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Penobscot
Originally published in Castine Patriot, January 30, 2014
Penobscot School board approves 2014-15 budget
Up 6.3 percent; Hutchins votes “no”

by Anne Berleant

Despite cutting a $2,500 hi-tech “smart” board and reducing a summer literacy camp program from three to two weeks, the Penobscot school budget for 2014-15 stands at $1,683,416—a $100,632 or 6.3 percent increase from the current year.

The board approved the budget 4-1 with member Carla Hutchins voting against its passage, after first voting on motions to reduce the summer program (approved 5-0) and to restore one day of technology (4-1, Hutchins). Principal Allen Cole had requested a second day of contracted technology services, at a cost of $6,600, but Superintendent Mark Hurvitt cut it in an earlier version of the budget.

“I feel it’s unfortunate we have technology we can’t utilize,” Cole said. “We’re scraping by.” A second day of technology services, he continued, would mean the new PC laptops and the older Apple laptops could be maintained, and teachers would be better able to learn and use existing technology. “Right now, we’re not even taking care of the problems.”

“If it can be justified at town meeting, I’m for putting it in,” said Chairman Jerry Markley.

The bulk of the budget hike is a result of costs beyond the school board’s control. First, there is a $33,492 or 7.15 percent increase in high school tuition. Second, like all Union 93 schools, there are fixed increased in teacher health insurance costs (estimated at 10 percent or $8,057), a state-mandated increase in teacher retirement contribution ($9,437 from $3,452), and new legislation requiring retirement contribution to private high school teacher retirement ($6,051) for George Stevens Academy. Special education costs sit at $105,461, a $10,567 or 11.1 percent increase.

The budget shows a steep increase in elementary education of $58,298 or 19.5 percent because the board requested that teaching Principal Allen Cole’s salary be split between that budget line and the principal budget line. As a result, the principal office line overall shows a $44,175 or 33.9 percent decrease.

The board earlier approved a 2 percent raise for staff salaries and $16,403 in teacher raises per negotiated contract.

Separate warrant articles will ask to increase the school bus reserve by $15,000 and the building repairs reserve by $10,000—after the board voted 5-0 to increase it from the proposed $7,000. The board also voted 5-0 to cut its request for $2,312 for the parking lot reserve fund.

If the school bus reserve article is approved, the account will hold $30,000 towards the approximately $65,000 cost of a new bus. The board plans to ask for $35,000 at the 2015 town meeting to enable the purchase.

Town meeting convenes on Monday, March 3, for elections, with warrant articles on Tuesday, March 4, at 7 p.m. This year, school articles will be heard first, followed by municipal articles.

Next meeting

Penobscot School Board, Monday, February 10, 6 p.m., at the school