June 20, 2018
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Superintendent says Millinocket can cut school budget, keep Granite Street School open

By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff

MILLINOCKET, Maine — The school system can follow Town Council guidelines by cutting an additional $300,000 from its 2014-15 budget without closing Granite Street School, Superintendent Frank Boynton said Friday.

Boynton said that he had spent about eight days reviewing school finances and believes he has found several ways in which the $300,000 could be cut. His next task, he said, is to study the impacts of the cuts. Boynton declined to say what he would cut on Friday, but he will provide a list of cuts to the school board and recommend the way forward by July 29.

“The different pathways each have different effects,” Boynton said Friday. “We are working the details so that [the path forward] will be very clear. But it can be done. Let’s put it that way.”

A Millinocket native whose family lived in the fourth house built in the town at the end of the 19th century, the 62-year-old Boynton succeeded Superintendent Kenneth Smith on July 1. Smith announced his resignation on Dec. 4, saying he would not renew his contract, which lapsed July 1.

Councilors and Town Manager Peggy Daigle warmly greeted Boynton and his news that the cuts could be made without closing Granite Street School. Boynton made a brief presentation at a council meeting on Thursday in which he discussed the budget and gave an overview of the school system.

“I am so pleased to see you make these cuts,” Councilor Gilda Stratton said Thursday.

“I am very, very happy that you and the school board have worked so diligently to find the cuts without closing Granite Street School,” said Councilor Michael Madore, an education tech who works at Stearns High School. “If you can attain $300,000 in cuts without closing the school, I commend you and the school board. It is a job well done.”

Prior to Boynton’s arrival, the Millinocket School Committee had already cut $237,000 out of the proposed budget for the new fiscal year, which began July 1, school officials have said. The $237,000 cut reduces the budget to about $6.1 million, the same level at which the 2013-14 budget was set.

Council members chided the board for not having a finished budget submitted to them during the council’s first budget public hearing on June 26. 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, and the losses’ impact on the town’s valuation.

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. Town government has matched the $300,000 cut. Further cuts are expected in the 2015-16 fiscal year in preparation for Great Northern Paper’s new and lowered valuation taking effect in two years.

Town and school officials had quarreled regularly over budgets during Smith’s tenure. A finished 2013-14 school budget was not placed in council hands until December, Daigle said.

Boynton’s presentation suggested more cordial times ahead for both sides.

“We are doing everything we can to maintain the degree of education, staff and programs as best we can,” Boynton told councilors. “I also enjoyed working with you folks. It’s been difficult. We have had some very crucial discussions,” but the end results have been fruitful, he said.

Boynton didn’t rule out closing Granite Street. School officials have discussed closing the school and folding its population within Stearns High School, which already has junior high school students attending it.

The major issue with the conversion, Boynton said, would be meeting state laws that require kindergarten and special education classes to be housed on the first floor of school buildings and in classrooms that are at least 1,000 square feet. The Granite Street kindergarten and special-needs classes would require at least four such classrooms at Stearns, Boynton said.

Nothing on the first floor meets those requirements, Boynton said, but school officials have yet to hear back from architects they are working with.

“We have a lot of work to do around that yet,” Boynton said.

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