Deer Isle-Stonington takes aim at school costs



Union 76 Superintendent Christian Elkington
FILE PHOTO

DEER ISLE — Consolidating the island’s dwindling student body from two buildings to one is one of the ideas the island’s superintendent has advanced to cut education costs.

Union 76 Superintendent Christian Elkington said a facilities study would be needed to determine the cost of adding space to Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School (DISES) to make room for high school students.

“We don’t have enough space at DISES to absorb the high school students,” he said.

But, something needs to be done.

Deer Isle-Stonington High School had the third highest cost per student in the state — $24,115 for fiscal year 2014-15 — the superintendent said.

The per-student cost for K-8 that same year was $17,912, which was the fourth highest per-student cost in Hancock County. Those figures do not include transportation costs.

Islanders have been asking for a break in the education bill for several years.

Two years ago, when voters rejected a $7-million school budget for a population of 316 students, community members told the School Board and then-Superintendent Mark Jenkins to reduce the island’s education bill.

At that meeting, Sally Richardson of Stonington, a former state legislator, asked if the district would continue to maintain two buildings and “an enormous staff.”

Jenkins resigned about six months later, but his replacement, Elkington, has drafted a number of proposals to reduce spending in the upcoming 2017-18 school year and beyond.

The new superintendent sent a memo to parents April 7 with several proposals.

“We continue to deal with the tension between doing what is best for our children and the demands from the community to reduce the costs associated with the school system facing a diminishing population,” Elkington stated. “Current per-student costs at DISHS, in particular, are not sustainable.”

“I believe that becoming a K-12 school where we reimage how we engage our students and best use our resources is an essential first step in moving forward and reinvigorating our community’s support.”

On Monday, the superintendent and Deer Isle Stonington School Board Chairman Jane Osborne plan to meet with the Stonington Board of Selectmen and the town manager about a draft $6.3-million school budget for 2018.

That total is nearly $170,000 less than this year’s budget.

The pair will meet with the Deer Isle Selectmen April 27.

A public budget review meeting will be held May 11 at 7 p.m. at the elementary school.

The district meeting will be held for residents to approve or reject the proposed budget on June 5. A budget referendum follows on June 13.

In other cost-cutting measures, Elkington proposes fewer teachers teaching more students.

Elkington said sharing staff between the two school buildings reduces the need to employ people full time in each building “when numbers show us that they are not needed.”

The superintendent also proposes staff reductions. That would include eliminating a math, a social studies and an English position. A director of technology position would be reduced and shared with Union 76.

Another plan is to develop a special education behavior program at the elementary school.

One of the school’s case managers would run the behavior program, which would have a teacher, an ed tech and one other staff member, Elkington said. The program would also be aided by the elementary school’s social worker and school psychologist.

In related news, the school district is going to lose $165,000 in state aid because of a low percentage of students qualifying for — or applying for — free or reduced lunch, according to Elkington. The number of students qualifying for free lunch is a measure the state uses to determine the amount of aid a district receives. That means Deer Isle-Stonington doesn’t qualify for the state’s FY 2017-18 Disadvantaged Student Allocation.

Residents can access a draft copy of the school budget at the School Union 76 website, https://sites.google.com/site/union76superintendentsoffice/csd-13-budget.

The revamped website also has links to each Union 76 school: Brooklin, Sedgwick and Deer Isle/Stonington, each School Board member’s email address, proposed school budgets and other resources.

Upcoming Deer Isle-Stonington School Budget meetings/hearings:

April 28, 3:30 p.m.: Special School Board meeting to approve proposed budget.

May 11, 7 p.m.: Public review meeting at Deer Isle Stonington Elementary School at 7 p.m. Public comments are welcome at that meeting.

June 5: District-wide meeting to vote on the proposed budget.

June 13: Budget validation referendum.

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.
Jennifer Osborn

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