State Prepares to Take Control of School Budget
The state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is preparing to take control of the Dighton-Rehoboth school budget.
Voters rejected the FY20 budget at the October 29 town meeting and the district-wide meeting scheduled for November 2 was cancelled.
In a November 4 letter to School Superintendent Anthony Azar, school committee chairperson Katherine Cooper, Rehoboth selectmen chairman Gerry Schwall, and Dighton selectmen chairman Kenneth Pacheco, DESE’s associate commissioner Jay Sullivan said if a budget is not accepted before December 1, DESE “shall establish a budget for the year and shall assume fiscal oversight of the district.”
“Once the department sets the final district budget for the year, the treasurer of the regional school district must calculate and certify to the member municipalities their respective assessments based on the statutory method,” Sullivan wrote. “The member communities will be obligated to appropriate their respective assessments based on this budget and make payments to the regional school district consistent with the payment schedule outlined in the regional school district agreement. This budget and the department’s fiscal oversight will remain in place until the end of the fiscal year or until the member towns have approved a budget for the subsequent fiscal year, whichever is later. It is important to note that this budget may be different than the interim “1/12th budget” under which the district is currently operating.”
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 is $45 million.
The Rehoboth and Dighton boards of selectmen 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 town’s legal counsel, Jay Talerman, was contacted, along with Jeff Wulfson, Deputy Commissioner of the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).
“The budget must include “all proposed operating expenditures, capital expenditures, and debt service payments to be paid from general revenues of the regional school district,” Wulfson wrote to Cooper.
The school committee could have called for an additional $16 million appropriation at the meeting, but if they had, it would have been considered an “illegal motion,” Schwall said.
Selectman Dave Perry believed there would have been “total confusion” if the meeting had been held, as well as “legal challenges” to the budget vote.
Schwall urged the school committee Monday to accept the appropriation for the district as voted on at three separate town meetings.
Cooper and Azar have not responded to the Reporter’s requests for a comment.