Monday, November 30, 2009

Teacher's salaries

Yesterday's blood pressure raising article in the Sun about Wilmington teachers wanting more money got me thinking about Dracut's teachers. You may recall that they were the only union in the town who refused to make any financial concessions during this budget crisis.

Their argument was that they make less money when compared to surrounding towns. Well, according to the Massachusetts Department of Education, the average salary of a Dracut teacher in 2008 was $61,290. Four years earlier the average salary was $48,592 and there are 38 less teachers!

Tyngsboro's 2008 average salary? $59,591
Chelmsford's 2008 average salary? $61,998
Groton Dunstable's 2008 average salary? $59,446
Westford's 2008 average salary? $60,708
Tewksbury's 2008 average salary? $62,972

Granted, Lawrence and Lowell pay more but they're cities. I don't see how Dracut teachers are making all that much less than area schools.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dracut's history

Thanks to Rebecca Duda of Lakeview Junior High School, I have developed an interest in Dracut's history lately. Just today I became a member of the Dracut Historical Society ($5 membership, you can't beat it) and spent some time down at the society's building on Lakeview Ave. There was a couple there who grew up in Dracut and they were looking around too and he filled me in on some of Dracut's past.

The building is a fantastic resource. They're only open on Sundays from 1pm-3pm but there is a lot of things to see and lots of books to read and flip through. It's a great place to just spend a lazy Sunday afternoon. If you've never been there you need to check it out.

I found out today that they have a website - www.dracuthistory.com There isn't much there other than a history of the society but it's worth a look.

Cox and O'Loughlin running?

The lead item in today's Column was an interesting tidbit about rumors that Selectmen Bob Cox and James O'Loughlin were thinking of running against Rep. Colleen Garry. Garry is having a fundraiser this Thursday and it is ironically being held at Coyle's, the restaurant owned by Cox.

Cox tells the Sun that "he has been approached about the idea" of running but is still making up his mind saying the "timing" may not be right. "I have to do what's right by my family. They come first."

I have heard that O'Loughlin is thinking of running and he told the Sun, "If I don't pull nomination papers for selectman in February, you'll know why."

Obviously, if one of these guys chooses to run than the other won't. I don't see Cox running, especially since Garry worked for his brother John Cox when he was state representative for Dracut. Plus, he's rather new to the Board of Selectmen (2005) so perhaps he wants to stay on for some more experience.

O'Loughlin has been a selectman for almost 20 years and may be ready for something new. He has a nice job with the state (he works for the Lottery) so I am surprised he'd want to give that up to serve in the Legislature. He would make a tad more money as he made $59,196 in 2008 whereas Garry made $58,237 - but he would have to run for his job every 2 years. Garry also has a head start on finances - she had $14,350 on hand as of December 31, 2008. With this Thursday's fundraiser, that will be much larger.

Either way, it will be interesting to see. While I like Garry a lot the politico in me would be interested in seeing a debate on the issues. In the 4 1/2 years I've lived in Dracut I don't think we've had any real races on the state level so it would be something different.

As always, stay tuned.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Hers if she wants it

I unfortunately missed most of School Committee Chairman Matthew Sheehan on "Saturday Morning Live" this morning but what I heard was interesting:

1. Superintendent of Schools Spencer Mullin has taken all of his sick days so far this year (15)

2. Mullin has cancelled meetings with principals, is leaving work early, etc (according to Warren Shaw). He also wasn't at this week's School Committee meeting (Neither was Business Manager Tom Rose).

3. If Elaine Espindle wants to be the interim superintendent, she will be the interim superintendent (direct quote from Sheehan).

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Scott Brown in Dracut

Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown was in Dracut today. He posted a picture of him outside the football game passing out flyers on his Twitter page. See here.

Happy Thanksgiving Dracut - and go Middies!


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Quiet Selectman Meeting

It was a quiet Board of Selectmen meeting tonight but there were two interesting things brought up. First, there was a continuance of a request by National Grid to add a new pole on Cheever Ave. These requests are routinely approved but the abutter complained that the pole would harm her property aesthetically. She made a plea at tonight's meeting and got emotional (i.e. tears). Selectman James O'Loughlin suggested that DPW head Mike Buxton work with National Grid to move the pole down a little ways so as not to impact the homeowner. They agreed.

Secondly, O'Loughlin asked that the town look into what the school system will be doing with the Parker Ave. School should they close it in June. O'Loughlin thinks this may be a good site for a new Town Hall.

Great minds think alike - I proposed this same idea back in July! I think it is something to look into, O'Loughlin is on to something.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Superintendent Search

Tonight's School Committee meeting was very busy. In sum:

1. The committee voted 4-1 (Mike Miles votes no) to advertise for the interim superintendent position which will become available on March 1. Miles said he'd prefer to speak with former superintendent Elaine Espindle to see if she was interested in the position. He also said he wants the next superintendent to come from the Dracut schools (see number 5 for more on this).

