TYNGSBORO -- Greater Lowell Technical High School Committee members from Lowell could soon have more say over how the school runs than their counterparts from the other three towns in the district.
In fact, one Lowell member's vote could count eight times more than a Dunstable member's vote and nearly twice as much as one from Dracut.
That's because the Lowell City Council sued the District, claiming each member having equal weight with their votes, despite population differences among communities, is unconstitutional.
Committee member George Tatseos of Tyngsboro said he does not understand why the City Council suddenly decided to make it an issue while the eight-member committee has counted votes the same way for decades. But committee member Fred Bahou of Lowell believes the committee has no choice but to follow federal law, that each and every resident be represented on an elected body equally. And however the weighting of votes changed, it would not change the District because all committee members are there for the right reason, Committee member David Tully of Dunstable said.
"At the end of the day, it comes down to doing what's in the best interest of the students," Tully said, as he agreed to the new way of counting votes.
The School Committee voted 7-1 in public session Thursday night to change each of its members' votes to a weighted system based on the size of the community he represents.
The change must be approved first by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and then by the Lowell City Council and Town Meeting in Dracut, Tyngsboro and Dunstable for it to take effect.
If approved, it would give Lowell members greater voting power than their counterparts from the three other communities. Currently, each of the eight members has equal voting weight, or 12.5 percent of the vote as the committee as a whole. Under the new method, however, each of the four Lowell representatives would have approximately 17.7 percent because there are 106,519 people living in the city, which account for 70.8 percent of all residents in four communities that send students to Greater Lowell Technical High School. Dracut has a population of 29,457, and each of the two committee members from Dracut would have voting weight of 9.7 percent. The representative for Tyngsboro, which has a population of 11,292, will get 7.5 percent. Dunstable has the smallest population of 3,179, and the town representative on the committee would have 2.1 percent control over decisions.
The committee's decision stems from the lawsuit that the City Council filed against the District several months ago. In an executive session held on Thursday night to discuss the pending litigation from the city, the committee members reviewed several potential solutions to the problem, including making all committee members at-large, making all seats appointed to avoid the conflict with the law and changing the number of representatives based on the size of the community. The City Council recommended the all-at-large option, according to the School Committee. That would require all candidates to campaign for their seats in all four communities.
Tully said after the meeting that he also felt that making the committee seats appointed would enable those who have the right connections to get the position.
Many members noted the School Committee has operated in the same manner for many years. Morin said after the meeting that things should not be fixed unless they are broken.
O'Hare said he was most concerned about not letting the issue get in the way of providing education to the students.
Follow Hiroko Sato on Twitter and Tout @SatoLowellSun.