BAR HARBOR — A budget increase of $603,462 for Mount Desert Island High School next year is being proposed by Principal Matt Haney.
The draft budget of just over $10.3 million, which he presented to the school board Monday night, is 6.2 percent higher than the current year’s budget.
About $250,000 of the proposed increase is for salaries and health insurance. That includes the addition of a two-thirds science teacher position and a one-third social studies position.
“The science classes are huge, and they don’t have any built-in remediation for students who don’t meet the standard the first time around,” Haney said. “It’s almost the same story with social studies, but not quite to the same degree.”
Also included in Haney’s draft budget is $85,000 for a new school bus.
“We bought a new bus last year, but we had two of them die over the summer,” he said. “Typically, you’ll buy a bus every three years and put a third of the money for it into a reserve each year. But we really feel like we’re teetering on the edge of disaster if we lose one more bus, so we’d like to consider purchasing another bus this spring.”
Although Haney is proposing an overall budget increase of just over 6 percent, taxpayers in the four MDI towns that own and operate the high school would collectively pay only 4.78 percent more than they are paying now. That is largely because of the number of students from other, nearby towns that pay tuition for their students to attend MDI High.
Currently, 129 of the school’s 526 students live off island. But this year’s budget anticipated only 105 tuition students. The extra tuition revenue can’t be spent this year; it will have to be carried over to next year because “If you don’t budget for it, you can’t spend it,” Haney said.
He said he expects the school to have about 125 tuition students next year. Even though that would be slightly fewer than the current number, the amount of money they represent would be about $190,000 more compared to the amount budgeted for tuition revenue this year.
Towns such as Trenton, Lamoine and Hancock, as well as the three outer island towns, pay $9,754 in tuition for each of their students who attend MDI High. That amount is set by the state.
The tuition-paying towns pay the high school an additional 10 percent, for a total of $10,729, to help cover debt service for previous building and renovation projects.
Board member Charlie Wray said the school’s per-pupil expenses are nearly $20,000 a year, which is roughly twice what the school is paid for each tuition student. He said that means the four MDI towns are heavily subsidizing the education of students from other towns.
“It’s great to have the [tuition] students, and we do like having the revenue, but we’re getting half the revenue that we’re using on a per-student basis,” Wray said.
“My beef is with the state,” he said, noting that the tuition rate is based on the statewide average of the per-pupil cost of high school education.
He said that average is as low as it is because “there are school districts in this state that are spending a third of what we’re spending.”
Wray and other board members said that means tuition students at MDI High are getting a superior education, while the towns they live in are getting a big break on tuition.
“It’s great to be in Lamoine,” he said, citing that town as an example. “From the taxpayers’ standpoint, they’re getting a great deal.”
School Superintendent Howard Colter said it’s a trade-off because the tuition students and the revenue they bring make the school better for everyone. Without those students, he said, “You probably would lose some programs you wouldn’t want to lose.”
Haney said that losing the tuition students “would cost us programmatically, and the per-pupil cost for on-island towns would go up.”
Wray said he agreed that the school would suffer without tuition students.
“We want them. They improve the program and improve the extra-curriculars because we have more kids,” he said.
But from a strictly fiscal standpoint, he said, “It’s an equity issue, the way the state does it.”
High school board members will discuss next year’s budget in greater detail at their Jan. 11 meeting. They are scheduled to vote on the budget Feb. 8.
Registered voters in the four MDI towns will have an opportunity to approve the budget at the high school’s annual meeting April 6.