2. Any hiring done by Superintendent Spencer Mullin must first come before the School Committee. There are presently 4 or 5 positions open and the school committee does not want Mullin hiring anyone without them first knowing about it. This comes on the heels of the hiring of the sister of former School Committee member Mary Gail Martin as the principal of Englesby. Martin was an avid supporter of Mullin and made the motion to hire him last year.

3. The school committee seemed a little disjointed in their discussion about the process of hiring a new superintendent. They were not sure if they want to hire a consultant firm or just do the work in-house. They tabled this discussion until the next meeting when they will have more information on the services and fees of outside consultants.

4. Chairman Matthew Sheehan appointed a sub-committee of Mike McNamara and Ron Mercier to look into the hiring of Mary Gail Martin's sister and to hear the concerns of the search committee who felt that their opinions were ignored. Some feel Mullin wanted to hire Martin's sister all along and kept sending the search committee's recommendations back until they came up with Martin's sister (sorry, I forget her name!)

5. Miles came out and said that hiring Mullin was a "mistake" and McNamara pretty much said the same thing. Neither Mullin or Business Manager Tom Rose were in attendance and it seemed the committee felt more free to be open on their feelings of Mullin.

Phew. Lots going on.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Selectmen Executive Session

Tomorrow, the Board of Selectmen are meeting in Executive Session to "discuss pending litigation." Anyone have any insight on this?

Twofer Sunday

Dracut got two mentions in this morning's Column. The first was a recap of Dracut High School Vice Principal Hank Golec's retirement on January 21. Since September, Golec has been out of work using sick time. But, the Column asks the question that many people are asking, "So, is he really sick?"

I agree. This is why people get so fed up with public employees. This guy allegedly tampered with school surveillance equipment and he gets to take 3 months off and get paid his full salary using a benefit that is for people who are sick. In the meantime, he's been coaching football at Greater Lowell Technical High School. In January, he will retire and collect a fat pension for the rest of his life.

Grrrrrrr.

Second, the Column got a hold of the School Committee's October 26 Executive Session minutes. It turns out that at that meeting, Superintendent Spencer Mullin asked the committee to add three more sick days to his contract (he currently gets 15 - how many sick days do these people need), arbitration, and something about consultant work. Member Ron Mercier told Mullin to bring these matters up in a public meeting and ten days later Mullin announced his retirement.

So, why again is Mullin retiring??

Friday, November 20, 2009

More on Richardson

Today's Lowell Sun has a story on the Community Preservation Committee's proposal to purchase land from the Richardson family on Greenmont Ave. and turn it into senior housing. The idea was proposed by Brian Bond at this week's CPC meeting but the article says him, DHA Member Ken Cunha, and Selectman John Zimini have been working on the idea "for several months."

Hate to be a skeptic but while this sounds like a good idea, I am sure people will wonder if there was an effort to kill Louisburg Square all along and then come out with this new idea. Cunha, as the article reminds us, led the effort to kill Louisburg Square and that Selectmen Bob Cox and Joe DiRocco feel it was to settle political scores.

Bond told the Sun that the project is contingent upon the town obtaining funding from the state like the $2.9 million that was allocated for Louisburg Square. Again, this sounds like a good project and I like Bond but I can't help but think the horse has left the barn in terms of state funding.

Anyway, see the article here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dracut bills

I came across a website that listed all of the bills the legislature passed this year and two of them pertained to Dracut. I can't say I know what they mean but take a look here and here if you're interested.

Anyone have any thoughts/insight? They seem pretty routine and mundane but I was just curious.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Next big thing?

Weeks after Louisburg Square went down to defeat, the Community Preservation Committee is looking to Plan B. Last night Brian Bond proposed that the town purchase what is known as the Richardson Property over near Greenmont Ave. and Bridge St. and then build over 50 units (I believe the total was 70 but I left my notes at home) of senior housing. Each unit will be 700 sq. ft. and be garden style. The complex will also house a community building.

Ken Cunha, the leading opponent of Louisburg Square and who is seen as the one who killed the project, brought the idea to the Dracut Housing Authority on Monday and they are on board. The CPC will begin looking into the idea more closely and if approved, the process will take about 3+ years to complete.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Starting over at DATV

As I mentioned two weeks ago, DATV Executive Director Steve Russo is leaving his job as of November 27. In talking with people, it seems that Russo was interested in getting back into the technical aspect of the job and out of management. But, he did mention to people that the politics surrounding the job was crazy. A poster on my blog, ner.d, said he too worked for a cable access station and the job was all politics (see prior post for his comments).

