It costs $24,000 per year to educate a Deer Isle-Stonington High School student. Local officials are exploring options to reduce costs. THINKSTOCK IMAGE

At $24,000 per student, Deer Isle-Stonington board ponders options

DEER ISLE — Deer Isle-Stonington spends $24,000 annually to educate each of its 80 to 100 high school students.

That’s not the highest average for secondary per-pupil spending, but it’s close, according to the Maine Department of Education figures for 2016.

Isle au Haut spent $46,518.92 per secondary student in 2016 and Islesboro spent $30,439.22.

The Deer Isle-Stonington School Board has asked Superintendent Christian Elkington to draft alternatives to a dedicated high school building for educating ninth through 12th grade students.

Stonington Selectboard Chairman Chris Betts listens to Superintendent Christian Elkington (right), who spoke to the board Monday about the cost of educating Deer Isle-Stonington high school students and possible alternatives.

The board is interested in a K-12 school model, Elkington told the Stonington selectmen at their bimonthly meeting Monday. The superintendent intends to present a handful of ideas to the School Board at its regular meeting next Tuesday, Feb. 6.

“My job is to throw out solutions,” Elkington told the selectmen. Any decision-making is the purview of the School Board.

One idea is to close the high school and send island students elsewhere, such as George Stevens Academy in Blue Hill.

“If we decided to have high school kids just go to other schools, there would be a lot of savings in staff,” Elkington said. “The most an area high school could charge us would be the tuition rate, which is $11,000.

“Of course there would be more transportation costs. We could probably even sign a contract with a district and reduce the costs.”

Elkington surmised that at 20 Deer Isle students per high school grade level, other schools probably wouldn’t need a lot of extra staff.

However, there could be social costs to those fiscal savings.

The role of a local school in community life rang through at Monday’s meeting. As the selectmen weighed options, the Deer Isle-Stonington girls’ basketball team was playing Bangor Christian School at home and winning 69-27.

“I just left Deer Isle-Stonington High School,” Elkington said. “Every parking space was full. It’s a tough decision for a community.”

Another idea would be to put the high school students in the Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School building.

“We think we could fit everyone in there and use that space,” Elkington said.

Yet another possibility is offering a specialized high school on Deer Isle centered around art, boat building and science, the superintendent said.

Mount Desert Island High School has begun a boatbuilding program.

“None of our kids and Bucksport kids are going to go to MDI, it’s just too far away,” Elkington said.

But, he said, Deer Isle students might be willing to travel to Bucksport and vice versa for a specialized program.

“We could probably do that with 40, 50 kids,” Elkington said. “We could have a pretty good specialized program here.”

Ownership of the high school building, if no longer used as a school, reverts back to the towns of Deer Isle and Stonington since the municipalities purchased the property.

Selectman Donna Brewer asked about class sizes in general on Deer Isle.

“We had a big kindergarten this year,” Elkington said. There were about 34 students. The superintendent has spoken to a couple of preschools and has learned “there are a bunch of 4-year-olds.”

Elkington said after he shares the ideas with the board, the “thoughts/possible ideas” along with strategic planning work will be developed into a plan.

In other business, a timeline for the FY 2018-19 school budget has been developed.

On March 15, the superintendent will take public comment on district budget needs.

On March 29, Elkington will present a draft of the budget at a workshop.

The School Board will discuss the proposed budget at its April 3 meeting.

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.

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