raffi explained, “There is an older group in need of affordable housing, who may need some opportunities to interact with their own peer group; a middle aged group with family who is concerned with educating their children, providing them with a balanced life with extra curricular activities; and a young person, just beginning his or her adult life, looking for an affordable home, a community that offers services, as well as a vibrant downtown…Setting a priority depends upon where you may be—based on your own life. It’s not one thing because then the others are left out…We’re not Boston or Cambridge where all of these groups may be served,” remarked Raffi.  “I guess my wish would be for a Community Center that is accessible by everyone for classes, exercise, and social events.”

Stacey can be reached at RaffiS@hsc.holliston.k12.ma

 

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