News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, October 15, 2020
Out with the old, in with the new
Penobscot Elementary School gets a new bus

by Eli Forman

Students at Penobscot Elementary School can look forward to a new ride this winter as the school will soon be receiving a brand new bus.

At its monthly meeting on October 13, the Penobscot School Board voted unanimously to accept Union 93 Superintendent Mark Hurvitt’s proposal to acquire a new, 2021 77-passenger Thomas Built school bus from W.C. Cressey and Son in Kennebunk.

According to Hurvitt, the cost of the bus is completely covered by Coronavirus Relief funds provided by the state and requires no spending from the school budget.

The school received an additional $92,000 in CRF funding on October 9 that according to Hurvitt has to be “committed” by Thursday, October 15.

“My first thought when we got all this money was a new bus and I think [the principal] felt the same way,” said Hurvitt.

The total cost of the new bus arrives at $89,913, leaving around $2,500 in remaining CRF funding.

“This will be basically a free bus,” said Hurvitt.

Once the deal is finalized, said Hurvitt, Penobscot should expect the bus to enter service possibly in November but at the latest by December 30.

The new bus will replace Penobscot’s current spare bus, a 2001 model with over 200,000 miles that will continue to require extensive body work and maintenance to remain road-worthy, said Hurvitt.

“It’s going to cost you a lot of money every year to get that bus on the road,” Hurvitt told the board, adding “it’s just a losing proposition.”

The old bus will be given to the Penobscot select board to dispose of as they see fit, the first one out of all the previous buses that have ended their serviceable life at Penobscot Elementary that can actually be driven down to the town office, said Hurvitt.

“They can raise chickens in it,” quipped chairman Jerry Markley.

Penobscot currently has $30,000 in a bus reserve account, which Hurvitt recommended the board maintain at its current level without adding any funds for the eventual purchase of the next bus once the new one runs its course.

“That’s a good, healthy thing to build on,” he said.

In other news, the board heard representatives from George Stevens Academy explain their intended request for $1,000 in additional tuition over the state mandated amount for the 2021-22 school year.

GSA board members Deborah Ludlow and Brendan Reay presented to the board the financial necessity behind their request, citing the decline in the boarding program and rising program costs as major contributing factors.

“We can’t continue to sustain the cuts that we’ve made in the places that we’ve made them for very long,” said Ludlow.

In response, Penobscot board member Charles Brenton expressed concern over the cumulative cost of deferred maintenance on GSA’s campus and asked Ludlow and Reay to provide specific numbers quantifying the “major fiscal challenges not talked about in the [explanation].”

“We could be in a lot worse trouble in the future,” said Brenton, adding “we could be asking the town to put money into this now and have the whole thing fail in five years.”

Ludlow and Reay pointed to other potential sources of revenue for GSA, such as more aggressive fundraising and an attempted revival of the moribund boarding program.

GSA is our last best hope for our own high school on the peninsula, but it’s a decision the towns have to make,” said Ludlow.