Now that Stoughton finally got invited into the MSBA process to rebuild or renovate our high school, we need to form a School Building Committee as required by MSBA.
During the February 11, 2014 meeting of the Stoughton School Committee, Chairwoman Joyce Husseini disclosed that she has been receiving communications from Stoughton residents volunteering to serve on this committee and she has been forwarding them to Ms. Deborah Sovinee.
I asked that these communications be shared with all school committee members. Ms. Sovinee and Mrs. Husseini refused.
It is hard to understand why Ms. Sovinee and Ms. Husseini would want to hide this information from the school committee, especially since these communications would be considered as public records. Yet, it is important to recognize that this was not the first time Sovinee-Husseini-Rizzi trio kept the school committee in dark. For example, they invited the selectmen and legislators to the SHS to lobby for a new building. They failed to invite school committee members to the lobbying event. Similarly, they failed to inform the school committee before the MSBA site inspection visit.
On February 26, 2014, by pure accident, I discovered a meeting in the Town Hall where Sovinee, Husseini and superintendent Rizzi were editing the school portion of the Master Plan Consultant’s report. Also present were SPS Public Relations Specialist Jeanne Ostroff, Assistant Superintendent Ford, Special Education Administrator Heather Tucker, Gibbons School Principal Jardin, Mr. Lou Gitto, Mr. Dick Fitzgerald, and attorney Joe Scardino. Much to my amazement, neither the School Committee nor public was informed about this meeting, too. I asked Sovinee, Husseini and Rizzi individually why they did not inform the school committee or the public. Sovinee and Rizzi chose to remain silent. Ms. Husseini responded “The email invitation to the meeting was sent out by Brown Walker Planners to the original participants. It was not my place to invite anyone to the meeting as it was run by the Master Plan Committee and the consultant.” I find it hard to believe Mr. Scardino and Mr. Fitzgerald would knowingly compromise the integrity of the Master Plan project.
In her Stoughton Journal interview, Superintendent Rizzi “said that even with reimbursement from the MSBA, Stoughton still would need to seek a Proposition 2-1/2 debt exclusion override to raise property taxes above the levy limit until the project is paid off. Town Meeting and voters at the polls would need to approve a debt-exclusion before it took effect.” Estimated cost: a little over 2 million dollars per year for the next 20 years.
According to the same Stoughton Journal article, Rizzi also said: “The MSBA mandates that a school building committee include the school superintendent, town manager, school committee chair, school facilities manager, and community members with extensive knowledge in engineering, architecture and building.”
Town Manager says neither Sovinee nor Husseini gave him the copies of the aforementioned communications from Stoughton residents volunteering to serve on the School Building Committee. Instead, Sovinee asked members of the Feasibility Study Committee to apply for a seat in the School Building Committee. Town Manager is unaware of when the Feasibility Study Committee was formed, who the members are, who appointed the members and for how long.
We, as school committee members, should not act in a manner which would cause a reasonable person, having knowledge of the relevant circumstances, to conclude that any person can improperly influence or unduly enjoy his favor in the performance of his official duties, or that he is likely to act or fail to act as a result of kinship, rank, position or undue influence of any party or person.
People talk about Ms. Sovinee and Ms. Husseini’s ties to the school construction and engineering industry. Actually, this information is readily available on the internet. Both Mrs. Husseini and her husband work for Nitch Engineering, a company that provides engineering services associated with the design and construction of K-12 school buildings. See for example:
Ms. Sovinee’s husband, on the other hand, works as an Executive Project Manager at Chapman Construction and Design, a company that provides sustainable construction management and consulting services to various sectors including the education sector. This company published its client list at:
At this stage, we do not know if Ms. Sovinee, Ms. Husseini, or their immediate families will be involved as a contractor or subcontractor for our project.
But still, this is all the more reason for us to practice impeccable transparency in order to earn public trust and support on this important project. It is inappropriate for the superintendent and two school committee members to withhold any information from the school committee.