Tuition hike calls for greater city involvement in George Stevens Academy budget

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BLUE HILL, Maine — As George Stevens Academy officials seek an additional $1,700 per student from its home towns on the Blue Hill Peninsula, there is a movement to incorporate more local contributions into the budgeting process non-profit school.

The independent Blue Hill City Academy which serves students in grades ninth through twelfth currently collects tuition fees of approximately $12,000 per student, which is paid by the seven sending cities – Blue Hill, Brooklin, Brooksville, Castine, Penobscot, Sedgwick and Surry – on the peninsula.

The rate is set by the Maine Department of Education, but is far less than what it costs to educate a high school student in Hancock County, according to academy principal Tim Seeley. This is why the academy is asking for the tuition fee increase. But with city-paid tuition accounting for about 80% of the academy’s budget, cities also want a say.

The cost of the academy per student is about $14,000 per student and without the additional tuition, it would incur a shortfall of about $660,000, according to academy documents. In the past, the academy could make up the difference with the tuition fees of foreign boarders. At its peak, the school had nearly 50 boarders — mostly from China — who would pay between $40,000 and $50,000 in tuition, Seeley said.

“He was generating literally hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in excess over his own costs that we could use for the educational program,” Seeley said.

But that program has been reduced to seven boarding schools, largely due to the pandemic, rising diplomatic tensions between the United States and China and increased competition for these students, according to the school’s principal.

Without this revenue, the academy asked the cities to provide more money. The cities approved an additional $1,000 request last year. The proposed $1,700 per student increase would put the school on a sustainable financial footing and avoid any major operational changes, Seeley said.

Even if the extra tuition is added, the academy is still cheaper than starting a public school on the peninsula, according to the school principal. The average cost per student for high schools in Ellsworth, Deer Isle-Stonington and Mount Desert Island is all higher than the academy, according to 2018-19 cost figures.

“I think it’s a good deal,” Seeley said.

With this increased fiscal responsibility, some city officials want more say in where the money goes. Penobscot School Committee member James Goodman developed a proposal to create a city-appointed committee that would review the academy’s budget with the academy’s own finance committee.

“We all love the GSA, but in the past we felt there was no transparency in how the budget was spent,” he said. “People want to be represented on where our money is going.”

The proposal is currently being shopped in the sending cities. The cities and the academy should eventually approve the idea. Seeley said the academy was behind it in principle and put more financial documents on its website in a bid to shed light on the budget process.

For some, the committee is a step in the right direction, but will still not give municipalities real power to make changes in the school. It would only act in an advisory capacity and the academy’s board would still retain the power to approve the school’s budget.

“My problem is that there is no channel for towns’ opinions to be taken seriously on what kind of school they want,” said Ben Wooten, Blue Hill school board member and former member. longtime member of the academy’s board. of trustees.

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