DRACUT -- Selectmen's "stalling tactics" in refusing to approve the School Committee's negotiated lease agreement with a public special-education collaborative to use the vacated Parker Avenue School is threatening to cost Dracut taxpayers $100,000 a year, School Committee Chairman Michael McNamara said Tuesday.
McNamara and three other School Committee members, with Superintendent of Schools Steven Stone attended the selectmen's Aug. 20 meeting to ask the board's approval of a lease agreement the School Committee had negotiated with the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative to use the Parker Avenue School building for an annual lease payment of $167,000.
Dracut is a founding and active member of the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative, with 30 Dracut students currently enrolled in one of MSEC's programs, according to Stone.
"It's a good deal for the town and it's in jeopardy," said McNamara this week. "School starts in September, and (selectmen) have not gotten off the dime. MSEC cannot occupy the building until the renovations have been done, and the selectmen have not authorized the town manager to order any renovations."
At the Aug. 20 meeting, Selectman John Zimini objected to the board's discussing the matter with School Committee members and Stone, and/or voting on the proposed lease, however, until the board had at least two weeks to review the 20-page agreement. At Zimini's urging, selectmen voted to move the discussion to the board's Sept. 10 agenda to allow time for selectmen to scrutinize terms of the proposed lease with MSEC, and obtain legal advice from Town Counsel Jim Hall as to whether selectmen have negotiating power on a lease involving the former elementary-school building.
McNamara was chagrined by the delay.
"I did write an email to (Selectmen Chairwoman) Cathy Richardson following the meeting, thanking her for trying to get he Board to discuss (the Parker Ave. lease) because it was on the agenda," the School Committee chairman said. "But I think (Zimini) wants to get it so MSEC does walk away and it remains an empty building."
In the past week, having spoken with the town's attorney and read carefully through the proposed lease, Zimini found the board had acted wisely in delaying the discussion and vote, he said
"It's not at all a good deal for the town for a number of reasons," Zimini said during a break in Tuesday night's selectmen's meeting. "We got from Mr.
As for MSEC providing $70,000 for the materials to do a handicapped-accessibility upgrade, "They (School Committee) have us paying for the labor for all the reconstruction; we don't know what those labor costs will be, but they plan to use our town employees to do the work. And the question then is, what if one of our guys get hurt on that job? Who's liable to pay the worker's compensation for that? We are, the Dracut taxpayers."
There is no provision for trash or snow removal in the proposed lease with MSEC, Zimini noted.
Most concerning of all, Zimini said, is the contract's indemnification clause which absolves MSEC from paying anything should problems with asbestos, mold, or a failure to fully comply with ADA requirements occur.
Contrary to McNamara's public statements - insisting the School Committee has legal power to negotiate a lease for a school building, and needing only the selectmen's signature to "execute" the agreement, according to McNamara - Zimini said Attorney Hall advised the Board that interpretation of the law is not accurate.
"I disagree with Mr. McNamara on the law," Zimini said. "The law is clear that we don't sign anything that we don't negotiate. We negotiate; they approve it; we sign it. It's as simple as that."
"Mr. McNamara wants to say John Zimini is the cause of losing money for the Dracut taxpayers and that is plain wrong," Zimini said. "The Parker Avenue School building has been on the agenda for about a year, and all of a sudden because (the School Committee) have an agreement they're going to pressure us to sign something that we didn't negotiate on their timetable? I beg to differ."
Animosity that developed between selectmen and the School Committee on the proposed $2.9 million override of Proposition 2 1/2 to boost the school district's operating budget appears to have spilled over into the discussion of the Parker Avenue lease, said McNamara.
"Selectmen call for collaboration and cooperation and their actions are anything but," said McNamara. "The law says the School Committee negotiates the lease, (and) the Board of Selectmen reviews it. But they're being difficult. It's aggravating."
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