D-R Superintendent Optimistic About School Budget
Despite a tumultuous budget process which resulted in the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) stepping in to provide fiscal oversight of the Dighton-Rehoboth Regional School District, School Superintendent Anthony Azar is optimistic about the future.
DESE has been in control of the District’s budget since December 1. DESE later established the Dighton-Rehoboth school budget at $45 million.
“We have our budget, the School District’s in good shape, the town of Rehoboth is in good shape too and the town of Dighton is in good shape,” Azar noted. “We are all working to do what’s best for the town of Rehoboth, what’s best for the town of Dighton, and what’s best for our students.”
Voters at the May 28 town meeting rejected the School Committee’s assessment for Rehoboth in favor of the finance committee’s recommendation of $18.9 million. The School Department had been seeking an additional $558, 797 for their 2020 budget.
The School Committee opted to disregard the town meeting vote. Selectmen had set a date for a vote on a Proposition 2 and a half override after the voters approved the additional school funding at a July town meeting.
Last August, the Rehoboth Selectmen had worked out a compromise agreement with the School Committee in the hope of resolving the budget turmoil. In exchange for giving the School Department an additional $330,000 for the 2020 budget, Selectmen had proposed $214,000 in cuts to town departments. School officials were able to restore all sports programs for the fall after the compromise was reached.
Voters rejected the FY20 budget at the October 29 Town Meeting and the district-wide meeting scheduled for November 2 was cancelled, prompting DESE to intervene.
Selectmen Chairman Gerry Schwall called last year’s budget process a “debacle” and said it was the School Committee’s responsibility to “make a recommendation to voters.”
Azar notes the School District holds a public hearing on their budget every March. He feels Rehoboth town officials are partially to blame for the turmoil. “We were forced into that predicament because the Finance Committee never met with the School District to have a discussion of what amounts to the largest budget on the town side,” Azar said, noting the warrant for the May town meeting had falsely claimed the School District was aiming for an override of Proposition 2½. That created “angst” among the voters, according to Azar.
Last September, the town filed a civil action against the Dighton-Rehoboth School District for allegedly violating the terms of the regional school agreement. Rehoboth officials also sought financial records for the district. “Everything (the town) has asked for, they’ve received,” Azar said, noting the district will continue to work with their legal representatives to resolve the matter.
As for the possible dissolution of the regional school agreement, Azar believes it would do more harm than good. “Whoever’s pushing this agenda (of deregionalization), go forward on it,” Azar said. “What people will find out is DESE more than likely would not allow it because Rehoboth and Dighton can not stand separately and afford a school district. The Commissioner of Education has to approve it and very seldom have they approved it unless a community can prove that they can stand on their own.”
Azar believes the 2021 budget cycle will be very different than the one for 2020. “If the Finance Committee and the Board of Selectmen will continue to work with us, and us work with them, hopefully we’ll be in a good place,” Azar added.