By John Collins
DRACUT -- Ending one lengthy disagreement with the School Committee only to apparently begin another, selectmen voted Tuesday to keep pursuing a favorable lease agreement with a special-education collaborative to use the former Parker Avenue School.
Selectmen also suggested the estimated $80,000 yearly profit ought to be split among town and school departments.
School Committee Chairman Michael McNamara, who attended the selectmen's meeting along with Superintendent of Schools Steven Stone to discuss the Parker Avenue deal, told the board revenue-sharing with the town was not what the School Committee had in mind when it originally negotiated the five-year lease with MSEC.
"Respectfully, we are requesting funds from the lease go to the Dracut Public Schools to help address the deficit situation we have right now," said McNamara, who estimated the deficit facing the district at $300,000. "We expect the money from the lease will be payable to the town, but respectfully we ask that the School Committee would have access to those funds to use as we see fit."
In response, Selectman John Zimini, who asked McNamara the question about where the proceeds from the lease deal would go, and board members were noncommittal on McNamara's request.
Town Counsel Jim Hall said much progress had been made in the past two weeks in rewording the proposed lease agreement with Merrimack Special Education Collaborative to use the first and second floors of the Parker Avenue School building for its private, individualized classroom instruction over the next five years for $167,000 annually. That figure would include $25,000 for utilities, Hal said. After noting in their discussion that utility prices and usage may vary widely from one year to the next, the board voted, 5-0, to direct Hall to return to the negotiating table with MSEC's attorney to redo the contract's utility clause to allow for costs exceeding $25,000.
Before Tuesday's meeting, selectmen and School Committee members had squabbled over which board had the right to negotiate a lease with MSEC, and whether the town should be in "the landlord business," an objection that was raised by Zimini.
In other action, selectmen invited residents Andrew and Agnes Blatus to update the board on their disagreement with the Dracut School District and School Committee refusal to assist their hearing-impaired son, Anthony, to seek a waiver from the MIAA to wrestle for Dracut High while attending Innovation Academy Charter School in Tyngsboro. Blatus said officials from the MIAA and Mass. Office on Disability said the reasons given by Stone for not seeking the waiver -- that it would be a "futile" effort, and that the district did not want to set a precedent of charter school students partaking in Dracut Public School athletics -- were not valid.
His son has since transferred to Greater Lowell Technical High School where he is attending ninth grade and planning to try out for their wrestling team this winter, Blatus said.
"My biggest frustration in this whole thing is the Dracut School Department misled me for five months while I was trying to make a decision of where to educate my son," said Blatus, a lifelong 44-year resident and Dracut High grad. "They made us feel like second-class citizens. We're not suing the town, I want to be clear on that, but I'm just hoping for future reference that no other family is made to go through what we experienced."
After a public hearing on the defunct Avenue Pub at 1629 Lakeview Ave., the board voted unanimously, 4-0, with Bob Cox (owner of another bar in town) abstaining, to allow pub owner Don McNiff a maximum of six months to complete the sale of his business and liquor license, or the town will strip him of the license. Upon Hall's recommendation, the board also required McNiff to provide them with monthly updates on the sale's progress.
Zimini, who makes up half of the board's subcommittee on safety, along with Selectman Joe DiRocco, announced that on Thursday, Oct. 3 at 6 p.m., in the Dracut Police Department's Community Room, residents living in the area of the Lake Mascuppic Beach parking lot are being invited to voice their concerns to the police chief, conservation officer, assistant town manager and selectmen about the problems caused by "young people apparently hanging out and causing problems" in the beach parking lot.
"Some of the neighbors have started a Facebook page to 'help save Lake Mascuppic,'" Zimini said. "Some complaints I've heard about going on up there mostly involve young people apparently hanging out there late at night, causing problems. I went there Sunday morning and found the place was a mess, with all kinds of trash all over the place, beer cans and everything else.
"I know winter is coming and probably going to change the whole picture, but hopefully we can alleviate whatever problems are there now and get ready for the spring," Zimini added.
Chairwoman Cathy Richardson endorsed the scheduling of a Lake Mascuppic neighborhood meeting at the police station.
"Last summer there were concerns about drug trafficking in that area as well," said Richardson.
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