DRACUT -- From now on at School Committee meetings, residents who wish to pose a question to school officials, express an opinion or call attention to a student's achievements or an upcoming event during the "Community Input" segment will have to wait until the end of the meeting to do so.

By a four-fifths vote that was required to make such a change, School Committee members Dan O'Connell, Joe Wilkie, Betsy Murphy and Chairman Michael McNamara amended the board's bylaws this week to shift the public-comment segment from the opening minutes of their bi-monthly sessions to the end, or "Section J" on the agenda.

Matthew Sheehan was the sole board member to oppose the motion made by O'Connell and seconded by Murphy.

"It's a good idea that's been brought to my attention a couple of times, and I happen to agree with it. I'd like to see us move things along by moving that (segment) to later in these meetings," O'Connell said. "If there are any questions people have at the end of the meeting, by moving Community Input to the end, it's going to answer a lot of the questions."

Murphy said she'd also heard from several community members who advocated for having Community Input at the end.

"Very often, when I go to community meetings I don't have a question until after I've heard the board have a conversation about something," Murphy said. "It makes sense to me to have it at the end. It's a better system.


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Sheehan politely disagreed with members on the issue, noting the lengths of School Committee meetings vary widely, sometimes lasting three hours or more.

According to the School Committee's bylaws, "We don't answer those questions that are posed in Community Input," Sheehan said.

"So if somebody sat through a three-hour meeting and if they're expecting an answer from us, they're not going to get it. We can't.

"I think it works the way it is now," added Sheehan. "I'd just hate to have people sitting here, especially in the middle of the school year, for up to three hours."

When McNamara suggested scheduling two community-input segments, the first at the beginning and second at the end of their meetings, as a "best-of-both-worlds" compromise solution, Wilkie responded quickly that he thought that was a bad idea.

"(Two segments) would become sort of a circus to me," Wilkie said. "I do like the idea of somebody doing Community Input at the end, so they have to sit and enjoy all of the content of our meeting, and not just throw out their 30 seconds in speaking about whatever their issue or concern is, and congratulations, whatever it might be, and then leave.

"It's nice to see people here at our meetings and digesting what we're talking about," Wilkie said.

Before the vote, the School Committee's legal counsel, Attorney Kevin Murphy, instructed the board it requires a four-fifths vote to amend their bylaws. After recording the votes of his four fellow board members, McNamara cast the fifth and deciding vote.

McNamara then directed Dracut School District administrative assistant Cynthia Curtis to move the Community Input segment to "section J" at future meetings.

"After some of the meetings we have now there are people who grab us after the meeting and we'll be out in the parking lot for 45 minutes (talking)," said O'Connell. "I think this is going to alleviate some of that."

Follow John Collins on Twitter at johncolowellsun.