News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, February 11, 2021
Winter carnival, budget update highlight Penobscot School Board meeting

by Eli Forman

On Monday, February 8, the Penobscot School board held its monthly meeting, where members discussed school status and events with Principal Jay Corbin and heard a brief budget report from Superintendent Mark Hurvitt.

Head of George Stevens Academy Tim Seeley was also present and gave a brief update on GSA’s programs throughout the current semester.

“So far we’re off to a pretty good start in 2021,” Corbin told board members.

Corbin further informed the board that a donated generator should be installed in early March, pending the arrival of a transfer switch.

He also updated the board on several school events, including a socially distanced winter carnival complete with sledding, fire pits, s’mores and hot chocolate and the ongoing success of intramural skills and drills basketball practice.

The winter carnival will take place on Friday, February 12, marking the week before February break between the 14th and 18th.

“We’re in person, we’re past the midway point in the school year,” concluded Corbin.

Board member Charles Brenton asked whether all the extra safety precautions have resulted in fewer instances of seasonal illnesses, such as colds and flu, circulating among students and staff. “Have we seen, reflected in school attendance, less other types of illnesses?” Brenton asked.

Corbin responded that school has recorded less absences due to seasonal illness but also noted that due to the heightened level of COVID symptom awareness, there have been additional absences for things that students would otherwise have come to school with, such as a simple runny nose.

Union 93 Superintendent Mark Hurvitt then updated board members on the status of the 2020-21 budget.

“It’s running down in a normal fashion,” said Hurvitt, noting that approximately 47.81 percent of the budget has so far been spent, with $924,439 remaining for the rest of the school year.

Penobscot Finance Committee member Audrey Bradford was also present at the meeting and requested that when the school board makes a capital expense, which she further specified as “your refrigerator, your windows, your buses, those big ticket items,” that they be either taken out of a reserve account or be placed on a separate article in that year’s school budget.

She claimed that this makes interpreting the budget easier, as the major cost centers are distinctly visible rather than being rolled into larger areas.

Board members acknowledged the request, but expressed reservations that money spent from a reserve account can only be spent by town vote and not on an emergent basis by board vote, and further that reserve accounts are not necessarily meant for things like windows, but rather long term, planned expenses and growth areas for the school, akin to investments rather then liquid cash.

The conversation concluded with the board directing Hurvitt to look into state guidelines on the issue, and members plan to take up the matter again at the next meeting in March.

Finally, GSA Head of School Tim Seeley outlined the several hybrid and online programs GSA has under way in order to best meet the twin aims of maintaining a substantive learning environment and providing for the safety of students and families.

A brief discussion of the ongoing tuition issue followed, with Seeley and board members agreeing that progress in the area of GSA’s financial transparency and representation of the seven sending towns has been made.

The next meeting of the GSA Financial Planning Advisory Committee, a committee which brings town representatives and the GSA board of trustees together to discuss the financial future of the institution, will be held on February 22.