DRACUT -- The vote was unanimous and joyless.

The School Committee voted 5-0 on Monday night to begin the process of closing Parker Avenue Elementary School at the end of the academic year in June.

In making the motion to close to the school, School Committee member Matthew Sheehan cited the "financial instability" of the district, and dwindling enrollment at Parker Avenue, the smallest of the town's four elementary schools, with a projected enrollment of 70 students next year.

"This is not an easy thing to do. I understand nobody wants to lose a neighborhood school, but we cannot afford to keep that school open," said Sheehan in addressing his motion, which was seconded by board member Joe Wilkie.

Superintendent Steven Stone said all of Parker Avenue's classroom teachers will be retained and reassigned to other schools within the district. By reassigning the school's students and staff, Stone said there will be a dual, district-wide benefit of lowered class sizes and likely improved academic performance.

Also, the closing of the Parker Avenue School will save about $39,000 in utility costs, Stone estimated.

"We can't just look at a hundred kids, we have to look at the district's student population as a whole," said School Committee member Dan O'Connell, directing his comments to the Parker Avenue School staff and parents. "We don't take this lightly; it's a decision that has been in the making for a lot of years, and it's something that will help the district, based on what we've seen.



Humberta Medeiros, one of only a few Parker Avenue Elementary School parents who attended the meeting, said outside Harmony Hall she was "livid" with the School Committee for its decision to close the school after receiving next to no parent input.

"They haven't heard the last of this from me," said Medeiros. "If we stay here, my child is not going to another public school in this town. That's why we came here -- because of the Parker."

Parker Avenue Elementary School Principal Tamara Hutchins said she had no comment on the School Committee's vote.

It was the fourth consecutive year the School Committee had discussed the possible closure of the Parker Avenue School, having previously voted it three stays of execution. Last summer's layoffs of 54 school personnel under a reduced school budget weighed heavily in the board's decision to close Parker Avenue and redistribute the teaching staff to bring down class sizes elsewhere in the district, Sheehan noted.

"There was no joy for us at all in doing this; it was something that had to be done," said Chairman Michael McNamara.

In other action, the School Committee voted unanimously, 5-0, to newly authorize Stone to spend all but 10 percent of the district's School-Choice Program account, containing $345,000, on whatever purpose the administration sees fit, including to cover the current $270,000 debt in transportation expenses. In preceding years, the Dracut School Committee had held its superintendent under a constraint, unique to the district, to utilize School Choice money as only a rainy-day account, in cases of emergency for nonrecurring expenses.

"This is not in any way the end all to all of our financial problems," said Sheehan. "This is just to help the superintendent in any way we can going forward with this budget."

Without freeing up the superintendent to spend School Choice funds (revenue derived from the state's paying tuition for out-of-town residents who choose to attend Dracut schools), "the school budget we received from Town Meeting was insufficient to run our district the way it needs to be done," said McNamara.

The School Committee's first meeting since early December began on a somber note with moments of silence for the Newtown, Conn. school massacre, and former Lowell Police Superintendent John Sheehan, who died Monday afternoon.

McNamara also announced that Dracut High alum and Hollywood entertainer Scott Grimes is scheduled to host another benefit concert for the district's music department on Saturday, June 1, at Lowell High School. 

Follow John Collins on Twitter at johncolowellsun.