New committee forming to review GSA spending

PENOBSCOT – Towns on the Blue Hill Peninsula are forming a budget review committee to begin an annual line-by-line review of George Stevens Academy’s proposed budgets in the wake of the high school’s second consecutive year of an additional tuition request per pupil.

The as-yet-to-be-formed committee was discussed Jan. 10 at the Penobscot School Board meeting.

At that meeting, Sally Mills, who chairs GSA’s board of trustees, and other GSA officials offered to answer questions pertaining to the school’s budget and this year’s request of an additional $1,700 per student. Last year’s request was $1,000 per student over the annual tuition rate.

Mills told the School Board members, in case they were wondering, that there would not be another request next year. The school is capped by law at what it can ask for tuition.

“We’re right up there with the ceiling,” Mills said.

For the town of Penobscot, agreeing to that request would add $37,000 to the budget, according to School Board Chairman Jerry Markley.

“It’s going to be a separate warrant article,” said Markley. “We’re not going to put it in the budget.” Penobscot’s annual Town Meeting is in March.

The budget review committee being launched has been organized by Penobscot School Board member Jim Goodman.

“The towns provide 70 to 80 percent of the operating budget of GSA, but there’s no say from the towns about where that money goes or how it’s spent or any oversight,” Goodman said. “It was all done by trustees.”

“We’ve never had a chance to ask questions before,” said Goodman. “Where’s the money going? We’re small towns that have limited resources. I think we’re headed in the right direction. I think it’s a win-win for everybody.”

Goodman said Ben Astbury, the Sedgwick Select Board chairman, has been the contact with GSA’s advisory committee, which was formed 18 months ago to look at transparency and governance with GSA’s board of trustees.
The towns that send students to GSA are to nominate someone to represent them on the budget review committee, Goodman said. That will hopefully occur in February.

The plan is for this newly formed committee to go through GSA’s proposed budget each year and make recommendations and ask questions, Goodman said.

In reviewing the history of the additional tuition requests, Goodman said the requests began two years ago after GSA’s boarding program began to suffer losses.

“The international program dried up,” Goodman said.

Three years ago, the boarding program had as many as 49 students, 40 of those from China.

Goodman said the program now has five students.

Even before the pandemic the boarding program had begun losing revenue. GSA Head of School Tim Seeley had attributed the decline to several issues, among them the opening of American-style schools in China as well as poor diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China. The American could not reach Seeley for comment about the newly forming budget review committee before press time.


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.