Today's Sun highlights a bigger problem - Russo is the fourth head guy to leave in 2 years! In the four years I've been in town I've never felt that DATV has reached its potential. I'd like to get involved as it's a great resource. Hopefully they can get another person in there and get DATV over the hump.

Golec is out

Today's Lowell Sun reports what most people thought - that Dracut High School vice principal Hank Golec is out. He will officially retire in January but he's been out of work since September. He has been using sick days since his leave of absence, which means he has a heck of a lot of sick time! How many days does a person have that allows him to take 3 months off of work???

Next time public school teachers complain about their salaries and benefits, remind them of this little perk!

Monday, November 16, 2009

What ails Dracut

Erin Smith, the great new Dracut reporter for the Sun, has a good rundown of recent political controversies in town in today's paper. People who pay close attention will find nothing new but Smith does get interesting analysis from Selectman Chair George Malliaros:

Selectmen Chairman George Malliaros said he suspects police union officials waited until now to make the allegations in an attempt to distract the public as the Dracut police chief prepares to release the findings of a long-running investigation into who stole $80,000 worth of marijuana from a locked police-evidence storage trailer more than six years ago.

Malliaros is suspicious about the timing of the accusations.

"This is, to me, clearly timed to sort of confront what might be a grim reality for some members of the Police Department," said Malliaros, citing the long history of acrimony between union leaders and top brass at the Police Department.

That never crossed my mind, one wonders.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lots going on

There are a ton of town meetings this week so if you're a junkie for this stuff, there's lots to see and do. I am guessing many meetings were pushed up a week since next week is Thanksgiving.

See the list in the right hand column of the blog.

Police politics...again

The lead story in today's Column was about l'affaire David Chartrand. As everyone knows, Chartrand was at a party on B Street when he responded to a domestic abuse call. It is alleged that Chartrand was intoxicated and when officers arrived, he did not respond to their calls to drop the shotgun that he took from the scene. The officers, according to a report detailed in yesterday's Sun, came very close to shooting Chartrand before they realized who he was.

The Column details the story but also makes an interesting connection. Jerry Flynn, the executive director of the New England Police Benevolent Association, filed a complaint with Town Manager Dennis Piendak and Middlesex County DA Gerry Leone against Chartrand for this incident (You may also recall that Flynn and Chartrand got into a heated argument at a Lowell restaurant last year).

Anyway, the Column reports that Tony Archinski, a former lieutenant with the Dracut police, is currently a regional vice president with the police union. The Column reminds us that Archinski was a candidate for the police chief post in 2005 but lost out to Kevin Richardson. During the selection process, the Column said, Archinski promised that he would make Richardson his deputy if selected. But, when Richardson got the job, he gave the deputy job to Chartrand.

Circle complete?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

School politics...again

I was "Saturday Morning Live" this morning with Warren Shaw and Shawn Ashe and they mentioned that the new principal of the Englesby School is the sister of former School Committee member Mary Gail Martin. Martin, you may recall, was one of the members who helped bring in Superintendent Spencer Mullin a couple of years ago. Now, the new principal, as Shaw said, may be very qualified and the best person for the job. But, he said, it does not pass the smell test.

Martin was actually the one who made the motion to hire Mullin in the first place. The night of the interviews, after all were completed, she said, "I'm prepared to vote."

The Sun weighed in on the hasty (my word) decision back in October of 2007 in The Column. Shawn has an extensive archive so I found the article there. Read it again in light of the hiring of Martin's sister. The focus in the Column is more on DJ Deeb but him, Martin, and Ron Mercier were all seen as political allies on the school committee.

PERCEPTION IS everything, but it appears the Dracut School Committee still doesn’t get it.

Did committee members have their minds made up before conducting interviews with four superintendent finalists last week? That’s the talk in the local coffee shops and on message boards throughout the town.

In less time than it took for W. Spencer Mullin to leave the school parking lot after his interview, the committee unanimously voted him in as the new superintendent. Mullin was the last of four finalists to be interviewed by the board on Monday night. The committee spent close to an hour with each candidate, but very little discussion followed.

The committee chatted briefly about their site visits then committee member Mary Gail Martin announced, “I’m prepared to vote.”

She nominated Mullin. Mike Miles quickly joined her, as did Dennis “D.J.” Deeb and Chairman Ron Mercier Jr. Committee member Nancy Mendonca wanted more time to go over her interview notes but gave in when she sensed she was outnumbered.

Everyone is asking the same question: Why the rush?

Rarely, if ever, have school committees selected a superintendent on the same day or night that interviews are conducted.

Deeb was almost indignant at the suggestion after the meeting that Mullin was the board’s pick from the beginning and that the committee’s questions were crafted to suit him. Deeb said Mullin is clearly the best person for the job and there was no need to drag out the process.

