High school costs down, budget up



BAR HARBOR — Next year’s revenue projections for Mount Desert Island High School have gone up over the past month, and anticipated costs have decreased slightly.

The budget for next year is higher, however, meaning tax bills will be going up in MDI towns.

Principal Matt Haney presented the revised budget to the high school board on Monday. He said the state has increased the limit on fees that schools can charge for tuition students. Locally, tuition students are those who live off of MDI and whose hometowns pay for them to attend MDI High.

The state tuition rate has increased from $8,833 per student per year to $9,209. MDI High also adds a 10 percent tuition surcharge to help pay off the debt from past capital improvements.

The high school has 100 tuition students this year and anticipates having 105 next year. With that number, total revenue from tuition and the local surcharge would be just over $1.06 million.

On the expense side of the ledger, the school will not have to pay $24,000 next year to the Maine Connections Academy, a virtual public charter school. By state mandate, the school is paying $8,000 for each of two MDI residents who opted to enroll in the academy this year. Next year, MDI is expected to have three academy students.

“The budget that the governor released last week included language that says the state is now going to fund the charter schools fully,” Haney told the school board.

The budget for the next fiscal year, which the school board is to vote on next month, totals just over $9.8 million, an increase of 4.73 percent over the current year’s budget. As usual, anticipated hikes in salary and benefit costs account for most of the increase.

However, at this point, those exact costs have not been determined.

It likely will be March before local schools know exactly how much their health insurance premiums will change. And a panel of school system board members is still in negotiations with the teachers union on salaries for the coming year.

Haney said most of the budget is made up of fixed costs and expenses over which the school has little or no control. As for the size of the staff, he said there is no place to cut. He said the school is down three faculty members and one administrative position from 10 years ago. And although enrollment also has dropped somewhat, he said the demand on teachers has gone up.

“We’re facing pretty significant increases in what we’re being asked to do,” he said. “I know we’re doing an awful lot more than we were when I started here.”

Haney said some of the increased work load is due to the current transition to proficiency-based education.

“It is a promise that we’re taking every student to a higher level, and we’re not going to let them leave here without getting to that higher level,” he said. “That doesn’t come free. I’m very confident in saying that we are not overstaffed in the least bit.”

The proposed high school budget would increase the assessments on each of the four MDI towns.

Bar Harbor’s assessment would go up 6.54 percent and cost taxpayers an extra $12.78 per $100,000 of property valuation. Mount Desert’s assessment would increase 3.5 percent, for a $4.70 tax increase. Southwest Harbor would see a 2.5 percent increase in its assessment, costing taxpayers $5.18 more. Tremont’s assessment would rise 9.2 percent, for a $17.11 tax increase per $100,000 of property value.

The formula by which assessments are calculated gives twice as much weight to each town’s total state property valuation as to the percentage of students it has at the high school.

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