Robbinston School Board Meeting and Budget Forum

By Dorothy Johnson

The Robbinston School board meeting of June 2nd began at 5:30pm with a question and answer period.  Available to answer and respond to questions were school board members Julie Murray, Shamus Trainer, Joe Footer and Superintendent Ken Johnson of the AOS as well as Town Clerk and Treasurer Cathy Footer and Chair of the Selectmen Tom Moholland. Superintendent Johnson explained that he would continue to be the acting superintendent until June 30th and then the Calais superintendent would be Robbinston’s Chief administrator.

Nearly fifty residents and interested parties were in the audience to ask questions and to offer their opinion of the budget and the possibility of closing the school. The first question was “Is there any truth to the rumor that the push to close the school is because of LNG’s possible construction?”

This question was answered by Joe Footer, Cathy Footer and Tom Moholland.  All of these town officials said the possibility of closing had nothing to do with LNG.  Moholland further explained that even if LNG had its permits granted, the chance of finding investors in the project was slim. He said, “(LNG) has less than a 1% chance of becoming a reality. The demand for LNG has lessened and I believe that they (the CEOs) will not be able to find someone to invest $800 million.”

Residents asked why students had left the school. One complaint, according to a board member, was that the parents did not like having three grades in one room.  Comments from the staff indicated that no particular reasons were given. One parent commented that the students did not have books.  “Books have to be copied or shared,” she said.  Teachers and staff members denied that students did not have books.

Joe Footer said that new budgets would be distributed after the question and answer period.  Superintendent Johnson and he (Joe Footer) had worked together to do two budgets, one as presented at last meeting and one to which an Ed Tech II salary and $10,000 for maintenance had been added.

Residents commented on closing the school saying that once the school is gone, it will not be brought back. When asked how much savings might result from school closure, Superintendent Johnson answered, “About $100,000.” Another resident expressed some doubt about that number because of unknown expenses.  For example one resident suggested that the second bus would probably be required because it did not seem right to put kindergarten students on a bus with high school students.  Superintendent  Johnson said that many details had yet to be examined and plans had to be made and presented to the Maine State Commissioner of Education. He also stated that the new proposal in the legislature would increase Robbinston’s subsidy from the state if it passed.

Johnson also related that Wesley with seven students chose not to send their students to Machias because they felt the trip was too long.  The residents of Wesley chose to keep their school open.

Joe Footer said he was uncertain that the residents of town would support the budget to keep Robbinston open. A resident said he would be willing to pay an extra amount ($300) on his taxes to keep the building open and operating.

Joe Footer said the board had held the forum to find out how the residents felt about closing the school or keeping it open. When each board member was asked his/her feeling, Footer wanted to do what the residents wanted, Trainer said he wanted to keep the school open and Murray said she would consider all of the pros and cons and make a decision.

Johnson reminded those present that the proposal did not have to be an all or nothing decision.  He said that some schools keep their younger students in town and tuition others.  He said that the combination could be any that residents decide.  For example, some schools keep k-5 in town and tuition 6-8 students while others keep k-6 and tuition only grades 7 and 8 (junior high aged students).

At 6:15 the two budgets were distributed and the differences were explained by the superintendent. All questions were answered by the superintendent and the school board as well as other Robbinston officials i.e. Town Clerk and Treasurer Cathy Footer and Chair of the Selectmen Tom Moholland.

 

The school board decided to hold a straw vote (nonbinding) referendum on Monday, June 15th at the Robbinston Fire Station from 12 pm until 7 pm. The board will then make a decision and present a budget for a town vote.  Tax bills cannot be calculated until the school budget is set.