February 26, 2020

Rehoboth Town Officials Prepare DESE Response

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The Rehoboth Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee plan to take action after the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) established the Dighton-Rehoboth school budget at $45 million.

“I am aware this budget may result in a change in assessments to your member towns,” commissioner Jeffrey Riley wrote in a November 29 letter. “Consequently, I expect the district to use any additional state reimbursements to offset such increases and reduce member towns’ assessments in FY2020 proportional to the regional district agreement method for apportioning costs.”

Riley added: “the member towns are obligated to appropriate their respective assessments based on this final budget amount and make payments to the regional district in accordance with the payment terms in the approved regional agreement.”

DESE assumed fiscal oversight of the district on December 1 due to a budget not being approved by Dighton and Rehoboth. “The BOS will consider options and advise accordingly,” said selectmen chairman Gerry Schwall. “Personally, I am glad to see DESE responded positively to the Town’s request to appoint a financial overseer to the district. This appointment by the Commissioner serves to validate the concerns expressed in the Town’s feedback to DESE.”

Finance committee chairman Michael Deignan expressed disappointment at DESE for not performing a “proper review” of the school district’s budget prior to their decision on November 29. “I am further disappointed faceless bureaucrats in Boston saw fit to willfully disregard the will of 82 percent of the 1,000-plus voters who attended the July 16th Special Town Meeting, and opted to negate their vote by setting a budget different than that which the fine residents of this town overwhelmingly decided on,” Deignan said.

Dighton-Rehoboth Superintendent Anthony Azar cheered DESE’s decision. “It clearly indicates that the "compromise budget" between the Rehoboth Board of Selectmen and the School Committee was well thought out and did not reduce personnel or town services on the Rehoboth municipality,” Azar continued. “Nor did it impact school programs or staff in the school district. The letter further recognizes that Dighton has already supported their assessment.”

In a November 13 letter to DESE, Schwall cited “the ever-increasing and unsustainable financial demands” from the school district.

Last August, selectmen had reached a compromise with the school committee. 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. Voters rejected the revised 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 Azar, school committee chairperson Katherine Cooper, Schwall, and Dighton selectmen chairman Kenneth Pacheco, DESE’s associate commissioner Jay Sullivan had warned if a budget was 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.

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