News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, January 30, 2020
Penobscot School Board endorses GSA proposal
Financial transparency letter to be sent

by Eli Forman

The topic at the Penobscot School Board’s budget meeting on January 28 inevitably focused on George Stevens Academy, and after serious discussion, members voted unanimously to support the passage of GSA’s updated tuition request in the upcoming Town Meeting warrant.

The board’s endorsement, which will be included in the town report, comes on the heels of their previous meeting on January 21, during which members unanimously voted to include GSA’s request as an article in the Town Meeting warrant. The success of the article is contingent upon the approval of the other six sending towns, Blue Hill, Brooklin, Brooksville, Castine, Sedgwick and Surry.

GSA’s proposal, which asks for $300 more per student in the insured value factor, has continued to meet resistance despite being less than the initial requests.

“It’s not the money, it’s the principle,” said Audrey Bradford, chairman of the Penobscot finance committee.

The board also plans to draft a letter to GSA to address its lack of financial transparency with regards to their continued requests for increased tuition. This letter will be signed by all members of the board and sent directly to GSA.

When asked for a copy of the letter, board chairman Jerry Markley declined to provide it, stating that he considers it to be a private correspondence with GSA, and ultimately up to their discretion whether to release it.

In the discussion leading up to the vote of support, members of the board were clear that endorsing passing the warrant article was more about continuing the process rather than accepting GSA’s request at face value.

“I’m going to support this; however, if we get a really negative reaction from the letter that we’re throwing out there, I’ll vote against it at the town meeting,” said board member Charles Brenton.

“I feel…we’re offering them something, but they’re tied to the fact when we give them this letter they’ve got to give us something back,” said Markley. “That’s my intent at supporting this.”

Penobscot currently sends 19 students to GSA.

In other business, the board passed the final version of the 20-21 school budget with input from members of the town finance committee who were in attendance.

The budget, which is up 3.89 percent or $72,372 from last year, will be presented at the town meeting for a final vote of approval.

A total of $1,933,223 is requested, and a balance forward from last year of $178,438 will be applied to help mitigate the tax burden on the town.