Audits, term lengths highlight Tri-Town meeting with OR district

Jul 13, 2021

Town and school officials are working toward revisions to a decades-old regional agreement with an eye on fall Town Meetings.

Marion, Mattapoisett and Rochester’s governing boards met with Old Rochester Regional School District Officials on July 13 to hash out changes to the schools’ regional agreement, which has gone unchanged since its last approval in 1986.

Among the changes proposed by the district is a summer start-and-end date for Old Rochester School Committee members’ terms.

The current terms, according to committee member Heather Burke, cause problems for the committee because personnel changes occur immediately following Town Meetings, during the school year. The revised agreement would have terms begin on July 1, when school is out and the committee takes a summer break.

Marion, Mattapoisett and Rochester officials, however, worried that the change would cause issues with their schedule of swearing in newly elected officials.

Rochester Selectmen Woody Hartley wondered if there was state law prohibiting the term change, but Nancy Campany, a lawyer representing the school district, said there was no such restriction.

Mattapoisett Select Board member Jordan Collyer wondered whether the term limit change would necessitate a change to the school committee bylaws of each town.

“We need to understand what our obligations are,” he said, in order to be able to approve the term change.

The towns will seek a legal opinion on if and how they are affected by the proposed term change.

 In further discussion, Tri-Town officials sought a commitment from the school district on more frequent audits of the schools.

“The word audit does not appear in this district agreement,” Campany said. She added that regular audits may be mentioned in the agreement in different wording, but she would have to check.

Tri-Town officials advocated for the inclusion of audits in the agreement, but Burke claimed that if the agreement is changed any further, the state education department may call for sweeping edits to the document. She added that, upon earlier revisions, the state has required extensive edits to the agreement.

“My fear is that not everyone here is going to be sitting in these seats” in the future, Collyer said, citing prior financial issues in the district during the tenure of previous town and school officials.

As an alternative, the group agreed to draft a separate document that would commit the district to fiscal transparency.

For further discussion on the agreement before Marion, Mattapoisett and Rochester’s fall Town Meetings, Marion plans to host a joint meeting with the district and the towns’ finance committees later this summer.