Originally published in Castine Patriot, December 12, 2019 and The Weekly Packet, December 12, 2019
School, town officials wrestle with GSA tuition request
by Anne Berleant
School boards and superintendents have been scrambling in the three weeks since George Stevens Academy requested a $2,000 tuition increase per high school student from its seven sending towns. The increase is needed to close a budget gap that the international boarding program had subsidized but no longer could because of dropping enrollment.
“The boarding environment has changed drastically very, very quickly…for every boarding school in the United States,” GSA Head of School Tim Seeley told the Surry School Board December 10.
Since the request, Seeley, with trustee Zoe Tenney, has attended school board and selectmen meetings to answer any questions. But for school officials already at work on the 2020-21 budget, using the projected state-set high school tuition of $12,200, the request came late, and they are now faced with placing a warrant article on the increase at town meeting and needing to keep down other costs so the overall school budget won’t go up more than taxpayers can stomach.
Seeley is now suggesting a three-year span to reach the requested tuition, while also keeping it in line with state increases. But with each town to vote on the increase at its own town meeting, no final answer will come until May, at Castine’s town meeting, although those held in March—Penobscot, Brooksville and Sedgwick—will give an indication if taxpayer reactions follow in line with Surry resident Jared Benner, who told the school board, “I don’t think that financial burden should be passed on to towns if they’re an independent school.”
Others, such as Castine School Board Chairman Kathy MacArthur, suggested the school present to communities, with students speaking to the value of a GSA education to help the request succeed.
The cost per student at GSA has never been met by the state-set tuition that the sending towns—Blue Hill, Brooksville, Brooklin, Castine, Penobscot, Sedgwick and Surry—have paid, Seeley said.
However, board members and residents attending the meetings have made clear that without seeing financial numbers, not everyone believes that the international program is self-supporting, let alone a revenue source.
“They’re saying it is but no one has seen their budget,” Union 93 Superintendent Mark Hurvitt replied to a question raised in Surry.
Seeley has said this information will come, likely at a December 18 Union 93 meeting, along with a proposal for towns on reaching the new tuition rate. For Union 76, Superintendent Christian Elkington will meet with the Brooklin and Sedgwick school boards December 12.