December 18, 2018

Four Candidates Running for Dighton-Rehoboth Regional School Committee


Four candidates are running for two seats on the Dighton-Rehoboth Regional school committee. Incumbents David Katseff and Katherine Cooper are both seeking reelection. They are being challenged by Republican candidates Michael Deignan and George Solas. Deignan and Solas are members of the finance committee. For this profile, candidates were sent questions via email and their answers follow, in alphabetical order.

Katherine Dennen Cooper
Occupation: Organic Chemist, Compliance Specialist, Homemaker

What political experience or other relevant experience would you bring to the position?
Having been on the School Committee for the past 3.5+ years, I’m currently serving as Chairperson and held the position of Vice-Chairperson last year. Additionally, I’m a member of the Capital, Policy, Budget, Financial Advisory, Regional Agreement, and Negotiations Subcommittees. For two years, I was the Chairperson of the Policy Subcommittee. I have been involved in the formation of the District Improvement Plan, the utilization of the Performance Contract to update school building utilities (HVAC, lighting, heating systems), as well as the alignment of the curriculum within the District both horizontally and vertically. Continuing on the School Committee would provide stability to the District on many of these initiatives

I also worked at the Rehoboth Town Hall for over 1.5 years in the Accounting Office, and as a result, I am familiar with both the Town and School finances. Previously, I was employed as a Process Chemist, which lends to my ability to research information and make fact based decisions. 

Why are you running for a seat on the committee?
Growing up in Rehoboth, I received a great education here and hope to give back to my community. I currently have children in the School District, and would like to provide the District with continued stability. I would like to see the children in this town receive the best possible education, giving them the opportunity to succeed.

What is the biggest issue facing the school district right now and how would you address it?
The biggest issue facing our District, and other School Districts as well, is the lack of state funding. Each year operating costs increase due to rising insurances rates, salaries, and utilities, yet the state provides almost no corresponding increase in Chapter 70 State Aid. Concurrently, the state has reduced reimbursements such as Transportation and Special Education, causing the local municipalities to have to contribute even more to support the school budget. This is not sustainable.

What would you like the school committee to accomplish in the upcoming year?
I think the biggest areas of focus are, and should continue to be, the safety of children, raising the academic rigor, and sustaining the financial stability of the District. Now that many of the larger issues have or are being addressed, such as leaking roofs and lack of heat, I think the focus can now be on the teaching and learning in each classroom.

Do you think the regional school district should split up into two separate districts and why?
I think that it would definitely cost the town more to split into two separate districts. Right now, the Ch. 70 State Aid is split between the two towns. Rehoboth, on its own, would not receive the same amount of aid as it does now. The regional transportation reimbursement of ~$880,000 would be lost, and the overhead costs that are now shared, such as Central Office, District Facilities Manager, Electrician, and IT Manager, would be increased once duplicated. Therefore, I think it is financially prudent to remain as a Regional School District. 

Michael P. Deignan
Occupation: HPCC Systems Manager, School for Marine Science & Technology, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth

What political experience or other relevant experience would you bring to the position?
Member of the Rehoboth Finance Committee (currently in 9th year, 5 years as Chairman.) Over two decades of experience working in public education, principally in postgraduate administration and undergraduate-level adjunct faculty positions. Member, DR Financial Advisory Committee. Former member, Revenue Enhancement and Expense Reduction Task Force. Elected town constable. Town Fence-Viewer (appointed). Governor-appointed Justice of the Peace. Vice Chairman, Rehoboth Republican Town Committee. Bachelor and Master of Science in Business Administration. Open-door policy: people are welcome to call me any time with their questions and complaints: (cell) 401-556-5062 or (email) I work for you.

