Rehoboth Town and School Leaders Divided on School Budget
Town and school officials remain at odds over the Dighton-Rehoboth regional school budget, just days before a special town meeting. An override of Proposition 2 and a ½ could be approved to fund the 2020 budget.
The school department is seeking an additional $558, 797.
A special information meeting was held Wednesday at the Council on Aging, presided over by finance committee chairman Michael Deignan.
Voters at the May 28 town meeting had rejected the school committee’s assessment to Rehoboth in favor of the finance committee’s recommendation of $18.9 million. That amount is slightly over $1 million more than last year and $3.4 million more than the town is required to pay under the state minimum net school spending mandate. The final vote was 471 in favor of funding per the finance committee’s recommendation and 228 against, according to Deignan.
The town approved an override of Proposition 2 and a ½ in 2018 to provide an additional $2.1 million for the school budget.
“Anyone who says the town of Rehoboth doesn’t support regional education is lying to you,” Deignan said to residents at the meeting. Katherine Cooper, chairwoman of the school committee, disputed Deignan’s assertion. “When you’re saying the $2.1 million was completely added to last year’s budget, it wasn’t because the fincom recommendation from last year was reduced from the prior year,” Cooper said. “In FY’18 it was $16.4 million and last year it was reduced to $15.9 million.” Selectmen chairman Gerry Schwall stated the funds generated from the 2018 override were given to the school district.
“We have been audited,” Schwall said. “The Department of Revenue has it. The town clerk has certified it. The town treasurer has moved the money, the account has accounted for it. Every penny of (the override) was sent.”
Schwall went on to criticize Cooper and the school committee for their conduct following the town meeting. “The residents of this town showed up and supported it overwhelmingly, including every member of this board, showed up in favor of that override,” Schwall said to Cooper. “I resent the fact that you come up here and some of you sit in the school committee meetings and constantly bully and harass the fine residents of this town.”
Deignan warned of “drastic” cuts to the town budget if the additional school funding was approved without the contingency of another Proposition 2 and a half override. “Unfortunately, the majority of cuts will be aimed at public safety,” Deignan wrote in a letter which appears in the July 16 town warrant. “We will need to consider a layoff of 5 to 7 police officers, as well as the need to consider consolidating the fire department by closing one station.” Library funding could also be reduced, severely curtailing programs and hours at the Council on Aging, and limiting hours other town offices will be open to the public, Deignan said.
Deignan said the “fiscally responsible” option was to approve the override at town meeting. If that happens, selectmen will need to schedule a special election for a townwide vote. If that fails, then a “tent meeting” would need to be held. The school committee can vote to reduce their assessment to match what the town has voted.
A state takeover of the town’s operational budget may occur if the school budget is not approved before December 1. The special town meeting will begin at 7 pm on July 16 at the Dighton-Rehoboth Regional High School in North Dighton.
The town warrant can be viewed on the town website: https://www.town.rehoboth.ma.us/home/news/7-16-2019-special-town-meeting.