ARPA Steering Group Meeting: September 8, 2021

Holliston’s ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) Steering Group met on Wednesday, September 8, 2021.  While not obligated under the MA Open Meeting Law, this group has held open meetings to provide the opportunity for the public to see how the Town’s nearly $4.4 Million is allocated to help our community recover from the pandemic.

ARPA Steering Group members Town Administrator Travis Ahern (left) and Emergency Management Director / Fire Chief Michael Cassidy (right)

Town Administrator Travis Ahern opened the meeting by sharing a graphic (below) that Emergency Management Director, Fire Chief Michael Cassidy shared at last week’s Select Board meeting.  Steering Group member (and Select Board representative) John Cronin reiterated what he shared at that meeting – in the first month of ARPA funds availability, the Town has committed over 40% of the Town’s expected income from ARPA.  Cronin went on to encourage the Steering Group to “pump the brakes” on committing ARPA funds to be able to accurately prioritize how best to reach “all corners of Holliston.”

During Wednesday’s meeting the Group heard details about two requests received by the “soft deadline” of August 2, 2021.  The two items are marked below with arrows.

First up was Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Susan Kustka (above), outlined the request for $106,000 to cover the cost of academic support in the areas of numeracy and literacy for grades K – 10. This is a one-year request to close the learning gaps that will likely be seen due to the pandemic.

Mr. Cronin needed to leave this meeting early.  Before he left, he verbally supported the school department’s request.  It should be noted that Finance Committee representative, Dr. Ken Szajda was not able to attend this meeting.

The Group, acknowledging Mr. Cronin’s earlier verbal support and with the condition that Administrator Ahern would brief Dr. Szajda prior to the next Select Board meeting (Sept 13th), voted 4-0-2 to recommend that school department’s request to the Select Board.

Next up was the Anti-racism working group who had requested $2,500 in first year and $12,500 overall to develop and provide an enrichment reading series and certificate program for Holliston students.  The working group covers Holliston, Plainville, and Wrentham.

Lauren Saunders (below left) represented the group.  The group presented results from a pilot initiative it has conducted and asked the Steering Group’s support to make the resources available to Holliston.

The proposed program could assist about 80 – 100 students per year.

The Steering Group asked that Ms. Saunders and her colleagues partner with the HPS and Jariel Vergne, the District’s new Director of Social Emotional Learning and Equity to see how the two groups can benefit Holliston’s students.

The Group once again reviewed the prioritized Capital Project list which will be reviewed by the Select Board for possible inclusion in the Fall Town Meeting’s Warrant.

Administrator Ahern also reported that our State House advocates, Sen. Spilka and Rep. Dykema, encouraged the Town to “think bigger” regarding possible infrastructure projects that could be funded by the State’s ARPA allocation (above our Town’s allocation).

The Steering Group will next meet sometime in October.

Chris Cain

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