BAR HARBOR — Mount Desert Island High School was able to cut its proposed budget for next year by exactly $100,000 after being notified by Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield last week that health insurance premiums for teachers and staff would not go up.
Residents of the four MDI towns, which own the high school, voted unanimously last Wednesday to approve the revised budget of $10.05 million. About half of the 46 people who attended the budget meeting were school personnel or board members.
The budget for next year is 3.8 percent higher than the current year’s budget. But the overall amount the four MDI towns will be assessed is going up only 1 percent. Principal Matt Haney said that is largely because of the amount of money that is being carried over from the current year. It reflects tuition revenue that the school had not counted on.
The high school receives $10,120 in tuition per student from non-MDI towns that send students to MDI High. This year, the high school has 125 tuition students, a number that exceeded expectations.
“We have a lot of students from Hancock and Lamoine now choosing to come here,” Haney said. “Two years ago, we had three freshmen from Hancock. This year, we have 17.
“Ellsworth High School and Sumner High School [in Sullivan] are both closer to Hancock than we are, but they make the decision to come here. That’s a good statement about the quality of education we provide.”
The high school expects to have 125 tuition students again next year. The amount the school gets for each of those students will increase to $11,143, bringing the total tuition revenue projection to just under $1.4 million.
The formula that is used to calculate the amount that each MDI town pays for the high school gives twice as much weight to the latest three-year average of property values as to the number of students each town has enrolled at the high school.
Based on that formula, Bar Harbor will pay just over 37 percent of the total amount that the four towns are assessed. Mount Desert will pay nearly 36 percent; Southwest Harbor 14 percent and Tremont 13 percent.
Mount Desert will see its assessment rise by 3.58 percent, adding $4.90 in property taxes for every $100,000 of valuation. Bar Harbor’s assessment will go up .58 percent, increasing taxes by $1.17 per $100,000.
Southwest Harbor will see a 3.13 percent drop in its high school assessment, which will reduce taxes by $6.52 per $100,000. Tremont’s assessment will decrease by .23 percent, lowering taxes by 47 cents per $100,000.
Anthem Blue Cross typically notifies schools in late March or early April of the percentage by which health insurance premiums will be going up the following fiscal year. But school officials need to have their budgets all but finalized before then. So, to make sure they don’t come up short, they have been plugging in a 10 percent increase for health insurance and then hoping it isn’t that high. It almost never is, but a zero percent increase is uncommon.
The last time it happened was for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, according to Nancy Thurlow, business manager for the MDI Regional School System.
Bar Harbor Town Councilor Gary Friedmann told high school administrators and school board members at the budget meeting that he thought they had done a good job of keeping the budget increase as low as it is.
“As a councilor who is kind of on the front lines with constituents who are always sensitive to tax increases, I really appreciate the work that you’ve done,” he said. “I wanted to thank you for your efforts to present a budget that I find very reasonable and am happy to vote for.”
MDES to see big rate hike
Mount Desert Elementary School will see an 8.84 percent increase in health insurance costs next year.
That is because insurance premiums for schools with more than 50 employees, dependents and retirees covered by Anthem Blue Cross are based on the previous year’s claims experience. If the amount the company has to pay goes up significantly, then the next year’s premiums increase, as well.
For Conners Emerson School in Bar Harbor, the increase for next year is a negligible .06 percent. Pemetic Elementary in Southwest Harbor, like MDI High, will see a zero percent hike in health insurance costs.
For schools with 50 or fewer Anthem Blue Cross enrollees, including the schools in Tremont, Trenton, Cranberry Isles, Swans Island and Frenchboro, insurance premiums are not based on claims history; rather, these smaller schools all pay the same rate. They will see a 4 percent rate increase next year.