Why are you running for a seat on the committee?
Several reasons: 1) Members of the Committee are out of touch with residents. They feel they represent a nebulous entity known as “The District”, rather than the men and women of Rehoboth who voted for them. They are more interested in being “fair” to Dighton, at the expense of Rehoboth’s interests. 2) One member of the School Committee has been there 30 years. Isn’t three decades enough? Time for new visions and ideas, not old ones which have created the mess we are in. 3) The budget of the district threatens the solvency of Rehoboth with its unsustainable annual increases.

What is the biggest issue facing the school district right now and how would you address it?
The long-term financial viability of the district. For several years, the increase in the school budget has out-paced our ability to raise revenue under the provisions of Proposition 2 ½. If this continues, residents will face two equally unpalatable options: a tax increase via a Proposition 2 ½ operational override, or reduction/elimination of town services to fund the district budget. The Committee is the “Board of Directors” for the district and needs to start acting like it: exercise its fiduciary responsibility over the $36+ million-dollar budget, have detailed budget hearings, and control the budget’s rate of growth.

What would you like the school committee to accomplish in the upcoming year?
Conclude the regional agreement study in cooperation with the BOS and present a recommendation at annual town meeting in May 2019; Enact new budgetary review and approval policies to control the rate of growth in the budget; Implement a budget preparation subcommittee which reviews all requested expenditures in next year’s budget and determines if there is evidence to support the request; continue to assess the capital needs of the school buildings to ensure a proper educational environment for our students. Increase responsiveness to the concerns and needs of the families we as School Committee members represent.

Do you think the regional school district should split up into two separate districts and why?
The Board of Selectmen is studying, as part of its regional agreement review, “de-regionalization” (not “splitting” into separate districts) of the Town’s K-8 schools, an option allowed within the existing regional agreement. The Rehoboth members of the Committee have a responsibility to examine all options, in cooperation with the BOS, to determine the best option for Rehoboth. De-regionalization is the last option we should exercise. The better option is to reach a consensus on the new regional agreement which is fair to all district communities. This is why new thinking is critical to the Committee - to preserve the district.

David Katseff
Occupation: Small Business Owner

What political experience or other relevant experience would you bring to the position?
As a long term School Committee member, I have seen many improvements in the quality of education for our students. I have seen what works...and what doesn’t. I have worked with five different Superintendents, each with various strengths. Also, as a small business owner I provide a very different perspective than the Administration and most other School Committee members, which has helped with contract negotiations and with short term and long term budgets.

Why are you running for a seat on the Committee?:
When discussing and deciding on goals and priorities for the District, I feel that my knowledge and experience is still very valuable to both my fellow School Committee members and to the Administration. Since we cannot afford ALL potential resources and programs, School Committee members must decide to use our allocated funds in the most productive ways to best educate our students and to help them meet the challenges they will face when they graduate

What is the biggest issue facing the school district right now and how would you address it?
Although many of our students are showing positive levels of achievement, we are still testing below proficient or advanced in too many areas of our curriculum...especially in some of the K-8 grades. We as a committee must continue to stress high standards and accountability for all of our teachers and administrators. Also, we must work to provide the resources to help all K-8 students to reach their full potential. This doesn’t have to mean more money in the overall budget. Sometimes we have to make the tough decisions to re-allocate existing funds.

What would you like the School Committee to accomplish in the upcoming year? 
It is VERY important that the School Committee, working with individuals and groups in both of our District’s towns, finish the job of correcting and updating our Regional School District Agreement, which hasn’t seen any major revision since 1987 when the K-8 grades were brought into the Regional District. The School Committee set up a RAAC (Regional Agreement Amendment Committee), made up of School Committee members, Selectmen, Finance Committee members and other citizens who, with the help of our Regional Schools consultant, worked for over two years to update and correct the agreement. Although most or all of us agreed on the majority of recommendations, when it came to certain funding issues, the RAAC could not reach consensus. Therefore, we could not make a recommendation to the School Committee. About a year ago, the School Committee set up a RAATF (Regional Agreement Amendment Task Force) made up of six School Committee members (three from each town). Working with most of the RAAC’s suggestions, we reached consensus on a draft amendment that was recommended to the full School Committee in the Fall of 2017. Since that time, the RAATF and the full School Committee has been meeting with groups in both towns to discuss the recommended amendment and get their suggestions on how to improve this draft document. This is where we are today. Please remember that ALL three entities (School Committee, Town of Rehoboth and Town of Dighton) must approve any recommended Agreement amendment. This will take lots of discussion, good ideas, and some compromising to get the job done.