To onlookers, it didn’t seem that the one-hour interviews with the finalists had any effect on the committee’s final decision. The “losing” candidates had to travel to Dracut from Lynnfield, Medfield and Paris, Maine (a nearly three-hour ride) for something that may have been a foregone conclusion.

This is the second so-called nationwide search conducted in Dracut in two months that resulted in a wink-and-a-nod fashion. The other came at the Dracut Housing Authority, where Mary Karabatsos, who wasn’t even selected a finalist by the original screening committee, got the job over more experienced candidates. She was the choice of three DHA members, who added Karabatsos’ name to the screening committee’s list after a lawsuit to overturn the screening process failed.





Dracut Being Dracut

With Thanksgiving and Christmas fast approaching, we are reminded about those who are not as fortunate as we are. Thankfully here in Dracut we have a strong tradition of reaching out to those in need and being, as Warren Shaw said this morning, Dracut being Dracut.

Mae Paquette was on "Saturday Morning Live" to promote a benefit for Alexis Gorman, a Dracut girl who is battling leukemia and who is also gong to have a bone marrow transplant. As you can imagine, the cost of treatment, traveling into Boston, taking time from work, etc. is difficult. So, there will be a benefit for Alexis next Saturday, November 21 at the Lowell Elks at 7pm. Additionally, anyone who wishes to join the bone marrow registry can go online to: www.marrow.org and they will send you a kit to do a mouth swab and the person can send it back.

Below are more details:

Alexis (“Lexi”) Gorman is a beautiful 4 year old little girl from Dracut who was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia a few months ago. Upon her diagnosis, she immediately began chemotherapy and is currently being treated at Children’s Hospital in Boston. It is expected that she will remain at Children’s Hospital for the next 6 months or so. Lexi has a sister, Anna, who is 6 years old and her parents, Frankie and Christy, will be welcoming a third daughter into their family sometime in December.

Acute Myeloid Leukemia is a disease that progresses fairly quickly and Lexi has been fighting so hard through all of her treatments in Boston. We are hopeful that we will see her in remission soon. But unfortunately, this type of Leukemia usually does not stay in remission and a bone marrow transplant will be in Lexi’s future. Recently a bone marrow drive was organized in Lexi’s name and our entire family cannot express how grateful we all feel for the hundreds of people that came out to be tested. We have all been overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and support for little Lexi. We hope and pray that a match is found soon; not only for Lexi, but for the many other children in need.

It has been a very difficult time for the family. Lexi’s mom, Christy has taken a leave of absence from her teaching job in order to stay with Lexi while in Boston. Lexi’s Dad, Frankie, travels to and from work to the hospital while trying to continue a somewhat normal life for Anna….if that is even possible.

In order to help defray the enormous costs associated in dealing with this difficult situation, we will be holding a BENEFIT NIGHT on Saturday, November 21st at the Lowell Elks. The event will begin at 7:00 pm. The cost of the ticket is $10.00. We are planning various raffles, a 50/50, and a silent auction. There will be a cash bar available and plenty of music and fun.

We will be seeking donations of baskets, sports memorabilia, gift certificates, show or sporting event tickets, electronics, etc. We are most grateful for anything that you can do. Please contact Mary Kay Gorman (marykay@owenandollies.com) at 978-375-2111 or Kristine Gorman (krisgorman35@gmail.com) at 978-609-3506 as well as any other family member if you would like to make arrangements to donate an item or to purchase tickets to the benefit.
Cash donations may be sent to: Lexi’s Fund, Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union, 1345 Lakeview Avenue, Dracut, MA 01826. Tax ID #27-0803254.

We cannot express how thankful we are for all the support and encouragement that Lexi’s family has received and if for some reason, it is not possible for you to support our effort at this time, we ask that you keep Lexi and her family in your thoughts and prayers as they get through this most difficult time in their lives.

Friday, November 13, 2009

School Committee's options

Warren Shaw has a pretty comprehensive column on the recent history of the School Committee in today's Valley Dispatch. He also advises the committee to conduct their search for a new superintendent in an open and transparent manner. It seems that when Elaine Espindle left, the applications for her replacement were mailed to the chairman's house (Ron Mercier I believe)!

Shaw also reminds us of the naming of Ken Martin as the head of the search committee and the perceived quid pro quo when DJ Deeb was then named to the search committee for the DHA executive director search. The eventual pick for the schools, Spencer Mullin, it is believed, was seen as Deeb's pick.

Anyway, it's a great column and a good run down of recent events. See it here.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

New website

State Rep. Colleen Garry has launched a new website. You can check it out here.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Where to begin

I missed the first hour of tonight's School Committee meeting as I was attending the Dracut Historical Society's presentation on African-Americans from Dracut who served in the Revolutionary War (which was fantastic by the way).

