Archive 2008 - 2019

In Praise of the Holliston School Committee

by William Dowd

Last Thursday evening, Superintendent Brad Jackson presented the proposed FY14 budget for the Holliston Schools to the FinCom. It was a very strong presentation built on solid relative cost and performance data which can only lead to one conclusion – Holliston kids are getting a top notch public education at a lower average per pupil cost that most other comparable towns in Mass. In fact, only two other towns in the state do as well or better with a lower per pupil cost. Just remarkable. 

This amazing story is just not getting enough circulation in our community. It’s a story that’s been true for several years now, and even I have found that it only recently has really sunk in. The Schools spend a lot of money every year. With our tax rate as high as it is, it’s easy to launch an attack on the school budget. We often see isolated anecdotes blown up into wholesale accusations of waste and abuse. But once you realize what an amazing job our School Committee, administration, teaching and support staff are doing with the tax dollars we appropriate, you have to take at least a few minutes to bask in the glow of that achievement. If the Holliston schools were a professional sports team, we’d be having duck boats carrying our School Committee, administration, teachers and support staff parading through the downtown in celebration. 

Unfortunately, the School Committee’s budget is about $700,000 higher than the FinCom “guideline”. This shortfall typically gets smaller as we approach Town Meeting in May. Even still, depending on how the FinCom prioritizes all the spending requests it has received, there just may not be enough money to grant the proposed School budget. 

Unlike our broken Federal government, Holliston must live within the money raised in taxes and fees each year. While I enthusiastically support the School Committee’s proposed budget, I also realize it may not be feasible to fund it. But we also need to accept the fact that failing to appropriate the full, proposed budget could have detrimental impacts on the quality of education being delivered. 

The irony here is that the Schools have done the hard work of squeezing costs and improving performance. Unless the other Town authorities and FinCom get much more serious about the cost of employee health insurance, the cost of retiree health insurance, the cost of replacing our aged and failing water distribution network, the cost of taxpayer subsidies to our ambulance service, the cost of duplicate 24/7 emergency dispatch functions in police and fire, the cost of delivering archaic and inefficient compensation programs like longevity and sick leave buy-back, the complete lack of any performance inputs to annual pay increases, the slow pace of technology exploitation, among others, we face a gradual, multi-year grinding away of spending on our schools that will eventually lower student performance, lower the reputation of the Holliston schools, and possibly negatively impact our residential property values. 

We have some very difficult decisions to make. Up until now, we’ve mostly kicked the can down the road, benefitted from some one time financial benefits and mostly by sheer luck, navigated some complex budget stresses. Many around Town Hall are hoping to just hang on a few more years while some big capital projects get paid off and we get breathing room on debt service. 

We need a whole new approach to financial planning and management. I am a candidate for FinCom, and hope to be a part of that.

Editors Note: The Holliston Reporter does not endorse nor oppose candidates for public office. Any opinions in our comments or politics section are those of the writer.

Comments (2)

As a recent graduate I do agree that the current state of affairs at the school are good but the situation is not tenable for the future. We have lost at least two top teachers in the past two years. The first to poor management of the students who don't care about their electives(at least from my perspective)where they didn't like to take his class because he expected them to try and learn, and the second to the former top language teacher at the high school who got offered a better position at another school. If we want to keep our best teachers we need to fight to do so and pay them rather than buy ipads for the elementary school or make the school look prettier than usual for the NEASC assessment.

Andrew Mades | 2013-04-04 11:16:42

Right on, Bill! The schools are what drew my wife and me to Holliston years ago. To this day our two adult daughters and one son-in-law occasionally still comment that they worked harder in the Holliston High School than they did in college. Their subsequent academic and professional success is a proud testimony the strong foundation that Holliston provided. We all should be proud of our schools and must strive for that continued success!

Jeff Weise | 2013-04-03 14:48:13