July 21, 2018

Reasons For Prop 2 ½ Override Vote Explained Simply

Conversations with DR and Rehoboth Officials to clarify the issues at stake in The July 17th Vote

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The Dighton-Rehoboth Regional School District is looking to pass a Proposition 2 ½ override in order to fully fund their requested budget for fiscal year 2019. The vote will take place for Rehoboth residents on July 17.

The school district requested a budget of $17,549,860 for fiscal year 2019. According to Financial Committee Chairman Michael Deignan, this is an 8% increase over last year’s budget. The increase would go towards services such as an increase in personnel due to higher enrollment, increase in special education, and transportation. This number was approved contingent upon an override at the Annual Town Meeting that was held on May 15.

As of right now, the school district will receive $15,842,799 for next year’s budget. If the override passes, the district will receive an additional $2,115,992 from the town of Rehoboth. In order to fund this $2.1 million, there would have to be an increase in property taxes. The average tax payer’s bill is estimated to go up about 9% for fiscal year 2019, should the override pass. This means that a typical single-family home in Rehoboth can expect taxes to go up an additional $455.

A positive Proposition 2 ½ override vote would increase the property taxes by more than 2.5% this year and revert to the annual 2 ½% increase in the following years. If the override vote passes, the district will have the money it needs each year so there would not be a need for an override in future years.

Dighton-Rehoboth Superintendent Dr. Anthony Azar said that the town and the district have worked together in past years to balance the budget together. This year, the district reduced the budget from $19 million to $17 million, but the town did not increase their offer to meet the district’s amount. The district could not reduce the budget any more to meet the $15.8 million.

Business Administrator Catherine Antonellis said that the amount of money that the district is set to receive from the town is less than what it received last year. “If you take a look at the actual town meeting and you look at what the FinCom recommendation to finance the school, if you note, it’s less money than what it was funded for a year ago. So this current FY19 is funded in the annual town meeting lower than FY18 was actually approved for.”

The district is on an upward trend in terms of academic achievement. They have built up the schools and student resources over the past few years. If the district does not receive the funding it needs, this could ruin the progress that has been made in recent years.

Since Dighton-Rehoboth is a regional district, the budget must stay proportionate on both sides of the district based on a state mandated formula and the enrollment of children from each town. If the override fails, the school district will have to reduce its budget by $3.6 million. This includes the $2.1 million from the failed override along with the proportionate $1.5 million from Dighton.

“This type of budget will start to peel all of [our] work away because then class sizes will increase and [these resources] won’t be there for kids and there won’t be professional development,” said Assistant Superintendent Kerri Anne Quinlan-Zhou. “All of these layers will start to just disintegrate. That’s what we’re concerned about. It’s really hard to build it up, it’s really easy to tear it down and then it takes years to come back.”

The school district sent out layoff notices to 84 employees to plan for a possible failed override. If the override passes, these notices will be rescinded and these staff members will keep their jobs.

If the override fails, classrooms sizes will increase. The typical class size for the district right now is 25 or 26, but schools can see 30 or more in some classes if the district does not receive its requested budget. The district implements a lot of hands-on work, which would not be possible with these large class sizes.

Sports programs and extracurricular activities will be suspended for the district beginning July 1 until the budget is settled. The district administration said that their top priority is student achievement and academics. If the override fails, they will first determine what the classrooms will look like and if there are any funds available, they will decide if they will still be able to provide these opportunities to the students.

“What we’re saying to the town of Rehoboth is we control our own destiny on July 17 if we vote yes,” said Dr. Azar. “If we vote no, we’re destined to lose in the end.”

If the override passes, there will be no impact on the town budget. However, there is no telling what the impact will be if the override vote fails. The budget would then go back to the school committee and they will have 45 days to revisit the budget and resubmit it to the town. After that, there are a multitude of scenarios that could take place. If there is no budget in place by December, the commissioner will come in and set the budget.

“Really, what it boils down to is if you vote yes, you can expect your taxes to go up next year,” said Deignan. “If you vote no, we really don’t know what’s gonna happen cause it really depends on what the regional school committee does. Theoretically, there could be an impact to the town and that impact could be anything from us needing to cut some services, to laying off entire departments, to laying off a significant portion of the town staff.”

Deignan encourages voters to attend the Board of Selectmen’s meeting that will take place at 7:00 on July 9 at the Council on Aging building. At the meeting, there will be a 15-20 minute presentation on property taxes and how a property tax bill is computed, so that voters understand how the override will impact them.

Dr. Azar said that the district needs the override because it can no longer operate properly on a balanced budget with the town. “We want to make sure that the voters understand that we, we meaning the town and the school district, have both tried over the last two years to try to meet a balanced budget, and we just cannot continue to do that because if we do, neither the school or the municipality will survive.”

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