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SAD 1 board formally approves budget ahead of vote in late May

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The SAD 1 school board formally approved the proposed 2019-2020 school year budget during a public meeting held Wednesday, May 8, at Presque Isle High School.

District residents will vote on the budget during a validation referendum on Tuesday, May 21.

Board members voted unanimously to approve all articles pertaining to the $25.15 million budget, which includes no increase in the school district’s portion of property taxes and a 1.4 percent increase in total revenue over the current budget.

The budget also includes $500,000 for the installation of synthetic turf on the soccer field at Presque Isle Middle School, and $75,000 for repairs to the roof at Pine Street Elementary School. In order to achieve a balanced budget, the board previously approved the elimination of four teaching positions, a half-time secretary position and a part-time bus driver position.

During the half-hour meeting, David Gardiner, a resident of Chapman, one of the towns that SAD 1 serves, questioned the necessity of a synthetic turf for the PIMS soccer field.

“In my days people didn’t have an expensive turf. We just mowed the lawn and drew lines,” Gardiner said.

He also inquired about previous school board discussions related to right-sizing. Last November a proposed voter referendum that would have allocated $15 million to close Pine Street and Zippel schools and expand the middle school into a K-8 building failed to pass at the polls.

The project would have required an initial five-year increase in property taxes to 12.55 mills. SAD 1 currently runs on 11.35 mills of local property taxes.

“Seems to me, if there’s been a decline in students, you could close Pine Street and Zippel, move those students to the middle school and move the middle school students to the high school,” Gardiner suggested. “Why spend $75,000 on a building that you wanted to tear down last year?”

SAD 1 board member Paul Saija said that although PIHS might appear to be under capacity, the district’s central office, Presque Isle Regional Career and Technical Center and SAD 1 Adult and Community Education classrooms are located there and serve students and community members from various local districts and towns.

He noted that the school board has plans to discuss alternate right-sizing options at a later date.

“We wanted to let the waters calm down on the referendum issue before we sat down and addressed right-sizing again,” said Saija, who serves as the chairman for SAD 1’s buildings and grounds maintenance committee.

During discussions surrounding Article 7 of the proposed budget, which allocates $760,497 in funds for system administration, Gardiner questioned the committee on its decision to hire Gehrig Johnson as the interim superintendent after the resignation of Brian Carpenter. Johnson previously served 30 years as SAD 1 superintendent before moving on to the superintendent position for SAD 32 in Ashland.

“Why spend the money to bring Dr. Johnson back if Clint could’ve done the same job for what he’s being paid now? Clint seems capable of doing that type of work,” Gardiner said, referring to Clint Deschene, SAD 1 assistant superintendent of business.

Saija explained that although Deschene’s title contains the word “superintendent,” his main duties involve being the business manager for the district, which includes extensive work pertaining to the annual school budget.

“The board brought in Dr. Johnson on an interim basis because of his experience and the amount of time he’s invested in the district over the years, not because of money,” Saija said.

No other public comments were made during the meeting. Later that evening, board Chairwoman Lucy Richards announced that the school board has chosen Ben Greenlaw, principal of PIHS, to serve as the new superintendent for SAD 1 effective Jan. 1, 2020.

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