Charter school tuition costs up

BAR HARBOR — A $24,000 payment to the Maine Connections Academy, a virtual public charter school, is one of the new expense items in the Mount Desert Island High School budget for next year.

Principal Matt Haney presented the preliminary budget to the high school board last week. It calls for a net increase in spending of about 4.1 percent.

Because of higher expenses in some areas, less money will be carried over to next year, which means the overall assessment to the four MDI towns could increase by nearly 6 percent.

The draft budget totals $9.82 million.

The Maine Connections Academy is “tuition-free” in that students’ families don’t pay. However, Maine’s traditional public schools have to pay tuition for students in their districts who choose to enroll in virtual charter schools such as the Maine Connections Academy. The cost is about $8,000 a year per student.

MDI High did not budget anything for the academy for the current school year, but it has ended up paying $16,000. That will go up by 50 percent next year, as one additional student is expected to enroll in the academy.

The high school anticipates paying $16,000 more next year for students to take classes at Hancock County Technical Center.

“We have more and more students going there, which is a good thing, but they do charge tuition,” Haney said.

Special education also will account for some increase in the budget.

“We have an incoming freshman class that leads us to think we are going to need two additional ed tech positions,” Haney told the school board.

He has projected a 2.75 percent salary hike for teachers, pending the outcome of contract negotiations between the school system board and the teachers union, which are going on now. Haney and other high school administrators would receive a 2 percent pay raise.

The high school will be spending about $80,000 on a new school bus, but most of that will come from a reserve account.

Cost reductions are anticipated in several areas. Eliminating one custodial position will save about $40,000. A new heating oil contract will bring $20,000 in savings. And electricity costs are expected to drop by $15,000.

Haney said that is partly because Butch Bracy, the school’s maintenance director, has replaced many traditional lights with ones that are more energy efficient, and he has eliminated some lights altogether.

“You don’t need the halls to be super bright, so now you walk down a hall and notice that only every other light is on,” Haney said. “It’s crazy how much difference that makes.”

Haney has cut about $6,500 from the budget for his office.

“That’s mostly postage,” he said. “Those of you with kids in school know that we don’t mail that much anymore.”

Tuition for off-island students is one source of revenue that is on the rise. For the current year, the school anticipated having 100 students from Trenton, Lamoine, the outer islands and a few other towns. The actual number is 105.

The towns where they live pay $10,130 each for them to attend MDI High.

For the coming year, Haney is budgeting for 105 tuition students.

“But I’m hoping it will actually be more like 110 or 115 or even more,” he said.

Tuition students account for about 20 percent of the total enrollment.

Haney said he hopes the overall increase in costs to MDI taxpayers will be less than the currently projected 6 percent.

“We have to be super conservative at this point, but this (amount projected) is about as low as revenue can be,” he said. “It likely will be more, but we don’t really know at this point.”

The high school board will approve a budget for next year in February. Residents of the four MDI towns will have an opportunity to vote on the budget at the high school’s annual meeting in April.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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