Three Candidates Running for Two Seats on the Dighton-Rehoboth Regional School Committee
In the April 3 Local Election, three candidates are running for two three-year seats on the Dighton-Rehoboth Regional School Committee. Incumbent Richard Barrett is running for re-election. Michael Deignan, Chairman of the Rehoboth Finance Committee, and Anthony Arrigo, Associate Professor of English at UMass Dartmouth are also vying for a seat on the committee. Both Barrett and Deignan were nominated by the Republican Town Committee Caucus. Arrigo is the Democratic Town Committee nominee. Profiles of each candidate follows:
Richard Barrett has served several terms on the school committee. He lost his re-election bid last year, but was appointed in August to fill a vacancy when Tiffany Bartholomew resigned. He is running again for the full three-year term. Barrett, now retired, drove a school bus in the district for many years. He is also a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals and volunteers his time at Rehoboth Community TV, the town’s cable access provider. Barrett says his experience on the school committee is an asset. During his tenure he served on the contract negotiations teams for teachers, custodians and paraprofessionals. “I try and use common sense in my decision-making, hoping to do the best I can for everyone concerned,” Barrett said.
Barrett has always been a strong advocate for providing the children of the district with the highest quality of education possible. “I'm running because I want to make sure our district’s children get the best we can give,” Barrett said. One of Barrett’s priorities is to keep the budget at a level that the towns can afford. He says the committee needs to keep an eye on three things when the budget is discussed: what the district must have, what it should have and what it would be nice to have. “I want to try to keep things sustainable for both our towns and schools. The towns need to be able to function. In order for all of us to grow we need to work together,” Barrett said. “What happens when most of a town’s resources go to the support of another? Eventually that support dwindles down to bare minimum,” Barrett added.
Another priority for Barrett is keeping music and the arts in the curriculum. Barrett is a musician himself. “Music and the arts will always be a priority for me. Music and the arts are food for the soul. To quote a Peter, Paul and Mary tune, ‘Music speaks louder than words. It’s the only thing that the whole world listens to,’” Barrett said. Barrett says the school district has been heading in the right direction. “I think that we are in a better place now than we were, and I think that we have the team in place to continue moving forward,” Barrett said.
Anthony Arrigo is an Associate Professor of English at UMass Dartmouth and has two young children, one in first grade and another starting Kindergarten in the fall. This is his first run for office, but he is a member of the Rehoboth Historical Commission and has worked with the Rehoboth Antiquarian Society on several projects.
Arrigo says he will bring a new perspective and a passion for education to the school committee. “I’m interested in anything that will make our schools a more enriching place for our kids, and in providing the resources that the district needs to succeed,” Arrigo said. He believes it is important to promote enrichment opportunities for teachers so they can bring those experiences back to the classroom. Last year he was awarded a $179,000 grant through the Landmarks of American History and Culture program at the National Endowment for the Humanities to run a two-week workshop that brought 72 school teachers from around the country to the Hoover Dam to learn about its history. “While there I got to hear perspectives from teachers from around the country about what they teach, how their schools are run, what was working for them and what wasn’t. I can bring that kind of national perspective to our local schools,” Arrigo said.
Arrigo says his background in higher education would be beneficial on the school committee. “I see a range of students from around the state, the country, and the world and know what it takes for students to succeed in college. I want to make sure that students who go through our school system are adequately prepared to compete in the global marketplace. I want students from our area to go to the best colleges, to be business leaders and entrepreneurs, and have the choice to pursue their dreams. To me, that all starts with the quality of education in our local schools,” Arrigo said.
Arrigo wants to see every child get the education and skills they need to succeed. “I also realize that not everyone wants to go to college, yet with the right skill set people can be successful whether they choose to go to agricultural school or trade school, or if they want to run the family farm or open their own business. There are good paying jobs for plumbers and electricians and contractors. But even for those jobs you need to have good math skills, you have to know economics, you have to learn business. You also need to have good written and verbal communication skills. That all starts in the local school system,” Arrigo said.
Michael Deignan is Systems Manager at UMASS Dartmouth School for Marine Science & Technology High Performance Computing Cluster. He has been involved in town government for many years. He currently serves as chairman of the Finance Committee, elected constable and appointed fence viewer. If elected to the school committee he will continue to serve as constable and fence viewer, but he will resign from the Finance Committee to comply with town by-laws. “I bring a unique set of skills and experience to the School Committee. I have worked in municipal and state government in an administrative capacity for over two decades,” Deignan said.
Deignan’s experience at UMASS also gives him a unique perspective. “For the past 13 years I have worked at UMASS Dartmouth, where I see firsthand the successes (and the failures) of our public education system. For several years prior to my job at UMASS, I also taught undergraduate students,” Deignan said.
He is running because he wants more budgetary accountability from the school committee. The biggest issue facing the school committee, Deignan says, is “the out-of-control budget” and the regional school district’s “inability to stay within the confines of the member town’s annual proposition 2 ½ increase.” “During my tenure as a member of the Finance Committee, the school assessment to Rehoboth has increased by more than 30% -- by more than $4 million. Do parents feel the quality of education in Rehoboth improved by 30% during that time? The answer is ‘No.’ Where has this additional $4 million gone? Is the School Committee responsive to the needs of parents? The answer is ‘No,’” Deignan said.
Deignan is critical of the committee’s handling of the budget. “The school committee fails, in my opinion, in its fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers of the member communities. The Regional School system has an annual budget of almost $40 million annually. The School Committee is the equivalent of a $40 million corporation’s “Board of Directors”. Yet, the School Committee does not act like it,” Deignan said.
Last year Deignan filed an Open Meeting Law (OML) Complaint against a subcommittee of the regional school committee that was working on updating the regional agreement between the towns. Deignan filed the complaint because the Regional Agreement Amendment Committee did not produce written minutes of its meetings. In the end, he says the committee responded to the complaint and “fulfilled their legal obligations to produce minutes of their meeting.” “However, the incident illustrates a larger problem with the School Committee – the hubris of their members – given the committee consisted of several long-term public officials who know full well what the requirements are for written meeting minutes. This hubris was further illustrated by the personal insults levied against me by a member of the School Committee when I held them accountable for their legal obligations,” Deignan said.