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Proposed School Tech Upgrades Spark Selectmen Divide

Sep 29, 2016 03:53PM ● By Mary Hart

Courtesy of

This week’s Dracut Board of Selectmen meeting covered a number of topics, yet the one that caused contention was a request for support for technology upgrades in the school system.

Dracut Superintendent of Schools, Steven Stone, came before the Board of Selectmen to discuss the MassIT/DESE Grant/Loan program, which would be utilized to upgrade the technology in Dracut schools. Stone’s technology upgrade plan was developed in August of 2012 with contingencies to support the town of Dracut as well with the upgrade.

A technology upgrade is important with the Massachusetts Department of Education’s planned transition to statewide computer-based testing (CBT), starting in Spring of 2017 in grades 4 and 8 for English (ELA) and Math.

Stone’s technology upgrade plan has the schools moving away from coaxial cable to fibre optic technology with all new switching and wireless access points (WAP). It will also include a new Voice over Internet phone system, to prevent further outages and the ability to communicate directly with the front offices from each teacher’s classroom and vice versa.

“Not having this upgrade is a bottleneck for educational opportunities for our students,” said Stone. “All students deserve the same opportunity and education that our neighboring communities have with upgraded technology.”

Such an upgrade would cost roughly $1.092 million and would include:

  • Fibre Optic Cabling

  • Edge and Core Switching

  • Wireless Access Points

  • VoIP Phone System

Stone noted that the grant/loan program he wants to apply for would not cover the Voice over Internet phone system, which would be an additional $315K. He was in front of the Board of Selectmen to ask for their support for the application for the grant/loan program, although it wasn’t certain that the grant would be won.

Town Manager James Duggan stated that he felt it was a good time to make this one-time expenditure, because there is a tremendous need for the upgrade and the town is in a good position to take a good chunk out of that investment with seed money. He added that the initial seed dollars would be $200K and that the Tech Stabilization Fund wouldn’t be used just for school, but the upgrades would also benefit the town as well.

Selectman Anthony Archinski concurred, saying “It’s not a tough job to show us this upgrade is needed in this day and age.”

However, Selectman Joseph DiRocco, Jr. had a concern, as he felt they would lose the trust of the taxpayers after asking for an override for this just four months prior, and now the money needed is there.

DiRocco added, “Why didn’t we see this coming in four months’ time? It makes us look like fools crying for the override four months ago and now we have the money. I supported the override and now it looks like the ballot didn’t mean anything.”

Duggan stated that a 6% increase was anticipated, but the excise tax came in higher. Plus, there have been 55 new homes and solar panels that came in within the past four months, adding to the money now being available.  

Selectman Alison Hughes supported the request, saying “This is a good opportunity to make investments in town at a non-recurring cost that we can’t normally do."

DiRocco finished his non-support of the request by stating that he didn’t like only just hearing about this cost now with the ask for the override being just four months ago.

Selectmen Hughes, Tami Dristiliaris, Archinski, and Jesse Forcier all voted to support the technology upgrade grant/loan motion. DiRocco was the sole person in non-agreement to the motion.
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