Do you think the regional school district should split up into two separate districts and why?
For all of the reasons why Rehoboth wanted to form a full K-12 region in 1987, we should STAY a full K-12 region. Rehoboth profits both monetarily and educationally from the State’s regional transportation reimbursements, the sharing of the Superintendent and other Central Office staff, the access to a district Vocational Technical curriculum, and the sharing of many district wide specialized professionals in both Regular Education and Special Education. When we finally correct and update our Regional Agreement, I believe that Rehoboth citizens will, once again, feel that being part of a full K-12 region is the best plan for our Rehoboth taxpayers and for our children’s education.

George Solas
Occupation: To be the best husband, father and grandfather ever. I am newly retired and very active serving the Rehoboth Community. I was the Vice President of Sales and Development in the computer industry for Avnet, Inc.

What political experience or other relevant experience would you bring to the position?
My Service to Rehoboth – Finance Committee Member / Secretary for 4 years; Superintendent’s School Advisory Committee; Superintendent’s School Capital Committee; Initial School Regional Agreement Amendment Committee since 2014; Rehoboth Selectmen’s Regional School Agreement Review Committee; Lion’s Club member for over 20 years; Served as a School Committee Member 19 years ago
I focus on asking the right financial and process questions.

Why are you running for a seat on the committee?
1) My drive is to ensure our students are prepared to proactively attack an ever changing world with strong knowledge skills and powerful decision tools. Our students should never stop challenging their strengths. Continual learning fuels success – Success breeds Success.
2) I am especially concerned with the lack of fair and equitable standards regarding the Regional School Agreement between Rehoboth and Dighton. The financial implications to both Rehoboth and Dighton are of major concern.
3) To ensure the specifics of financial responsibility are understood and practiced by our school elected representatives. Financial acumen as it applies to Rehoboth cannot be assumed.

What is the biggest issue facing the school district right now and how would you address it?
It is almost four years since the School Committee created a review process (RACC Committee) to make changes to the Regional Agreement. The original agreement was written almost six decades ago and has open issues to be resolved because of changing Massachusetts State Laws. The Board of Education made changes to the state’s mandates in 2007. This Regional Agreement is the base foundation and rules, that defines the mutual behavior and management of our schools. It also defines the financial obligations that each town is accountable for. Our Regional Agreement review process (RACC Committee) was not managed well. It was contentious and led to frustration among the committee members. Rehoboth needs to elect new vision, fresh ideas and accountability.

What would you like the school committee to accomplish in the upcoming year?
To have the Rehoboth School Committee recognize that they were elected by the citizens of our town. It doesn’t mean that there has to be a constant battle between the needs of our schools and those of our community.

Example: The school committee is the body responsible for approving and transmitting school department expenditures to the Rehoboth accountant for the drawing of warrants. This spring the Rehoboth School Committee submitted a warrant that had Rehoboth responsible for paying 70% of a capital project and Dighton 30%. The Rehoboth Finance Committee did not accept it. The School Committee needs to implement budgetary review procedures that put integrity into the budgeting process.

Do you think the regional school district should split up into two separate districts and why?
There are no discussions to separate the high schools. I am on the Selectmen’s Committee to review the options and benefits of de-regionalizing the Rehoboth PreK-8 Schools in the way the schools were managed in the past. De-regionalization would not affect the quality of education at Palmer River and Beckwith. Unless Rehoboth’s assessment is calculated in a more fair and equitable manner, we may be left with no alternative.


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