Why Relaunch Save Our Schools?
The long and arduous budgeting process undertaken by the Dighton-Rehoboth Regional School District Administration and School Committee began back in November and now, as of this week, will stretch into May. Speaking as an observer, this has been a process that for all intents and purposes carries of all the markers of collaboration and consensus building. The Superintendent reached out to each town to see what challenges each was facing, which large projects were in the works, and what each town would like to see the school district accomplish in FY20. The Superintendent also met with a large and diverse advisory committee, using this knowledge to inform the budgetary process. The budget was then built from the ground up, every principal in the district working with teams to figure out their needs and wants. Following this process, the principals came together with the business office to combine these items into a budget that would push forward programs for all of our children, challenging them and bolstering their education, supporting their academic advancement, their social-emotional development and the growth of their curiosity in an environment that would be exciting and innovative. At the high school level, this process even involved School Council, collaborating with students on what they would like to see in the curriculum and in the building.
And yet, while this process was going on, the stresses of last summer were fresh in our hearts and minds. These stresses haunted the process. Still, there was also a feeling of cautious optimism given that the override had passed in Rehoboth and the levy ceiling had increased. After all, there wouldn’t be a problem funding the FY20 budget as long as it was reasonable. And so, the School Committee forged ahead asking the tough questions and debating the additions, subtractions, and merits of each one. They heard the comments and thoughts of the public and took each into serious consideration. This budget was not created on a whim.
Initially, the School Committee wanted to move forward with a robust budget, given the optimism that there should be enough cash on hand to support cautious increases to some programming, increases that would push forward our school district to increase our students’ 21st Century Skills. After some rumblings and rumors that the members of the Rehoboth Finance Committee were not satisfied with these increases and were, in fact, promising not to recommend approval of the budget assessment to the town, the School Committee took further steps to come to a compromise. They reached out on multiple occasions to meet with the Rehoboth Finance Committee Members––to no avail. The Rehoboth Finance Committee decided to meet without the members of the School Committee in a move that has no precedent, a move that has left many of us wondering if they were ever truly interested in fair collaboration and building trust.
On Tuesday, April 23rd, the School Committee voted to approve a budget that was a 1.32% increase over last year’s budget. This is an almost unprecedented low. It is a lean budget, keeping the necessities and forgoing some of the niceties. No positions were cut, programs will remain robust, and students will be supported in their learning. Even so, the Rehoboth Finance Committee’s refusal to meet with the School Committee remains an important issue. The warrants for both the Special Town meeting and the Annual Town Meeting in Rehoboth have already been drafted and are awaiting approval. Both meetings will occur on May 13th. At the Special Town meeting, warrant items, if approved by the voters, will expend free cash, free cash that should have been earmarked for the school district given that in July of 2018 the Proposition 2 ½ Override that was passed was done so in order to “Save Our Schools.” Voters trusted their elected officials (the Rehoboth Board of Selectmen) and their appointed officials (the Rehoboth Finance Committee) to move forward honorably and take care of this money so that the school district would be taken care of in the years to come. They did not expect to be here once again fearing for the school budget.
What the Rehoboth Finance Committee and some voters in Rehoboth fail to understand is that if the FY20 budget is not passed by the Town of Rehoboth on May 13th, we will be forced into a 1/12 Budget. Pink slips will be issued again, we will go into debt due to unemployment costs, and we will go to a tent meeting since there will not be another override. The Commissioner of Education in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will step in and a budget will be forced upon both towns, one that will likely be at a higher cost than the one proposed by the School Committee at this time. This will put the Town of Rehoboth into even greater debt than it is in now. It will result in the loss of quality educators who will not put their lives on hold again for our district. The stress to those individuals and their families alone is too great. We will have folks in Dighton calling for de-regionalization. We will lose the sense of community we have worked so hard to build. We will set an awful example for our children on how compromises are made and how we support one another. The consequences are too great. And they don’t stop there.
This is why we have reopened Save Our Schools as an advocacy and outreach platform. We will be working over the next couple of weeks to get information into the hands of the voters in Rehoboth because we know that they will once again show up and vote for what is right. They will come to the table and save the day for our children, our educators, and our community because they didn’t vote for an override, giving up their hard earned money to an increased tax levy, just to see it misappropriated by a few folks who are unwilling to listen or compromise and are working in deceitful and underhanded ways that result in nothing but hurt, stress, and misinformation. Our neighbors, our family, and our friends in Rehoboth know what is at stake, and they will show up on May 13th. They will put aside sports practices, evening entertainment, and family commitments to do their civic duty. They will do what is necessary to pass this budget. If you have any questions that you would like Save Our Schools to answer, please reach out and we will do our best to get you the facts. This is about our future and our community. Let’s work together to once again Save Our Schools!