DRACUT -- Superintendent of Schools Steven Stone presented the School Committee on Monday night with his proposed fiscal 2015 budget that, if approved by Town Meeting in June, would increase last year's budget by 4.83 percent to pay for what he called 11 "critical-need" staff positions and transportation expenses.
The proposed staffing increases, which Stone said would restore some crucial positions that were eliminated in 2012, include: three elementary-school specialists in physical education, art and music; a special-education teacher; a technology-integration specialist; a "transitional readiness," or vocational job counselor; a paraprofessional; two part-time technology assistant; and two full-time custodians.
Adding two custodians would restore the district-wide staff to 20, just in time to the handle another 65,000 square feet of school space that will come with completion of the new Dracut High School in September, the superintendent said.
"The superintendent's request can be characterized as a level-service budget with critical-need increases in staffing and expenses," Stone wrote in his summary. "The budget continues the modest increases proposed and approved in Fiscal Year 2014."
Last spring, Stone proposed a level-service budget of $29,677,282 that included a request for a 4.9 percent increase. Similarly, this year's proposed budget of $30.8 million includes a request for a 4.83 percent increase, or $1.1 million.
The School Committee voted unanimously, 4-0, to accept Stone's proposed budget as a "working document" to comb through at future workshops, board members said.
"I thank Superintendent Stone for the great detail that he has provided the committee in this budget," Chairman Michael McNamara said. "Each of the five of us now need to do our due diligence in going through it, and ask the questions that need to be asked, and get satisfactory answers to those."
School Committee member Matt Sheehan noted it was the first time a superintendent had provided the board with a helpful "executive summary" on top of stark pages of numbers in the line-item budget.
"Mr. Stone and his staff did a lot of hard work on this, and it is a very workable, stabilized budget in my eyes," said Sheehan. "Is there an increase? Yes, but it's a working document, and I'm sure there will be tweaks, changes and several hurdles that it has to go through before it gets to Town Meeting."
In other business, acting on a recommendation by School Policy Subcommittee members Betsy Murphy and Dan O'Connell, the board voted 4-0 to ban electronic cigarettes from the Dracut schools, adding "e-cigs" to the language of the district's existing policy that already bans tobacco use on school property.
Member Joe Wilkie was absent from the meeting, having attended the funeral of his father, Joe Wilkie Sr., on Monday. On behalf of the School Committee, McNamara sent heartfelt condolences to the Wilkie family, including to Joe Sr.'s wife, Maureen Wilkie, who was a longtime secretary in the Dracut School District.
In response to a request made by McNamara for a presentation on what is being done at Lakeview Junior High School to improve lagging math scores in advance of the next MCAS testing in May, the board heard a presentation from the district's Curriculum Director David Hill. Hill informed the board that 45 of 52 students who were identified as needing help were receiving special tutoring in smaller groups of 3 or 4 students, using Title I funding that had become newly available. Seven of the students identified as needing math assistance opted not to partake in the program, Hill reported.
Hill said the district is anticipating a boost in future math scores at the middle-school level through the planned implementation of the newly purchased "Big Ideas: Middle School Math" program that is currently being taught successfully to grades 6 to 8 in the Peabody and Chelmsford Public Schools, among others.
At the start of the meeting, the School Committee gave special recognition to Harvard University-bound, Dracut High Valedictorian Brittany Petros, who described to the board how she won the Boston Brain Bee, a regional neuroscience-quiz competition, on Feb 1.
"There were probably about 35 students all together. The first half of the competition consisted of a 75-question, multiple choice test with the top 10 scores advancing to the live question-and-answer round," said Petros, who answered all 75 questions correctly. "After several live rounds, there was one left standing, which happened to be me."
McNamara declared Petros to be one of "Dracut's finest."
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