School board invites public to start of budget planning

The Board of Public Education will hold its first school budget hearing of the year at 7 tonight in the King Middle School cafeteria.

Parents, school employees and community members are invited to share their concerns and ask questions before the board begins crafting the budget for fiscal 2012, which starts July 1.

The district faces a $4 million reduction in federal funding in the coming school year as economic recovery money runs out.


Mid-winter demand boosts heating oil to $3.23 a gallon

As a deep freeze blankets Maine, state energy officials say heating oil prices continue to go up, and gasoline prices are also rising across the state.

According to Monday’s weekly survey by the Governor’s Office of Energy Independence and Security, the average cash price for heating oil is $3.23 a gallon. That’s 5 cents higher than a week ago.

Northern Maine has the highest prices, and southern Maine has the lowest.

Director John Kerry said frigid temperatures in the Northeast have increased demand for heating fuels, helping drive up prices.

Kerosene has gone up 7 cents a gallon in the past week, to $3.61. Propane has climbed 4 cents a gallon, to $2.88.

A price-watching website says average retail gasoline prices in Maine rose nearly 1 cent per gallon in the past week to an average of $3.19.

MaineGasPrices.com says that compares with the national average, which has risen to $3.09 per gallon.

Maine prices on Sunday were 39 cents per gallon higher than the same day one year ago.


Agencies team up to fight prescription drug problem

U.S. Attorney Thomas Delahanty II is announcing a new cooperative effort among federal and state agencies aimed at addressing prescription drug abuse and a recent spate of pharmacy robberies.

The Maine federal prosecutor’s office has scheduled a press conference for Wednesday to announce details of the effort.

The Maine Drug Enforcement Agency has identified the illegal sale and misuse of prescription medicines as the state’s most serious drug problem. The federal Drug Enforcement Administration this year organized a nationwide drug collection to help dispose of medicine that is no longer needed, noting that one of the primary sources of abused medicines is people’s home medicine cabinets.

Several local police agencies have responded in recent weeks to pharmacy holdups where prescription drugs were taken.


Energy institute to transfer assets as it prepares to shut

The Ocean Energy Institute, which will cease operations Jan. 31, is transferring all of its assets to the University of Maine’s AEWC Advanced Structures and Composites Center.

The Rockland institute was founded by Matthew Simmons in 2007 as a think tank to promote various forms of ocean energy. Simmons died unexpectedly in August.

The institute’s assets – including Simmons’ library, a donation from the family, and gifts from friends and colleagues – will be transferred to the center, which is where the university conducts deep-sea offshore wind research and development.

The university is also setting up a fund in Simmons’ name to promote ocean energy.


UMaine chancellor finalists to begin visits to campus

Four finalists for the top job at the University of Maine will begin visiting the campus starting this week.

Eleanor “Ellie” Baker, a University of Maine System trustee, announced last week that the list of finalists had been narrowed to four.

They are Donald Farish, president at Rowan University in New Jersey; Paul Ferguson, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at Southern Illinois University; Daniel Julius, vice president for academic affairs at the University of Alaska System of Higher Education; and James Page, CEO of James W. Sewall Co. in Maine.

The finalists are vying to succeed current UMaine President Robert Kennedy, who is stepping down in June. UMaine’s new president is expected to take over in early July.


Carbon monoxide in library sends four to the hospital

Four people, including two high school students, were taken to the hospital after elevated levels of carbon monoxide gas were detected in the Nute Public Library in Milton.

Fire officials say 35 people were tested for carbon monoxide exposure. The two students and two staff members were taken to the hospital as a precaution.

WMUR-TV says the library was closed while workers repaired a problem with the furnace. No elevated levels of the gas were found in other areas of the building, including the attached Nute High School, which has a separate furnace.