Interim Union 76 Superintendent Bob Webster (center) reveals a $300,000 error in the 2016 school budget, which has resulted in the towns of Stonington and Deer Isle overpaying for their share of education. Webster spoke to the Stonington Board of Selectmen at its weekly Monday night meeting. From left are Selectman Evelyn Duncan and, to Webster’s right, Selectman Chris Betts. PHOTO BY JENNIFER OSBORN

Interim superintendent discusses Union 76 budget errors

STONINGTON — Interim Union 76 Superintendent Bob Webster has spent his first few weeks on the job fixing budget mistakes, including a $298,000 error made during the tenure of former Superintendent Mark Jenkins.

Jenkins resigned effective Dec. 31 after Deer Isle-Stonington residents called for his departure after late filing of paperwork with the state, lost co-curricular insurance coverage for students and other issues.

Webster, who had served as superintendent for Deer Isle-Stonington, Sedgwick and Brooklin for several years previously, began working on an interim basis Jan. 4.

The educator spoke to the Stonington Board of Selectmen Monday to let the board know about the errors he had found thus far.

Webster explained that the $298,000 mistake arose from Article 16 of the school budget warrant, which was approved last August.

Voters approved an article totaling $1,804,071. That’s the amount that Deer Isle and Stonington have to contribute to the FY 2016 school budget.

“Somehow in the process of drawing up the assessment documents, my predecessor put a figure of $2,102,007 in that pot of assessments that go to the towns…” Webster said.

“There is no explanation that I’m aware of,” Webster said. “I’ve not talked with Mr. Jenkins about the situation. Regardless of the genesis of the mistake, it needs to be corrected.”

“This Thursday night, I’ll recommend the School Committee approve and sign a revised assessment,” the interim superintendent said. “If approved, that will go to the towns along with revised numbers that will reduce the monthly assessment amounts enough to compensate for the extra money they’ve already paid.”

Webster has uncovered another error dealing with a cost-sharing split between the island towns.

“Deer Isle’s was too high and Stonington’s was too low,” Webster said. “This one is based entirely on Oct. 1 student census.”

However, Webster does not yet know how much the difference is for each town concerning that particular error.

“Beyond that, it’s a surprise a day,” Webster told the board and asked if selectmen had any questions.

“We’re not used to getting answers, so we’re not sure what to ask,” Selectman Chris Betts quipped.

Selectman Evelyn Duncan said, “Bob, thank God you’re back.”

The $298,000 error in the assessments for Deer Isle and Stonington occurred after the Union 76 school budget took a summer — and four votes — to get approved.

Here’s a brief history:

Voters initially rejected a $7.1-million budget at the first meeting in June 2015 as too high for the schools’ enrollment.

At a second meeting in July, voters approved a smaller budget than what was presented. In an effort to streamline, the School Board was to re-examine each line item to ensure it fit with the reduced total budget. However, that vote proved to be illegal because Maine law requires residents to vote on each warrant article.

So, a new, third budget meeting was held Aug. 4 so that each warrant article could be voted on.

However, that budget, which was approved, failed to garner support during a budget validation referendum held Aug. 13.

So the School Board had to tweak the budget and hold a new school budget meeting Aug. 24.

A budget validation vote held at the Deer Isle and Stonington town offices passed Aug. 31.

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.

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