February 6, 2023

Rehoboth:  The Year in Review

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The past year marked a major change in leadership for the Dighton-Rehoboth Regional School District. William Runey, the former Principal of Attleboro High School, stepped in as School Superintendent following the retirement of his predecessor, Anthony Azar.

On August 6, Rehoboth voters soundly rejected a proposal to withdraw Kindergarten through 8th grade from the district. In a letter dated August 1, the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner John Sullivan said both member towns would need to approve an amendment to the regional school agreement before a K-8 withdrawal can occur. “Although Section IX allows for the withdrawal of grades K-8 from the District upon the approval of one member town, such a change would still constitute an amendment to the Agreement to reflect, at a minimum, the new grade configuration of the District.” Michael McBride, a member of the K-8 Withdrawal Study Committee, noted DESE had assumed oversight of the school district’s finances in 2019 after voters in both towns failed to approve a budget for the 2020 fiscal year. McBride said Rehoboth had contributed a “disproportionately higher share” of school spending than Dighton. Supporters of the withdrawal pointed out an “escape clause” had been included in the regional agreement to allow the district to split in case there were problems. Runey warned a K-8 withdrawal would have had a detrimental impact on students and teachers. Runey noted a “gap” would have resulted in cuts in teaching positions. Students in special education would have been placed “at risk” and would need to obtain services from out of the school district. In addition, Runey noted “a high likelihood of significant and expensive legal fees” if the withdrawal was approved. “I don’t fault the Rehoboth (residents) for wanting to pursue that,” Runey told the Reporter. “I’m all about civic advocacy but I am glad we were able to prevail in that situation. Now we can focus on the concerns that Rehoboth has, to make ourselves a bigger and better district.”

On November 8, voters rejected a debt exclusion to pay for the $305 million Bristol-Plymouth Regional Technical School construction. The tally was 2017 in favor and 2896 in opposition. 441 ballots were left blank for that question. 5,354 voters, representing 53 percent of the town’s 10,172 voters, cast ballots. “It’s sad that (the debt exclusion) failed because we still have to pay the bill,” Selectman Michael Deignan said. “To add insult to injury, we just received last week notification from Bristol-Plymouth that the original amounts that they told us we were going to pay are actually going to be higher.” Deignan noted the town was legally obligated to pay a portion of the cost annually. The money will have to be appropriated from within the town’s tax levy limit. The cost to the town will be approximately $150,000 for the first year, $450,000 for the second year, and $615,000 for the remaining years with no Proposition 2 and a half override to pay that debt. If the debt exclusion had been approved, Deignan estimated an extra $25 would have been added to residents’ tax bills for next year. The building project was approved last March. 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. There were 3,353 "yes" votes in favor of a new building, while 3,047 voted "no." The total "yes" votes amounted to 52.4 percent of the vote. The Massachusetts School Building Authority provided authorization for a Project Funding Agreement for the Bristol-Plymouth project in September 2021. The agreement includes reimbursement of 62.25 percent of eligible project costs up to a maximum reimbursement amount of $125, 569, 759 toward construction of a modern Bristol-Plymouth school facility.

Last June, Robert Johnson and Leonard Mills were elected to fill two vacancies on the Rehoboth Board of Selectmen. Dave Perry and Jim Muri resigned from the board last March because of what they considered to be unfair treatment of former Highway Superintendent Michael Costello, who was fired. Costello had been the subject of complaints filed by an employee of the Highway department. Mills, a member of the Planning Board and Gravel Committee, pledged to bring “respectability” back to the town’s Highway Department. “As a member of the Selectmen, I’m going to be listening to the facts and making decisions based on what is good for the town of Rehoboth,” said Johnson, who serves as Tree Warden and Animal Control Officer.

Approximately 300 truckloads of sewage sludge had been dumped on property on Almeida Road by a company called EarthSource last March. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) tested the sludge because of the huge size of the alteration of wetlands, which ended up being seven acres. The DEP later tested 18 town wells. Conservation Commission chairman Robert Materne noted that the sludge, which had been stored at the Raynham dog track, is “the largest violation in our history.” “It’s going to be very costly,” Materne added. “I know it’s going to cost a huge amount of money to remove it. We don’t have the resources to go after people that DEP has.” The sludge was subsequently removed by Earthsource. Materne said restoration of the wetlands will commence in the spring under the supervision of the Conservation Commission.

Voters at the May town meeting approved a land swap between the town of Rehoboth and the Housing Authority. In exchange for giving the town a six acre parcel of land off of Anawan Street, the Housing Authority will be given control over 5.41 acres of land on Bay State Road which contains the Anawan School and the adjacent site where the former Council on Aging was located.

Paul Jacques, chairman of the Housing Authority, has proposed constructing 30 units of senior housing. The group is working with the Women’s Development Corporation, the Historical Commission, and the Community Preservation Committee on the project.

In June 2021, Building Commissioner William McDonough, Fire Chief Frank Barresi, and Health Agent Karl Drown conducted an inspection of the Anawan School. McDonough had said the building at 53 Bay State Road was “unsafe” and ordered it to be demolished within 90 days. Selectmen considered the building a danger to the public and declared the property off-limits. No Trespassing signs and protective fencing were put up to deter people from going inside.

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