New class dues system among changes passed by North Stonington school board

North Stonington - Just prior to what effectively became a rally for Wheeler High during a public hearing of a petition to close the school, the Board of Education passed several new measures during its regular meeting Wednesday night.

A new class dues system, proposed by high school Principal Chris Sandford, will take effect beginning the next school year thanks to board members' unanimous passage. From sixth grade through senior year, students will now be asked to contribute $20 each school year to go toward covering the cost of senior-year activities such as the class trip to Block Island and prom.

Sandford said this system, which he officially pitched to board members during their last meeting, is a bid to eliminate fundraisers that place the onus on the same small group of parents and students year to year.

While the original proposal called for each student to pay $15 per year, board members Darren Robert and Chris Hundt asked that the amount be raised to $20 to accommodate anticipated rising costs over the next few years.

These dues will not be mandatory, as per state law. Sandford has said any student who cannot afford his or her dues can request that the school cover the cost.

The board also passed revisions to existing policies on use of the school district's credit card and mileage and travel reimbursement.

These revisions come after former Superintendent Natalie Pukas paid the town $18,491 in a settlement agreement earlier this year after being accused of misusing the school district credit card in her name during her tenure. Pukas retired in June, and an audit of her usage revealed a number of expenditures not district-related.

Board Chairman Bob Testa has said plans to implement revisions had been in the works before the release of the audit report in August.

While Testa said the policies don't include any demonstrable changes, what was once a single document has been split into two separate policies - one for credit card use and one for reimbursement - and expanded upon to more explicitly adopt IRS standards and guidelines in order to avoid future misunderstanding.

Superintendent Peter Nero also announced the retirement of school district business manager Chuck McCarthy, who will be leaving his position of 12 years next June.

Nero praised McCarthy for his work and for helping Nero with his transition into becoming superintendent this past summer.

"Coming to a new school district is never easy," Nero said at the meeting, "and he has certainly helped me at every step."

a.isaacs@theday.com

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