December 13, 2019

Dighton-Rehoboth School Officials Get Good News

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Dighton-Rehoboth School officials are pleased with the support the district has received from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).

Jeffrey Riley, one of DESE’s commissioners, told officials he was establishing the 2020 budget at $45 million based on the budget amount established on August 15 as the 1/12 budget.  “I am aware this budget may result in a change in assessments to your member towns,” Riley wrote in a November 29 letter. “Consequently, I expect the district to use any additional state reimbursements to offset such increases and reduce member towns’ assessments in FY2020 proportional to the regional district agreement method for apportioning costs.”

Riley added: “the member towns are obligated to appropriate their respective assessments based on this final budget amount and make payments to the regional district in accordance with the payment terms in the approved regional agreement.”

DESE assumed fiscal oversight of the district on December 1 due to a budget not being approved by Dighton and Rehoboth.

Dighton-Rehoboth Superintendent Anthony Azar called the letter “a win-win” for the school district and the two towns. “It clearly indicates that the "compromise budget" between the Rehoboth Board of Selectmen and the School Committee was well thought out and did not reduce personnel or town services on the Rehoboth municipality,” Azar continued. “Nor did it impact school programs or staff in the school district. The letter further recognizes that Dighton has already supported their assessment.”

Rehoboth town officials had been critical of the school department for not being more prudent with their finances. In a November 13 letter to DESE, Rehoboth selectmen chairman Gerry Schwall cited “the ever-increasing and unsustainable financial demands” from the school district.

Last August, selectmen had reached a compromise with the school committee. In exchange for giving the school department an additional $330,000 for the 2020 budget, selectmen had proposed $214,000 in cuts to town departments. Voters rejected the revised FY20 budget at the October 29 town meeting and the district-wide meeting scheduled for November 2 was cancelled. The Rehoboth and Dighton boards of selectmen had met on October 30 for the purpose of selecting a moderator for the tent meeting. When they reviewed the warrant drafted by the school committee, Schwall realized the budget figure was inaccurate. The warrant article for the “tent” meeting called for the appropriation of $29 million for the school budget. Dighton was responsible for $10. 5 million and Rehoboth was responsible for $19.3 million. The total school budget was $45 million.

“In each such case, the District could have chosen to accept such appropriation and avoid losing control over the schools’ management, and, in each such case, the District refused to do so, opting instead for expensive and adversarial mechanisms that, at best would have netted a purely incremental increase in funding,” Schwall noted in his letter.

For now, the school district feels vindicated after a months-long budget stalemate. “The School Committee is relieved to have a secure budget in place that supports the educational and extracurricular needs of our students,” school committee chairperson Katherine Cooper said Tuesday. “With a 0.66 percent budget increase, we believe we have provided students with the best services possible while being fiscally responsible to the member towns.”

“Our administration looks forward to continue to work with all stakeholders as we have always done in the past,” Azar added. “We are already working on our 2021 budget and will follow the directions set forth in the DESE communication.”

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