Millinocket council, school board hope to clear the air with meeting

Posted Jan. 06, 2012, at 8:43 p.m.

MILLINOCKET, Maine — The Millinocket School Committee’s new chairman, Kevin Gregory, wants to have a clear-the-air meeting with the Town Council over school finances, he said Friday.

Town Manager Eugene Conlogue was polling council members on Friday to see whether they could attend a school board meeting at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 17, at Stearns High School. In an email to councilors sent Thursday, Conlogue said the meeting would concern “property taxes and Sudden and Severe Impact funds” — money state government typically gives municipalities as compensation for drastic property tax losses.

But Gregory said he hopes the scope of the conversation will be much wider.

“We want to talk about everything — our budget [now], our process coming up. It’s not just about that,” Gregory said Friday, referring to the disposition of the state funds. “I want to be able to get along with them. We have to have communication. If we don’t have that, we are just going to be barking at one another. Both boards want what’s best for our children and our townspeople.”

“As long as we do it respectfully, I will allow discussion back and forth. If there is going to be name-calling, I am going to end it,” Gregory added.

Council members have expressed concerns most recently about the sudden resignation of school board Chairman Arnold Hopkins on Dec. 21 and the conditions under which it occurred.

Hopkins had most recently made the news by saying school leaders had instituted a spending freeze in anticipation of a predicted $140,000 to $150,000 shortfall caused partly by the school system’s failure to meet its goals for tuition-paying Chinese students at Stearns High School.

School board members reportedly were upset that Hopkins spoke about his estimates without permission from others on his board. Board members also questioned whether the schools should have received about $150,000 in Sudden and Severe Impact money rather than town government. Millinocket received the money because of the devaluation of the town paper mill over the past year.

School board members want to know “where the money belongs,” Gregory said. At the Jan. 17 meeting, the board might also discuss Hopkins’ replacement, whom the Town Council is supposed to name, but Gregory said it’s not an issue he plans to raise personally.

Gregory was named Hopkins’ replacement last week, with board members voting also to name Michael Jewers the board’s vice chairman, Gregory said.

Both boards have struggled with shrinking budgets and state and federal aid, declining school enrollments and the region’s economic struggles over the last several years. Under the town charter, the school board directs school policy and the council allocates funding to schools through the board.

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