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Disparity In State Reimbursement For Transportation Costs Irks Dracut School Committee

May 24, 2017 11:34AM ● By Andrew Sylvia

The matter of vocational school transportation reimbursement drew concerns from the Dracut School Committee during their May 22 meeting.

Discussion on the matter began with answers to three questions posed to Dracut School Department superintendent Steven Stone regarding why vocational schools such as Greater Lowell Technical High School receive state reimbursement for transportation costs and non-vocational school districts, such as in Dracut, do not.

In the three answers, Stone explained to the committee that vocational schools receive full reimbursement for transportation costs of all students living more than 1.5 miles from the vocational schools under state law. Additionally, he explained how under state regulations, vocational schools may set enrollment criteria for prospective students, while public school districts may not.

Of $1.586 million available in transportation reimbursement to Greater Lowell Technical High School in the prior fiscal year, the Commonwealth awarded $1.18 million.

This disparity between vocational and non-vocational school districts frustrated School Committee member Betsy Murphy.

“I’m having a really hard time swallowing the fact that regional school systems have the ability to have over a million dollars reimbursed to them for transportation costs and we have to charge fees to our students,” said Murphy. “That drives me nuts."

Other members of the board shared this view, although each member speaking on the subject indicated that they did not oppose to the concept of vocational schools, only this inequity in transportation reimbursement.

Stone noted that part of the reasoning for reimbursement came due to higher transportation costs levied by the vocational schools, with Greater Lowell’s transportation costs per pupil being more than double Dracut’s $340 amount.

However, that figure did not draw sympathy from members of the committee on the issue, due in large part to the fact that the Town of Dracut pays over $5 million each year to send Dracut students to Greater Lowell and Greater Lowell is seeking to expand its faculty while Dracut is struggling with staffing issues.

The School Committee took no action regarding the issue and they were unclear on addressing the inequity. In the meantime, School Committee chairman Joe Wilkie believed the issue needed more awareness in the community moving forward.

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