BLUE HILL — George Stevens Academy is seeking a tuition increase of $1,000 per student from towns on the peninsula that send students to the semi-private secondary school.
Head of School Tim Seeley explained that GSA must abide by what the Maine Department of Education sets for a tuition rate, which currently is $12,000 a student. “What towns are voting on is agreeing to add $1,000 to that number.”
“The average cost to educate a student is over $16,000,” Seeley said. “We just can’t maintain a fullservice high school with programs for every student on the peninsula, which is our mission,” on the stateset tuition rate.
Seeley said the request passed by a good margin in both Penobscot and Brooksville. Brooksville held its annual Town Meeting by referendum because of COVID-19. Penobscot, with space to socially distance in the school’s gymnasium, held an actual in-person Town Meeting, which Seeley attended.
Some towns are voting on the request, the headmaster said. “Some towns, like Brooklin and Castine, have just written it into their regular school budget.”
In years past, GSA relied on revenue from its international boarding program to subsidize the difference, but even before the pandemic the boarding program had lost revenue due to a variety of factors.
“It will never get back to providing surplus revenue,” Seeley said.
At a meeting in Blue Hill in January 2020, the headmaster cited a number of issues pertaining to declining international student enrollment. They include more American high schools recruiting students from China. There are also more schools opening in China that teach American-style education. Strained relations between China and the U.S. have been another factor.
Back to annual tuition rates set by the state.
“The intent of the law, I believe, is to be certain that if a town does not have its own school, and has only one option for its children, they will not be overcharged, but rather will pay about what it would cost if they did have their own school,” Seeley said. “That is a very sound idea. The problem is in how that number is calculated.”
There isn’t any consideration that costs are different in different parts of the state and for different sized schools, Seeley said. “The way they do the average is to divide total expenses statewide by total students statewide, rather than average districts’ costs, which would be nearer the mark for what it actually costs.”
“This means every taxpayer in Maine is either a winner or a loser,” the headmaster said. “If you do not have a school, you win, because you will be able to have your students educated for thousands and thousands less than it costs. If you do have a school, and you take students from sending towns, you lose, because you must subsidize those other towns.”
Seeley used the city of Ellsworth as an example. According to the Ellsworth High School website, it costs on average $16,000 to educate the high school students. However, towns such as Penobscot and Surry that send students to Ellsworth High are only paying Ellsworth $12,000 and change or whatever the current state tuition rate is, he said. So Ellsworth taxpayers are subsidizing the difference to educate students from other towns, he said.