Runey Looks Ahead
Dighton-Rehoboth School Superintendent Bill Runey is looking ahead to next year’s budget cycle with some concern.
Last April, Rehoboth voters rejected a temporary tax increase to pay for the town’s share of the construction costs for the new Bristol/Plymouth Regional Technical School. The $305 million building project was approved in March 2022. Although the project was rejected in Rehoboth, there were enough votes for passage in the member communities which included Berkley, Bridgewater, Dighton, Middleborough, Raynham, and Taunton.
Selectman Michael Deignan explained the town would have to pay between $550,000 and $600,000 annually. Funds for the school district will be impacted.
“The assessments for both of our towns could potentially be reduced,” Runey told the Reporter. In addition, the district will be losing ESSER funding at the end of 2024. “A lot of the money that we’ve relied on the past couple of years is going to dry up as well,” Runey continued. “I’m extremely concerned about the FY’2025 budget. I hope both towns consider putting on a debt exclusion vote (for the 2024 town meetings).”
Runey also announced enhanced security measures for the district’s schools. $125,000 was approved at the May 9 town meeting for security upgrades at Beckwith Middle School and Palmer River Elementary School. “We’ve also applied for a $400,000 grant at the federal level that would cover all five of our buildings and we also applied for a $150,000 grant at the state level that would cover a few of the buildings.”
Many school districts around the country have dealt with criticism from parents regarding library books containing adult themes, particularly about gender identity and sexual orientation. “Our school committee has been very proactive about making sure that all of our district policies are current and relevant,” Runey noted. “(School committee member) Katie Ferreira-Aubin is chair of the policy subcommittee and she and her subcommittee have worked really hard this year on several policies and one of them is about objections to library materials.”
Runey also addressed what the district is doing to help students who are dealing with mental health issues. “The time away from school was extremely detrimental for them,” Runey said. “It is a very tangible problem not only for us but for schools around the country.”
The district created the position of Social Emotional Learning Coordinator and is implementing curriculum in the schools to help students with social and emotional issues. An upcoming forum at the high school will provide parents with guidance on how to act with children experiencing these types of problems. “We are being proactive about it,” Runey added. “We want to continue to do more.”
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Speaking solely as one Selectman, I personally will not vote to put the BP building project to a debt exclusion vote again. I even had reservations about doing it this past April. The residents of Rehoboth have had an opportunity to vote on this project three times, and each time they have voted against a tax increase to pay for the new building. The Selectmen took time to educate people what the pros and cons were, even had an "information booth" at Francis Farm during the last election where people could come and ask questions about the debt exclusion prior to voting, and people again chose to reject a debt exclusion. Putting the question to the residents a fourth time, as Mr. Rumey suggests, is an insult to every resident of this town who took the opportunity to come and vote.
The Selectmen, and Mr. Rumey, must respect the wishes of the electorate, even if that means reducing spending in other areas in order to "make up the difference" needed to pay the additional cost of the BP bill. The town has to live within its means, just as all of us must do so with our own household budgets.
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