DRACUT -- In the eyes of selectmen, Finance Committee and School Committee members, Dracut's first school-resource officer personifies the good that can happen when town and school officials work together.
Jim Quealy, a veteran police officer, began reporting daily to the Dracut public schools complex on Lakeview Avenue on Oct. 28. His position as a school-resource officer is funded jointly by the school and police departments. He appeared before the Tri-Board at Harmony Hall Thursday night to update them on his first five months on the job, which he called a great success.
"The kids seem to be getting used to having me there, I've had an opportunity to get to know and talk to many of them, including in my office about career issues," Quealy said. "One of the things I've been asked in the course of a day was, 'If I get in a fight in school, can I get in trouble for that, too?' And of course, I told them 'yes, you can.' "
Through frequent, brief interactions in the school's hallways, and in more in-depth conversations he has had with students at sporting and other after-school events, Quealy believes he is having a positive impact at all grade levels.
"This is one of those success stories," said School Committee Chairman Michael McNamara. "Where we haven't had a school resource officer in so long, we can see by your description just how valuable a service this is."
School Committee member Dan O'Connell praised Quealy for his attendance at school events.
"You seem to be everywhere. It's fantastic," O'Connell said. "And every time you're there, I see you interact with the kids."
Superintendent of Schools Steven Stone said Quealy's presence is also an asset to the district's principals.
In other business, the Tri-Board heard town- and school-budget summaries delivered by interim Town Manager Ann Vandal and Stone.
Vandal provided a spreadsheet showing percentage increases or decreases in the budgets of each of department. For example, she said, the Police Department has been allocated a proposed $3.7 million budget for fiscal 2015 that is 1 percent higher than the current year, enough to hire an additional officer, but is five fewer new officers than the department requested.
In delivering his budget summary, Stone voiced frustration with state laws and the local-aid funding formula, noting that vocational-technical schools and charter schools are permitted to pass along the responsibility of serving the needs of special-education students, and the associated high costs.
"I'll put the Dracut public schools up against anyone, but the playing field is not level," said Stone.
State Rep. Colleen Garry, who attended the Tri-Board meeting, said she submitted legislation this year to change the state funding formula that now forces Dracut taxpayers to pay $16,000 per pupil for students attending Greater Lowell Technical High School, while Dracut public schools holds its spending to $11,000 per student.
"The formula is not fair for all communities and all students," said Garry, adding that the bill has not gained traction among her House colleagues. "I would love to have the support of more communities to fight that."
Chairwoman Cathy Richardson announced the Tri-Board will next meet on May 22.
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