DRACUT -- Fifteen out of 21 paraprofessionals who received layoff notices in early June are being offered their jobs back in the new school year starting next week, the Dracut School Committee unanimously decided on Monday.
The decision to rehire 15 of 54 personnel that were let go in June came during new Superintendent of Schools Steven Stone's first School Committee meeting, during which Stone announced updated enrollment figures showing the district has gained 19 students compared to last year.
School Committee member Joe Wilkie said the estimated $303,000 it will cost to rehire the paraprofessionals will be drawn from the district's School Choice funding provided annually by the state, a source traditionally treated as a "rainy day fund" by the district for one-time events in emergencies.
"It's clearly raining right now," said Wilkie. "We have an obligation to our students, teachers and parents that we need to put forth our best effort, and this $303,000 is going to bring us back to at least a minimum platform to do that."
Stone said the Dracut schools could not be run adequately and safely without the 15 teachers being restored.
"Paraprofessionals are needed to support special education, English as a Second Language programs, Title I, kindergarten, as well as moving students from Lakeview Junior High to the high school on a daily basis (during the high-school renovation project)," Stone said, referring to the high school's renovation project.
Stone said the district receives about $150,000 annually in School Choice funding from the state.
After drawing down $300,000 from the account, the district will still have about $270,000 for emergencies, member Joe Wilkie said.
"The community has been very conservative in trying to reserve that money for emergency situations -- a boiler breaking, something like that," said Stone.
"In this instance they decided they want to use some of the money to offset the cost of (rehiring 15) paraprofessionals that I need to bring back to start the school year."
Stone will begin the process Tuesday of contacting the terminated paraprofessionals according to order of seniority, he said.
The School Committee devoted time to praise everyone involved in coordinating and attending Saturday night's Scott Grimes concert at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium to benefit the Dracut Music and Performing Arts programs.
"It was just such a great concert and event, and so much praise needs to be said of Scott Grimes as he continues his wonderful career as a performer, actor and musician," said Chairman Michael McNamara.
"For him to come to home to Dracut ... we now see the fruits of his labor and it showed just how far someone can go if they're exposed to the performing arts at a young age."
Wilkie pledged that any money from the proceeds of the concert that may be donated by the concert's organizers to the district would go toward possibly restoring at least one of the performing-arts teachers who were terminated in June.
To give the district a better idea of whether a sufficient amount of music fees will be collected to rehire a teacher, Wilkie asked Stone to schedule a district-wide sign-up date and location for Dracut school parents who wish to enroll their students in the new fee-based orchestra and band program.
"Our goal is to use 100 percent of these music fees that are collected to supplement costs within the Arts and Music Department with the intent of bringing somebody back," said Wilkie.
Stone said he would make a decision "within the next 48 hours" on when and where the district would host the requested sign-up for the music program.
According to last week's updated enrollment figures for the Dracut School District, there will be a net gain of 19 students attending grades K through 12, Stone said.
Member Dan O'Connell noted that despite the reduction-in-force action in June, Dracut class sizes for the 2012-13 school year project to be an average of 23 or 24 students per classroom.
"So class-size rumors you may have heard, of 34 or 35, that is not happening," said O'Connell. "Our classroom size is very favorable."
School District Buildings Supervisor Andy Graham and McNamara said they were pleased to see construction begin Monday on the Dracut High renovation project.
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