News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, March 29, 2018
Penobscot voters discuss, pass school budget

Town Meeting wraps up

Penobscot residents voted on school warrant articles on March 27.

Photo by Tevlin Schuetz Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Tevlin Schuetz

After one rescheduling due to misprints in the original school warrant and further postponement due to uncooperative weather, Town Meeting finally wrapped up on the evening of March 27.

Around 30 voters pushed through a school budget for 2018-19 totaling $1,879,806, an increase of roughly $42,614 or 2.32 percent over this school year’s budget.

“The board has worked hard to keep this budget down,” Union 93 Superintendent Mark Hurvitt said.

There will be six additional Penobscot student high school tuitions to cover next year, and safety upgrades to the school building need to be addressed, Hurvitt explained.

“It’s pretty much a maintenance budget,” he said.

Penobscot Selectman Harold Hatch raised concern over warrant article 3, which allocates $94,483 for school system administration and the Union 93 main office.

Hurvitt explained that Penobscot’s actual share is $91,706, which is 16.25 percent of the total bill shared by the union schools, which is about $537,000.

“So it costs half a million dollars to administer what goes on in the district?” Hatch asked.

“Five schools. Yes,” Hurvitt replied.

Hatch inquired whether the number can be changed in Town Meeting or if it was set as is.

Hurvitt explained that the budget was approved at a December meeting by the Union 93 Board, on which all five Penobscot school board members sit. The public is invited to attend that meeting as well as a union budget preview meeting in November, both of which are held at Penobscot Community School.

The union budget—which rose by 2.02 percent, Hurvitt said—covers eight employees: the superintendent, the special education director, a curriculum coordinator, a tech coordinator, a business manager, an accounts payable and human resources manager, and two secretaries. It also includes administration building costs, office supplies, contingency and other expenditures.

When Hatch asked about voter input in the Union 93 budget process, Hurvitt explained that Maine state law dictates that the elected members of the separate school boards compose the union board and must review, change and approve the budget in November and December. Member schools have to adhere to the cost-sharing formula, which fluctuates per school based on enrollment.

“It frustrates me that we’re spending $90,000 and the general taxpayers of the community have absolutely no say over that,” Hatch said. “It’s like having Town Meeting with only five people. Those five people vote to spend that much money over the whole town.”

After more conversation, Hurvitt encouraged the public to attend Union 93 meetings, adding that one is scheduled for Tuesday, April 10, at Penobscot Community School, at 5:30 p.m.

At Hurvitt’s suggestion, a motion adjusting the warrant article for total expenditure down by $20 (to reflect a small change in accounting) was approved, and the last few articles were passed.

School board member Fred Briehl spoke in support of the school before the final vote:

“We had a peat industry. It’s gone. We had a cannery here. That’s gone. We had brick manufacturing business here. That’s gone. We had a nursing home here. That’s gone. I’m concerned about the future of Penobscot. What is the most valuable asset remaining in Penobscot? It’s our school…. The most valuable asset we have are our kids…. The future of Penobscot depends on it.”

The meeting concluded 39 minutes after it began.

School board chairman

School board chairman Gerry Markley shares his perspective.

Photo by Tevlin Schuetz
Town Meeting wraps up

Penobscot residents voted on school warrant articles on March 27.

Photo by Tevlin Schuetz
Taking questions

Superintendent Mark Hurvitt listens to a citizen’s question about the budget.

Photo by Tevlin Schuetz

Sherm Hutchins kept things moving, reprising his role as moderator.

Photo by Tevlin Schuetz