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Originally published in Castine Patriot, December 12, 2013
Next year’s school budget talks begin; freeze likely for current budget

A first draft of the 2014-15 budget reviewed by the school committee on December 9 showed a 5.3 percent or $84,207 increase, resulting in a $1,666,991 preliminary total.

“I know that’s too much money,” said Superintendent Mark Hurvitt. “That doesn’t mean that’s where it’s going to land.”

A special budget meeting is scheduled for Thursday, December 19, at 7 p.m.

The preliminary draft includes $2,500 for a smart board, $6,200 for a second day of technical support, $1,500 for a summer literacy camp and $10,000 towards a new school bus.

Penobscot has two buses, one purchased in 2010 and one in 2001. The latter has traveled over 159,000 miles and leaks oil.

“It’s getting up there,” said Hurvitt.

Bus driver Glen Ashe is waiting for an estimate on repairing the oil leaks. As it stands, the bus won’t pass inspection, he said, but is not a safety hazard.

Besides the leaks, Ashe said the bus is in “reasonably good condition.”

Currently, $15,000 sits in a bus reserve account. A new bus costs about $60,000, and Hurvitt proposed using the reserve as a down payment, and paying the loan off at $10,000 per year if “we want to start down that road.”

Penobscot citizens “traditionally do not like to finance,” said Chairman Jerry Markley.

If a new bus is not purchased, additional money should be budgeted for repairs, Hurvitt said. The draft holds $13,000 in the bus repair line, up from $10,000 last year.

A summary of the current year’s accounts showed $8,764 spent on bus repairs so far this year.

Ashe said the older bus was good for “another year or two.”

Markley suggested creating a warrant to add money to the bus reserve account, “if the bus is good for another year.”

However, he reminisced about his daughter’s first year at Penobscot school, when one bus served about 200 students. “Only the front brakes worked…I don’t want to go back to that.”

Principal Allen Cole described the $2,500 smart board as an “educational tool” that allows classes to participate in interactive activities.

At 4’x5’, “it looks like a big, flat screen,” he said.

Most local schools have purchased at least one in recent years. “We haven’t asked before because it’s still one of those things [where] prices are going down,” Cole said.

The summer literacy camp, which ran in union schools for three weeks this year and was funded by grants, was a success that should be repeated, according to curriculum coordinator Rachel Kohrman Ramos. She will seek grants to fund it for 2014; the $1,500 budgeted for the camp is to ensure that the camp will be held if no grant is awarded.

Cole said a second day of tech support is needed at the school.

“I agree with it,” said Hurvitt.

Most budget lines are either flat or see a slight increase, except for special education, which is budgeted at $125,668, a 3.4 percent or $4,178 increase, and operations and maintenance, budgeted at $123,876, a $3,964 or 3.3 percent increase.

A summary of accounts showing “where we are at this point in the year,” has special education exceeding its $121,489 budget by $9,100, Hurvitt said. A transfer from a “healthy” line will be needed to balance it come June; because it is over budget by more than 5 percent, the transfer must be approved at a special town meeting.

While no other category appears to be significantly over “at this point,” Hurvitt said a budget freeze was likely in the months ahead.

“There’s not much money in this budget…I think everyone knows that. It’s very, very tight.”

In other business, the $6,000-plus raised by the Chris K5K will be spent “over time,” under the guidance of a committee being formed, said Cole. “We hope it to be an annual event.”

Board members unanimously approved a new bullying policy that satisfies new state requirements and is identical to policies adopted this month at all Union 93 schools.

They also approved five George Stevens Academy swim team members to ride the bus to Maine Maritime Academy for practices.

Cole also reported that the school emergency plan is being reviewed by Chief Deputy Dick Bishop of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office. The plan should be ready for board vote next month, he said.

“Something will happen by January, hopefully,” said Hurvitt.