But, I did DVR the meeting and Dr. Linda Trouville made a speech at the beginning of the meeting volunteering to serve as an interim superintendent after Dr. Spencer Mullin retires in March. The school committee did not react to her speech but at the end of the meeting, Members Ron Mercier and Mike Miles thanked her for it. It's funny because she is exactly who I was thinking should serve as the interim head. She is a good, solid person who is very invested in the town and the schools. I can think of no better choice.

The big discussion was over a motion by Bonnie Elie to look into making the Athletic Director a full-time, administration position. I guess the current AD, Tim Woods, teaches in addition to his duties as AD. Mercier objected to this saying in these fiscal times it is not wise to be creating a new position, especially when things are going fine in the athletics department. Elie said it was only to look into this idea but Member Mike McNamara was concerned that her motion was all typed out and in memo format addressed to the Dracut School Committee. Elie said the memo was e-mailed to her the night before but didn't say who sent it to her. McNamara said he never got the memo and asked if this was something that was pre-planned. Chairman Matt Sheehan then gaveled him out of order.

In the end, the motion passed 3-2 with McNamara and Mercier voting no.

Later, Miles made a motion that directed the school's attorney to meet with Mullin's attorney to see if he would like to be released from his contract in 60 days, rather than 120. This did not pass but I got the impression Miles knows something as he kept asking Mullin if was going to stay on for the full 120 days, and if he truly wanted to stay, etc. Hmmmmmm....

The meeting was tense at times as Miles and Mercier knocked heads as did McNamara and Elie. But what impressed me is that they were all joking and talking afterwards and there was obvious no ill will. The Board of Selectmen should take note!

Mullin's not the only one

Today's Lowell Sun has a run down on the replacement process for Spencer Mullin as well as a report that a number of school superintendents are retiring around the state. There are currently 29 school districts in the state that are "in transition." Part of the reason so many are retiring is because the state recently changed the pension laws. Employees can only count their salaries towards their pensions (God forbid!).

The article also states that School Committee Chair Matthew Sheehan is not considering former superintendent Elaine Espindle as a temporary replacement although I hear a motion is going to be made tonight to bring her back.

See the whole article here.

1 year anniversary

Hard to believe but today is the 1 year anniversary of this blog. I started it because I wanted to devote some of my energy to local government and politics. I feel that too few people pay attention to their local government despite the fact that it impacts people's lives on a daily basis. I also want to help develop an interest in civic groups and pride.

I've had a lot of fun with this blog and have gotten to meet a lot of people. Not everyone agrees with my take on things and I've taken my share of lumps but that's politics. Thanks to everyone for reading and for your support.

Meetings this week

Every week I will list the public meetings of the week in the right hand column of this blog.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Looking good

Full disclosure from the top: I have appeared in the past as a guest on "Saturday Morning Live" on WCAP.

I must say we are very lucky here in Greater Lowell. Many middle size cities such as Lowell do not have a full service radio station plus a daily newspaper. As a local news and politics junkie, I love having these hyper local resources and hope they stay around for sometime. That's why its important to subscribe to the paper and visit the sponsors of the radio station.

Lately I've been listening to WCAP in the morning more often. I've been listening off and on since I moved to the area but over the past few months the first thing I put on in the car for the morning and afternoon commutes is WCAP. Unfortunately in the morning, I lose the signal pretty quickly as I get deep into Pelham but strangely it comes back in stronger around Londonderry. Coming home the signal is perfect since its daylight.

Since I can't listen all the time I wonder if the station would consider podcasting its content and putting it on their website. Oftentimes I hear the hosts talking about an upcoming segment that I'd really like to hear but I can't because I am at work. I know Tommy Duggan, who hosts a show on Saturdays, put his show up as a podcast on his website so the technology is there. Shawn Ashe does it at times for "Saturday Morning Live."

WCAP is a great resource and has a lot of content you really can't get anywhere else. As the new owners move into their third year, here's hoping the station continues to grow and more and more of its content is available on-line.

Great place to work...

Today's Boston Globe reveals the top 100 places to work in Massachusetts and Greater Lowell has some good representation.

Coming in at number 1 is Comcast which has a big office in Chelmsford, off on Rte. 3 Meanwhile, Enterprise Bank came in at 41 and Lowell General Hospital is 91.

See the whole list here.

I'm in the wrong field

So Spencer Mullin is retiring at the age of 58 and today's Sun had a story about a Greenmont Ave. School teacher who retired last month at the age of 57!

As a Catholic School teacher, me thinks public school teachers have it pretty darn good!

Bring back Elaine?

