By Amaris Castillo
DRACUT -- Tension bubbled to the surface last week between two candidates running for one seat on the Dracut School Committee.
Sabrina Heisey, a mother of six and research administrative supervisor at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, accused three-term incumbent Matthew Sheehan during Candidates' Night on Thursday, April 6, of not being there for Dracut families when it counts.
"I'm the only candidate willing to stand up for the families of Dracut who are struggling," she said, echoing a previous statement to The Valley Dispatch in which she said she doesn't think her opponent is fighting for Dracut children.
Sheehan told the newspaper his opponent's claim is a "completely inaccurate statement." At the time, he said Heisey just wants to play "negative politics."
Before the event, the candidates sat in silence next to each other.
Sheehan, who works for the Lowell Police Department as a lead dispatcher, touted proven, experienced leadership as a major reason to re-elect him.
"As everybody knows, I am running for re-election of the Dracut School Committee to continue the great work that our amazing staff has done and our administration so we can move our schools forward in a positive direction," Sheehan said.
Heisey in her opening statement listed what she feels are shortcomings within Dracut Public Schools, including the addition of a fee for students who want to use the bus service.
"You may hear today from my opponent that everything is already moving forward in a positive direction, that he has a record of leadership and everything is fine. Why change?" Heisey said. "I'd say that if your faith is broken in the system, you have to change the system. If you have rules of transparency that are hard to achieve, you need to change the rules, and if the leadership doesn't provide for you -- the voter -- the competency that you need, you need to change the leadership and that is why I'm here."
Moderator Karen Merrill said user fees were implemented to offset costs of transportation, music and sports, and asked the candidates how the effectiveness of the fees should be re-evaluated with the drop in enrollment and/or participation.
Heisey predicted the fees will cause people to stop using services and that she is in favor of reducing and eventually eliminating fees. She added that there could still be a sports fee for certain sports.
"Unfortunately, in this day and age, and with the budget that we are given, we have to give fees," Sheehan said, adding that he supported busing fees because the busing contract is expensive.
Selectmen incumbents Alison Hughes and Tami M. Dristiliaris, who are running for re-election, chose not to participate in Dracut Candidates' Night after newcomer John Joyce did not show up due to an emergency.
"I love Candidates' Night. I think it's part of our democracy," Dracut School Committee Chairwoman Betsy Murphy said after the event. "You can literally see, five feet in front of you, how people feel about something and how they express it."
Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.