GROTON -- The Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee opened the new academic year by meeting with the executive director of the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative.
Chris Scott met with the committee to explain the new environment at MSEC following financial abuses at the collaborative by its former administration.
Those abuses centered around MSEC's former director who is accused of taking advantage of his position at the collaborative as well as that of the Merrimack Education Center to siphon funds to a girlfriend, cousins, friends and colleagues.
As much as $11.5 million was misappropriated from the state-funded coffers, money intended for the education of children.
Following exposure of the abuses, many member school districts voted to remove themselves, including Groton-Dunstable.
Since then, Scott was appointed as MSEC's new executive director and she immediately began to make changes in the organization including those covering fiscal issues, transportation and curriculum.
With that process concluded, Scott has been making the rounds of former board members to persuade them to rejoin the collaborative.
"The focus will be on educating students," Scott has said of the collaborative's new streamlined budget. "We want to concentrate on high quality programming conducted in a fiscally sound way."
To that end, the recently closed Parker Elementary School building in Dracut has been acquired by the collaborative and opened for business.
At the Sept. 11 meeting of the School Committee, Scott's visit went smoothly, but ended with a decision by members to wait until Oct. 23 to take a final vote on whether to rejoin the collaborative's board.
So far, said Scott, five out of nine former board members have agreed to return.
Also at the School Committee's meeting of Sept. 11 members:
* Voted to approve what has become an annual trip to the United Nations by students involved with the district's Big Book project. According to fifth-grade teacher Betsy Sawyer, the trip will involve 20 students over Sept. 17-18. As in past years, the students will join their peers from around the country and the world for a day of presentations, meetings with UN officials, and talk about their big book of peace project. What has proven to be a years-long project by students who began it in elementary school and who have since gone on to high school, the Big Book is nearing its conclusion with work progressing by UMass Lowell students on a robotic arm that would automatically turn the book's oversized pages. The pages themselves have been carefully stored in tubes for future re-assembly. Sawyer said that although many institutions including the UN have offered to take the book for permanent display, the hope of students has always been that it would go on tour around the country.
* Received a report from the district's new director of technology Andrew Marcinek who gave a rundown of his inventory of the schools' technology. Earlier in the year, residents voted to award the district $325,000 for the purchase of new technology for the schools. But at the time, many wondered how the district knew what to spend it on without an expert to conduct a survey of the schools and tell them. The district solved that problem when it hired Marcinek who will submit his recommendations on Oct. 9. During his report at the Sept. 11 meeting, Marcinek mentioned a number of possible options for technology in the future such as a closed email system that would allow students and teachers to communicate with each other but no one else ... including parents. The fact that all the email traffic would be saved for up to seven years raised concerns with committee member John Giger who expressed wariness about the district having access to private communications over such a long period. Marcinek later explained that such archiving was common practice in order to have a record should any questions arise about improper communication between a teacher and students.