BAR HARBOR — Mount Desert Island High School Principal Matt Haney knows he can’t propose a budget next year that would increase assessments to the four MDI towns by an overall 10.2 percent, so he is looking for ways to cut spending.
It’s an odd situation.
The draft budget Haney gave the high school board last month and the slightly revised version he presented Monday night each call for an increase in spending of just over 4 percent, which is fairly typical.
But for several reasons, primarily a projected decrease in carryover funds from this year to next, residents of the four towns would see their taxes for the high school spike by double digits.
“I think we can find ways to bring that down,” Haney said. “We are trying hard to do that without impacting student services. But there will be an increase in the assessments.”
The proposed budget as it now stands is just under $11.8 million.
About 25 percent of the high school’s approximately 550 students live outside the four MDI towns, so their towns pay tuition for them to attend MDI High. The tuition rate for the current year, which is set by the state, is $12,203.
Haney told the school board in December that he had not yet received the new tuition rate from the state, but he hoped it would be higher. He said at the board’s meeting on Monday that the new rate is, indeed, higher, but not by much. It is an increase of only $196 per student.
And he is projecting that the number of tuition students will drop by seven to 133 next year, which means total tuition revenue would decrease from $1.71 million to $1.65 million.
But Haney said Tuesday that he does not yet know how many of Hancock Grammar School’s current eighth grade students plan to come to MDI High next year, so his projection of the number of tuition students could go up.
The projected increase in assessments for the four MDI towns follows two years in which the assessments stayed nearly flat or even dropped slightly. Last year, the overall assessments went down 0.58 percent, largely because of an unusually large $413,095 increase in the carryover from the previous year. That raised the budgeted carryover for the current year to $928,446.
The proposed carryover for next year is $542,451, a drop of about $386,000.
For the current year, the high school anticipated a $525,000 subsidy from the state. But the school now expects to receive a subsidy of $595,299.
Haney said he hasn’t received the subsidy figures for the coming year, but has again plugged $525,000 into the budget. He hopes it will once again be larger than that.
“But if the revenue projections stay where they are now, I will be taking some [budget items] off the board,” he told the school board.
“I’m not interested in trying to adopt a budget with a 10 percent assessment increase. I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
Haney said he would continue to work on reducing the budget and would present a final budget proposal for the school board to consider adopting at its Feb. 10 meeting.
The four MDI towns’ annual high school assessments are based on a combination of the percentage of students that each town has enrolled at the high school and an average of each town’s total tax valuation over the previous three years. The assessment formula gives twice as much weight to the tax valuations as to the enrollment figures.
For the current year, Bar Harbor’s assessment for the high school is about $3.2 million; Mount Desert’s is $2.9 million; Southwest Harbor’s is $1.1 million and Tremont’s is $1 million.