While I am sure former Superintendent of Schools Elaine Espindle would love to come back and serve as interim superintendent, my money says she stays retired. Espindle left the post last year after 10 years and after some tense moments with School Committee members, especially DJ Deeb. Certainly her coming back to save the day after Deeb's hand-picked successor, Spencer Mullin's, abrupt retirement and rocky time in office would be nothing more than satisfying for Espindle.

But, I don't think she'll do it, as does today's Column. The Sun did have an editorial last week calling for Espindle's return but school officials are saying it won't happen.

Too bad...would have been great theatre!

Thumbs Down

In this morning's Lowell Sun, the paper gives the town a thumbs down for not revealing the status of Dracut High Vice Principal Hank Golec. Golec is alleged to have sent into school security tapes to the MIAA in an attempt to get football coach Jeff Moore in trouble for having illegal summer practices. It turns out that the practices were open to all students so they were fine.

Since this came out, Golec has been out of work but no one knows the status of his employment or the investigation. The editorial in its entirety is below:

Dracut residents have a lot of questions regarding the lengthy absence of Dracut High School vice principal Hank Golec. They deserve some answers.

Golec has been absent for more than a month, but schools officials have revealed precious little information as to why. The Sun learned from sources that there is an investigation into allegations Golec was responsible for a breach in the school's security system and allegedly misused surveillance equipment at the high school.

Residents have been talking about the incident since September, but school officials refuse to disclose if Golec is on paid or unpaid administrative leave, or if he is taking sick or vacation time. Officials say they are protecting Golec's privacy.

Well, what about Dracut residents' right to know how their tax dollars are being spent? If they are funding an employee's administrative leave, they should be told.

It's time for Dracut school officials to be more forthcoming about this incident. Residents have a right to know what is happening in their school system.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Dracut's History

This morning on "Saturday Morning Live" Warren Shaw interviewed Lakeview Junior High teacher Rebecca Duda about Claypit Cemetery. I didn't catch all of it but for the past couple of weeks I've been getting more and more interested in Dracut's history. I visited the Dracut Historical Society on Sunday and could not believe the amount of artifacts they have. I want to go back and spend more time walking around and exploring, especially in the upstairs. One thing I learned is that Dracut had a big amusment park at one time, over near where St. Mary Magdalen Church is now.

In talking to the folks there they said they could use new members, especially younger ones. Membership is quite cheap ($5 I think) and they have some great talks and resources. They currently meet on the second Monday of the month at 7pm but they're moving to the second Sundays at 3pm beginning in January.

The building is open on Sundays from 1pm-3pm and is located at 1660 Lakeview Avenue, across from Hess Gas Station. As Shawn mentioned, they're having a talk this Monday, November 9, at 7pm on African Americans in Dracut. Duda will be giving the talk.

Dracut has a rich and long history, we should all learn more about it (especially newer residents like me) and also do what we can to preserve it.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Mullin speaks

Perhaps realizing that shutting out the Lowell Sun the other day was not a good idea, Dr. Spencer Mullin revealed a very personal side of him in today's paper. He said he is retiring as superintendent of schools because he wants to take care of his soon to be born grandchild. His son and daughter-in-law are expecting at the end of this month and Mullin will watch the baby during the day.

He said that the death of his father this past fall helped him put some perspective on life:

"I spent almost 37 years working and I missed a lot when my kids were growing up," said Mullin. "I've just spent so much time putting work first, so I thought to myself, this is a second chance."

As a teacher, I do know what he means. Teaching is not a Monday-Friday job, it is 24/7 with tons of nights and weekends. I love it, don't get me wrong, but there is a lot of work. This week alone I've had to work two nights, one night 4-8 and tonight 2-6. But, there is a trade off - summers, Christmas vacation, snow days, etc.

Anyway, I give Mullin credit and I wish he showed this side of himself during his tenure here. I do have some different views of him after reading the article and I wish him luck in the future.

Here is a taste:

Mullin has spent about 25 years of his more than 37 years in public education working in the Dracut school system as a teacher, principal and administrator.

The Hello, Dolly! poster hanging on the wall in his office is a testament to the days when he taught English and theater classes at the high school. The framed 1997 poster marks Mullin's success at bringing back annual Broadway musical student productions to the high school. His students gave him the poster, along with the framed tickets from the April 10, 11 and 12 performances and a folding director's chair with "Dr. Mullin" embroidered on the back.

Mullin said his father's death in September gave him a new perspective on life. Mullin had already lost his wife to lung cancer about 10 years earlier and at the time, the school system was also embroiled in an investigation over whether high-school Vice Principal Hank Golec had misused school surveillance equipment.

Mullin said he discussed the idea of retiring to care for his first grandchild with his father -- who also often served as his confidant -- before his death.

