My Two Cents
It’s that time of the year…Election time. Reminder, Rehoboth’s Election Day is the first MONDAY in April, this year is April 2nd. There are some contested races….like Selectman and School Committee. On March 20th, the RBA will host a meet the candidate at Hillside Country Club. It is not live…its taped and played on Rehoboth Now and I think public access. It is open to anyone wishes to listen to the Q & A of all candidates running for elected office. Contact the RBA (Rehoboth Business Association) for tickets.
This is the time to evaluate the candidates and vote for who you think will best represent you and the town. I’m going to talk about the Regional Agreement for our schools. The schools regional agreement was last looked at and last updated in 1987 (or there abouts). The school committee a few years ago put together a subcommittee made up of members of both towns…both school committee members, board of selectman, finance committee and representatives from each to review and update the regional agreement. In the current language it talks about k-8 and the high-school. As you probably know (or maybe you don’t know), Rehoboth and Dighton both have an elementary and middle school in their respective towns...and a regional high-school. A lot of the language is outdated based on new laws/guidelines etc…made sense to look to update it. The sub-committee spent about 18 months on it( I will never get use to the time it takes for everything to get done in government…crazy…no wonder I have so much gray hair!). Recently they submitted to both board of selectman their “revised” recommendations. While they spent 18 months, my opinion (remember the title of the column), they missed or took out key components, and missed an opportunity to put together a regional agreement that is fair & equitable to both towns.
The Rehoboth Board of Selectmen started meeting along with the finance committee to painstakingly review the regional agreement as it is right now and the proposed changes from the sub- committee. We set up a separate meetings outside our regular scheduled Selectman meeting to meet and review, since they are quite involved and lengthy….we’ve had about 6 meetings and should be finalizing our recommendation for the agreement in the next week or so.
If you read my column, you know I have big issues with how Rehoboth gets unfairly assessed by the school. I’ve been involved for 12 years…6 years on finance committee and 6 years on the board of selectman. Let me see if I can explain my issue or my problem with how Rehoboth is assessed. As a member of the finance committee back in 2006, the then committee, started dealing with this wealth formula. The state changed how they calculated funding for cities and towns. They take into account the income of the residents and the property values. I get the property values, income makes no sense ( to me). When this wealth formula was put into place and if you attended town meetings, you saw the struggle to approve the school assessment to Rehoboth. Our reimbursement went from 50% to barely 40%. You might think 10% is not a big deal….it is when you are looking at a 26M budget…or 2.6M swing…..ouch! At town meeting on several occasions, they voted less than the school assessment. It resulted in the school committee fully funding the highschool ( if Dighton town meeting voted for the assessment) and taking the cuts or reduced assessment to the k-8 in Rehoboth. Then a few years ago, the school committee brought in a consultant (I’ll refrain from commenting my opinion of consultants) and they stated that if the regional agreement did address an alternative method for assessment, the statutory method would be the method applied. Let me see if I can explain this. The statutory method applies the “equalized value” similar to the wealth formula by the state to each member town. It’s important to understand what this means and the repercussions. It means that the school population has nothing to do with how the assessment is made….it’s based on this equalized value…meaning Rehoboth will be 60 % or more regardless of the student population. Read that again, meaning…if Rehoboth students make up 40%of the total budget, Rehoboth will pay 60%. Does that seem fair to you? Dighton is considered “less wealthy” compared to Rehoboth….their equalized share is close to 40%...regardless of the number of students in their school system. I would bet most of you if asked, would think each town’s pays to educate their students. You would be wrong.
My opinion, we should have an alternative method in the regional agreement that says, each member town will pay for their k-8 students (and all costs & capital related to the schools residing in the each towns) and pay their share of the students attending the high-school. And then every year town meeting vote for the assessment presented, which applied this alternative method. Doesn’t this seem fair? We ALWAYS did this in the past. Don’t’ let anyone change the subject or cloud this issue that they can’t change the wealth formula or that there is a min requirement that each towns has contribute to the schools….I’m not talking about that….it goes without saying…but I’ll say it. Rehoboth must pay the net min requirement as it relates to the school contribution and our reimbursement won’t change from the state….they will still apply this wealth formula. Rehoboth will pay more per student than Dighton….nothing we can do about it until the state changes this wealth formula which is unlikely. But we CAN change how we are assessed.
The reason I talk about all this and explain it because the sub-committee that submitted their recommendation for a new regional agreement, took out any reference to the k-8. They made it next to impossible for any member town to withdraw the partially….it’s all or nothing from the regional agreement. And took anyway any bargaining or negotiating power for Rehoboth. Why on earth would you do that Rehoboth? It makes no sense to even talk about withdrawing the high-school...Rehoboth would still be responsible for the debt on the high-school and then we would have to go out and build or find a new high-school. Makes no sense at this point. The k-8 an entirely different story. Our k-8’s reside in each respective towns…the debt on those buildings are the debt of each respective town’s k-8. The bargaining or negotiating tool that Rehoboth has…Put an alternative method in the agreement or we look to withdraw the k-8. I personally don’t want to do that, but I don’t want to pay to educate Dighton students while constantly taking hits to the budget for the town. This is a HUGE number to Rehoboth…upwards of 1,000,000 swing. Keep in mind we had an alternative method applied each year…then it changed. We, I, the board of selectman ( and you would think the Rehoboth school committee members) want to go back to how it was assessed in past years….we pay for our k-8 and share the high-school based on the student population. If we do not, we pull the k-8 out of the regional agreement. While we will be subject to covering transportation costs 100% at the k-8, we would still have a net positive gain. Dighton would have to pay for its k-8 students and is applicable transportation costs…a double whammy.
There will be some other costs associated with having a separate k-8….minor compared to what we are paying right now. It’s a bargaining tool….go back to assessing each k-8 to each member town and high-school based on student population or we start the process of withdrawal.
So, as you listen to the candidates, anyone that does not believe and won’t fight to have a fair assessment to each town should be removed or not re-elected. My opinion.
Dighton school committee members will try to divert and deflect the issue…it’s a yes or no question…
Do you think it’s fair that each town pay for its k-8 and the high-school is assessed based on the student population? If they say no, it’s not fair…ask why? If they say yes, hold them to it…make it happen. The state will still reimburse each town based on the wealth formula and each town has a net min requirement for school funding that must be met each year. Don’t’ allow anyone to divert the answer it’s a yes or no answer. Rehoboth will pay more…but it will be based on educating OUR students and associated costs and not another town.
Remember we were doing it all along until a consultant got involved. My two cents.