Millinocket schools to welcome new superintendent, face drastic budget cuts

Posted June 30, 2014, at 2:50 p.m.
Last modified June 30, 2014, at 8:28 p.m.

MILLINOCKET, Maine — School leaders will welcome their new superintendent, push for closing Granite Street School next year and hope to finish their 2014-15 school budget when they meet Tuesday, officials said.

New Superintendent Frank Boynton will replace departing Superintendent Kenneth Smith and attend his first meeting at 4 p.m. at Stearns High School, according to Michael Jewers, school board chairman. Smith announced his resignation on Dec. 4, saying he would not renew his contract, which lapses Tuesday.

The 62-year-old Boynton, who will earn $61,000 annually working three days per week, said Tuesday that he is “just working now to get a good handle on the budget. I have put in several work days already to try to identify the budget pieces and find out exactly what the numbers are.”

Boynton’s goal is “to really set here and get a handle on the position and the things that are going on,” he added. “I want to try to get a resolution to as many things as I can.”

Boynton, who previously served in several school systems, including SAD 40 (Warren area), Union 132 (Jefferson, Whitefield and Chelsea), and as a principal in Durham and Steuben, was hired to begin July 1 with a 3-2 board vote on May 20. Board members Matthew Farrington and Kevin Gregory opposed in what Jewers called “a difficult decision” between “two very capable people,” according to the meeting minutes.

The school budget might be Boynton’s biggest task. The Millinocket School Committee has already cut $237,000 out of the proposed budget for the new fiscal year, which begins Tuesday, and hopes to cut as much as $300,000 more when they meet, Jewers said. The $237,000 cut reduces the budget to about $6.1 million, the same level at which the 2013-14 budget was set, he said.

“We are going to try to push the closing of Granite Street,” Jewers said Friday. “That’s the big item.

“I would have to say that we are behind [on the school budget] right now, but we aren’t going to get answers in from the state on [state funding to town schools] until the second week of July,” Jewers added. “But we are still going to try to make cuts.”

Town Council members chided the board for not having a finished budget submitted to them during the council’s first budget public hearing on Thursday. Councilors recommended in late May that the school board cut $300,000 from the 2014-15 budget because of the loss of papermaking equipment owned by Great Northern Paper Co. LLC, the town’s largest single taxpayer.

During Thursday’s meeting, councilors said that the school committee has had enough time to make cuts. The town’s property tax rate, $29.95 per thousand in valuation, would rise beyond 30 mills if the board didn’t cut at least $300,000, Chairman Richard Angotti said.

A finished 2013-14 school budget was not placed in council hands until December, Town Manager Peggy Daigle said.

“If the mill rate keeps going up, all we are going to do is compound the problem,” Angotti said. “As the town manager said, the next few years are going to be the worst Millinocket has seen because there is no mill in Millinocket anymore.

“How can you envision people wanting to come into this area with a mill rate over 30? It’s unfathomable,” he added.

The $300,000 is part of a $3 million cut proposed for the next two fiscal years that is meant to offset the loss of the $2.3 million in property tax revenue the mill equipment draws to the town. That loss will affect the 2015-16 fiscal year.

A school board motion to close Granite Street School and fold its population into Stearns next year failed by a 2-1 vote on May 28. Smith said closing Granite Street would save $202,403, the largest part of meeting $300,000 goal. The rest of the $300,000 savings would come from laying off a school secretary, freezing teachers’ wages, and eliminating extra- and co-curricular activities, Smith has said.

Both boards have quarreled over the school budget during the past year. Jewers said that school officials have cut their budgets from $8 million to $6.3 million to $6.1 million over the last three years. Cutting is a complex matter, he said.

“You have to be careful because if you over-cut, it could change the [state aid] funding formula so it would change the amount of money you get from the state,” Jewers said.

 

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