"This has been weighing on my mind," said Mullin.

In the end, Mullin said he chose to make his family a priority and is looking forward to baby-proofing his house. Said Mullin about his decision, "I couldn't be more delighted."


Thursday, November 5, 2009

More changes in Dracut

There must be something in the water. After a year in town, DATV Executive Director Steve Russo announced today that he is resigning effective November 27.

One cannot help but wonder if Videogate (i.e. the taping of the special meeting of the Board of Selectmen) had something to do with this decision as well as the board being brought before the selectmen a few months ago. Not only that, at the end of the latest selectmen meeting, Selectman James O'Loughlin brought something up about the need for a new board to oversee DATV. Perhaps Russo said there was enough politics and wanted out.

This is too bad because in the years I've lived in town I never thought DATV was reaching its full potential and I thought Russo could change things around.

He will be headed to Newton's public access station, see his e-mail below:

DATV members and friends,

I wanted announce my resignation as Executive Director from Dracut Access Television, effective 11/27/09.

This was not an easy decision to make on my part. The past year has been very rewarding. I've enjoyed working with you and managing a very successful studio.

I have accepted a position as Operation Manager of Newton Communications Access Center, NewTV, in Newton, Massachusetts. This opportunity gives me the chance to grow professionally and put my technical knowledge to further use.

I will miss the DATV team and members very much. Dave, Heather, and Chris are highly qualified professionals as well as really great people. However I am looking forward to this new challenge and to starting a new phase of my career.

I wish you all the best in your current and future video projects and hope you will all continue to make great TV.

Look me up next month at NewTV

www.newtv.org

Thank you,

Steve

Pushed or jumped?

I initially thought that Dr. Spencer Mullin was retiring as superintendent because the schools were looking for a graceful exit for him. But, today's Sun says that School Committee Chair Matthew Sheehan was shocked by Mullin's decision:

"I woke up this morning thinking today was going to be a good day, but then I got a resignation letter in my mailbox. We were finally starting to get on the straight and narrow and make progress. It's a complete curveball."

All of the committee members were caught off guard and the Sun seems to speculate that it was Mullin's negative comments in his annual review that made him want to leave. Member Bonnie Elie said the stress was probably not worth it for him anymore.

I saw Mullin at Town Meeting and noticed he looked down and would not look at anyone. He was talking to Dr. Trouville at the top of the stairs and when a group of people walked past him he turned around to avoid any contact with them, as if he was avoiding them. He did not seem happy and now it all makes sense. He had to know what he was going to do by that point.

Ironically, some of the most negative comments he received on his review were his poor communication. When the Sun showed up at his office yesterday to talk to him, his secretary told the reporter that he would not meet with her.

Guess the School Committee was on to something.





Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sheehan on Mullin

School Committee Chairperson Matthew Sheehan released the following statement on the retirement of Dr. Mullin:

As Chairman of the Dracut School Committee, I received a letter from Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Spencer Mullin indicating his intent to retire effective March 3, 2010.

Superintendent Mullin has held this position since July 1, 2008 and desires to enter into retirement in order to spend more time with family.

Dr. Mullin has ensured us that he will continue to work towards the goals that have been set forth for the betterment of the children in the Town of Dracut.

As a Board, we will continue to advocate for the students and parents of the Dracut community. In the upcoming months I ensure you that we will continue to work together for the best interest of our school system.

Please know that we anticipate a smooth transition as we now move forward towards the process of a new administration.

Mullin retiring

Breaking news from Shawn and the Lowell Sun: Spencer Mullin is retiring as the superintendent of the Dracut Public Schools.

Holy crap.

One has to wonder, however, if this was a "suggested" retirement. Mullin has not had a good tenure here and there was talk that Kevin Murphy, the school's lawyer, was meeting with him to try and convince him to gracefully exit. Guess this was it.

Mullin's contract runs through June 30, 2011 so he still has a good chunk of time left. When he leaves in March he will have about 16 months left. I can't seem to find how old he is but he doesn't appear to be near retirement age (unless he looks younger than he is). If he is older than 60 I'd be shocked. But, if he is still in his 50's and he is retiring after only a year, that may indeed tell us that he is being pushed out (or he saw the writing on the wall).

UPDATE: Found an article from last year. Said he graduated from Dracut High in 1969 which, if my math is correct, would make him 58.

Retiring at 58? Must be nice!

Mercier impact?

One of the incumbents to lose re-election in Lowell last night has a connection to School Committee Member Ron Mercier. His grandfather Armand came in 10th place last night to join Alan Kazanjian as one of the two incumbents to be ousted.

