There was no shortage of criticism and hyperbole targeting the Old Rochester Regional School District during the Marion Finance Committee meeting on November 22. At one point, FinCom Chairman Peter Winters suggested his big idea about Marion withdrawing from the regional school district altogether, while Marion Town Administrator Jay McGrail expressed his big hopes about a potential new superintendent of schools.
McGrail reported on a recent Old Rochester Regional charter meeting he attended, and said the three towns would be looking to amend the regional school charter since years ago it was discovered that the charter had not been updated in roughly 20 years. One amendment could be the averaging of the student enrollment for each town to provide more stable and predictable school budget assessments from year to year, said McGrail.
“Even in the room there was back and forth as to whether average enrollment would help us, hurt us,” said McGrail. It could help Marion, he said, especially when the new 40B is complete with its potential influx of ORR students.
Another possibility, said McGrail, would be establishing a capital revolving account within the ORR budget as part of the towns’ assessments, which McGrail said would lead to some further “local control” over capital spending and, “In theory, it would make sense,” he said.
One thing that school administration is not doing that is within the charter, Marion Selectman John Waterman said, is preparing financial statements on a regular and timely basis.
“They’re not following what’s in there from a financial perspective,” said Waterman, “but I think we have to look at the whole thing.”
Waterman referred to the years-old discussion on updating the outdated charter and said, “I think the whole thing’s on the table.”
That is when Winters suggested another option: “Another thing is getting out of the district.
“We obviously would be stuck with the debt, but I mean – that’s a bargaining chip, too,” said Winters.
“We’re having enough problems getting out of the [Carver, Marion, Wareham Regional Refuse Disposal District],” said Waterman, clearly cautious of a second tandem Marion exit – ‘Mexit’ – from a regional entity.
“Well, that’s the thing, you get stuck in these things and you can’t get out,” said Winters.
“But I don’t think forming our own high school…”
Winters interrupted Waterman, “No, it’s not forming anything… it’s giving kids the money to go somewhere else – paying them to send them to somewhere else.”
Waterman clearly wasn’t ready to adopt that approach. He stated that he would prefer to get more control over the district’s spending “so they can’t just send us a 5-percent budget increase,” and suggested that the education budget should be extricated from the main town operating budget warrant article and stand alone in its own budget article, which is likely illegal, someone suggested.
“[Education is] 60 percent of our budget,” said Waterman, “and if education is up 3 to 5 percent, that’s often the toughest thing in our budget; but the public doesn’t see that.”
Waterman said perhaps this way the school district would have to ask for its own proposition 2 ½ override for a budget request that exceeds 2.5 percent in one year.
“The hard part right now is we’re dealing with a lame duck superintendent that’s got six months left until he’s gone,” said McGrail. “From the first time I met [Superintendent Doug White] to today, I’d say that the hope is – from our side – is that a new superintendent will change all of this for us, a new super that’s a strong superintendent will lead us all in a [positive] direction…”
Earlier in the meeting, FinCom member Karen Kevelson announced her suspicion that the ORR deficit is even worse than what has been reported.
Kevelson told the committee that a “very credibly reliable” source suggested that the “200-and-some-thousand-dollar deficit is more closely like $500,000,” as she put it.
“And this is through an extremely reliable source,” Kevelson claimed, adding that she had recently spoken with Ed Swartz, a member of the Town of Dighton’s Finance Committee, and quoted him as saying: “You could well be on the track of being like [Dighton-Rehoboth Regional High School], and you don’t want to be like us.”
Dighton-Rehoboth High School’s woes include the threat of a state takeover of its financial management.
The next meeting of the Marion Finance Committee is tentatively scheduled for December 18 at 7:00 pm, location to be determined. The committee will also meet on January 15 at 7:00 pm at the Marion Police Station.
Marion Finance Committee
By Jean Perry