REHOBOTH – Each side claims victory in a lawsuit involving the City and Regional School District of Dighton-Rehoboth over the school’s finances.
The lawsuit was brought in September by the Rehoboth Board of Selectmen against the school district, which in October filed a counter lawsuit.
A decision was rendered last week by the New Bedford Superior Court.
“This is a bittersweet victory for our school district because of the resources that have been spent,” said Superintendent Anthony Azar. “The school district spent approximately $ 140,000 defending itself against this unfortunate lawsuit, and we are now awaiting the figure of how much the city has spent in its pursuit of their false story.
“A fundamental question that one might ask is how the Rehoboth BOS can continue to attack its own school district, as the decision rendered by Judge Jackie Cowin states:” The district has a duty to act in the best interest and for the benefit of its students, not the city board.
Cowin wrote in his ruling that the regional school agreement does not grant full rights to those selected to obtain school district records, due to confidential information about students and employees.
Azar said that during his tenure, he and other school administrators always presented the school budget and city assessment to the public in accordance with the regional agreement.
“The city has provided no evidence that the district’s financial records are unusually complicated,” Cowin said.
“The district will continue to contact the board of directors of Rehoboth of Selectmen in order to work collaboratively with them in the future,” said Azar. “We are committed to presenting our budget on time, as we have done in recent years.
“Rather than working together, the Rehoboth BOS have made an effort to cast an extremely dark shadow over our school district. Despite all the best efforts and successes daily by students, parents and staff, the Board of Selectmen, through this lawsuit, has put the Dighton Rehoboth School District in a negative light. Working together, as I have stated from the start of my superintendence, would have been very beneficial for our children.
The legal battle, Azar added, created opportunities for “political opportunists to take advantage of taxpayers Rehoboth and Dighton.”
The town and their lawyer, Eric Brainsky of Seekonk, claim they won the case.
“The city won the case and got everything it asked for,” Brainsky said.
“The main objective of the lawsuit was to compel the district to provide the city with access to its financial records, which it had long refused for fear of a municipal review,” he said. “In its well-reasoned decision, the Court rejected all the arguments put forward by the District and sided with the City in ruling that the City is entitled to all financial records on an annual basis upon written request. We are satisfied with the court’s decision and it will allow the City to review the District’s financial practices on an annual basis.
“The city is also aware of a statement released by Dr Azar falsely claiming that the district won the case,” the lawyer added. “The only court ruling that arguably was against the City was that the costs of any scrutiny of the District’s financial records should be borne by the City, which we agree with. Dr. Azar’s statement appears to be nothing more than a feeble attempt to enlighten the citizens of Rehoboth into believing that the court ruling was nothing less than an outright victory for the city.
Rehoboth officials claim the school district defrauded the city and its taxpayers.
In a seven-count trial, the city accused the district and school board of violating the regional school agreement by carrying out construction projects without city assembly approval.
School officials vehemently denied these claims.
A city committee investigated the possibility of Rehoboth withdrawing from the school system, but this focused primarily on Kindergarten to Grade 8 and not high school.
Rehoboth and school officials have had intense disagreements over school finances, primarily the school budget, over the past few years.
The disputes have become so controversial that the state department of elementary and secondary education has had to step in and oversee the school’s finances in recent years.