One has to wonder if this will impact Ron Mercier at all. He has a job with the city and the Mercier name is a little damaged. However, I don't think it will have much of an impact. Ron just got re-elected and isn't up for another election until 2011 so there is time. But, you can't help but wonder.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Looking good

Breaking news out of Tyngsboro: Town Administrator Rosemary Cashman is retiring on January 2. This comes a day after she admonished the Board of Selectmen for the hemorrhaging of personnel in town as well as them not hiring Kerry Colburn-Dion as the town's treasurer.

I have lived in Dracut for four and a half years. During that time Dracut has had one town manager - Dennis Piendak. In fact, he's been in that job for over 20 years. Yet in the short amount of time that I have lived in Dracut, the following towns/cities have experienced changes in town/city managers:

1. Lowell
2. Chelmsford
3. Billerica (twice)
4. Tewksbury
5. Tyngsboro
6. Westford
7. Pepperell

Notice a geographical pattern? We're the only city or town to have stable leadership at the top in the Merrimack Valley. Is it any surprise that we also have decent finances, no lay offs, no major cuts in services, etc? To all the naysayers out there things are looking good to me. If we're going to compare sewer rates in Chelmsford and Tewksbury to Dracut perhaps we should also compare town managers. But, there is no comparison.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Ho hum

As promised, tonight's Town Meeting was rather uneventful. The town did appropriate $2.1 m for the Greater Lowell Vocational School after delaying this from the June meeting. This is $127,000 less than the original request as the school will not charge for transportation.

Town Manager Dennis Piendak threw a quick jab in saying that funding for Greater Lowell is increasing over last year (2.83%) whereas "everyone else is making cuts." The Dracut Public Schools, by comparison, had their budget cut by 3.88%. Piendak did also point out, however, that the town's appropriations for employee benefits, pensions, etc, did increase 6.17%!

The only major contentious issue was a motion to increase the fee for new homes to be tied into the town's sewer system from $5,000 to $7,500. Selectman James O'Loughlin argued that this motion should be delayed until June so the Sewer Commission could explain it more. He also feared that it would hurt new construction (i.e. jobs). Selectman John Zimini argued in favor of it saying if this fee isn't increased, the existing ratepayers will pay more in fees (he was the only selectman to vote for its approval as well). Finance Chair Gary Marsella and Water Commissioner Bill Morin also spoke in favor - the typical political alignment in town. In the end, the fee increased passed overwhelmingly.

There was some political theater as one Barbara Dickinson stood up and complained about people disparaging the condition of Louisburg Square. She is a resident of the building and said she is upset people are referring to it as a "slumlord" {sic}. Selectman Bob Cox stood up and clapped after she spoke and also stood up to vote no on rescinding the funding for the project (which failed as well). I am sure this speech was heartfelt but one wonders if she was asked to speak.

All in all, the meeting was quick and painless. Moderator Gary McCarthy did a great job and the meeting was over in less than an hour. Good job to all involved, especially the voters for showing up and excercisng their right.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Dracut's Preserve

At last week's Board of Selectmen meeting, a brochure highlighting the seven areas of Open Space in Dracut was introduced. You can pick up the brochure around town but it's also on the town's website. See it here and check these places out.

Town Meeting Tomorrow


In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression -- everywhere in the world...

Since the beginning of our American history, we have been engaged in change -- in a perpetual peaceful revolution -- a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly adjusting itself to changing conditions -- without the concentration camp or the quick-lime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society.

This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women; and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.

To that high concept there can be no end save victory.

-President Franklin Roosevelt

Not coming to Dracut

There was a cryptic line in an article on the Wilmington Housing Authority last week. It said that the town's executive director, Theresa Georgopoulos, was "taking a post in Dracut." But, Dracut Housing Authority Director Mary Karabatsos tells today's Lowell Sun that Georgopoulos is not coming to work for the DHA. In fact, the Sun says she may actually going to work in Tyngsboro.

So much for that.

Going to happen?

Town Clerk Kathleen Graham (one of the best public servants in the Merrimack Valley) tells today's Lowell Sun that she is concerned tomorrow's Town Meeting won't get a quorum. In order for Town Meeting to take place, 250 (or 1.5% of registered voters) must show up. With only 8 articles on the warrant, one of which is moot (Louisburg Square) and another which I believe will be delayed until June, there isn't a lot to discuss.

The biggest issues seem to be a request to transfer $315,000 to cover snow removal deficit and approval of $2.4m for Greater Lowell Technical High School. You may recall that at the June meeting, voters approved an appropriation of $0 since the school was asking for a major increase despite the poor economy and a perception that the school had a savings account in the millions. The school, however, has agreed not to charge the town for transportation.

But, light agenda or heavy agenda, there is no excuse for not exercising your democratic right. We are the legislative branch of our town and when we abdicate that right, we let others make decisions for us. Remember, you cannot complain if you don't vote!