Superintendent links costs of RSU 13 withdrawal to rising budget

By Dan Otis Smith | May 02, 2017
Photo by: Dan Otis Smith

St. George — Costs associated with St. George’s withdrawal from Regional School Unit 13 are contributing to a 4.2 percent, or about $200,000, increase in tax money sought under the St. George Municipal School Unit’s proposed 2017-2018 budget, according to a budget narrative released April 24 by Superintendent Mike Felton.

Tuition for St. George students attending Oceanside High School and debt payments on RSU 13 buildings are among the factors contributing to the $222,000 figure cited by Felton as the total cost associated with St. George’s withdrawal from RSU 13 for fiscal year 2018.

The proposed budget for the school year totals $5,304,839, a 3.64 percent, or $186,000, increase from last year.

In response to high tuition costs, during the 2015-2016 school year, St. George’s School Committee gave two years’ notice, as required under the agreement, that it would cancel its tuition contract with RSU 13. The cancellation will take effect after the coming school year, though both Felton and RSU 13 Business Manager Peter Orne expressed the intent to negotiate an agreement that will allow St. George students to continue attending high school in RSU 13.

St. George voters overwhelmingly approved withdrawal from RSU 13 in 2014, resulting in the formation of the St. George MSU.

As part of the withdrawal agreement, St. George pays RSU 13 110 percent of the per-pupil cost of education for each of its students attending secondary school in RSU 13. The budget lists an estimated cost of $14,633 for each of 37 students attending or set to attend Oceanside High School. An additional eight students would incur a lower tuition rate of $9,760, because they are attending vocational programs. State law mandates lower tuition rates for regular school day career and technical educational programs.

In total, the district could pay almost $620,000 in tuition to RSU 13 in 2017-2018.

The state sets limits on public secondary school tuition, requiring a receiving school to charge either the per-pupil cost or a set tuition rate, whichever is lower. The state set RSU 13’s tuition rate for 2016-2017 at $10,530.49. However, a school board wishing to send its students to another district may vote to pay a rate higher than the state limit, as St. George did when negotiating withdrawal.

“The laws governing withdrawal are intended to discourage withdrawals,” Felton wrote in an email. “The tuition rate in the Withdrawal Agreement was essentially imposed by RSU 13's School Board at the time -- a take-it-or-leave-it proposition.  The St. George Withdrawal Committee acceded to the tuition rate to guarantee our students' attendance at Oceanside.”

St. George MSU also has secondary-school tuition agreements with the Five Town Community School District, Regional School Unit 40, Watershed School and Lincoln Academy. In 2017-2018, 25 St. George students are expected to attend Camden Hills Regional High School at $12,131 each; eight will go to Lincoln Academy at $11,720 each; two will attend Medomak Valley High School at $8,967 each; and one will go to Watershed School for $11,056.

Altogether, the budget lists $1,126,651 in tuition costs for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

In the budget narrative and in interviews, Felton repeated that St. George is committed to negotiating a new tuition agreement with RSU 13.

“We have a great deal of respect for the educators at Oceanside High School and appreciate the work they do every day on behalf of our students,” he wrote. “At the same time, we need the new contract to have terms similar to those in our other tuition contracts.”

Felton said St. George would prefer to be paying the state-set tuition rate.

Asked whether a failure to negotiate a new contract could result in Oceanside High School's being off-limits to St. George students, RSU 13 Business Manager Peter Orne said, “Absolutely not.”

“That will never happen,” said Orne. “We are not seeing this as preventing St. George students attending Oceanside.”

“We are trying to make this a destination school system,” Orne continued, and added that the district wanted to include as many St. George students as want to be at Oceanside High School.

Felton said the MSU has been in touch with RSU 13 and that he expects negotiations will be ongoing.

St. George’s withdrawal agreement with RSU 13 includes a provision that students in ninth and 10th grade at the time of the notice of cancellation of its tuition contract would be allowed to continue attending Oceanside under the conditions of the canceled agreement.

Conditions and tuition rates for any St. George students attending OHS who were not in those grade levels at the time will have to be negotiated over the coming year.

“We are committed to working with RSU 13 to ensure that all St. George students currently at Oceanside can finish high school there, and that our students can choose to attend OHS in the future,” wrote Felton.

Other costs

While tuition and other withdrawal costs form a significant part of the proposed budget, a number of new expenditures are also included.

Most significantly, the St. George School seeks to create two new teaching positions. One teacher would work with kindergarten through third-grade students who qualify for special education, while the other would provide support for special programs, including the Makerspace Initiative, expeditionary learning projects and the gifted and talented program.

St. George residents can vote for or against the budget at the district budget meeting May 24 at 6:30 p.m. at St. George School. Voters will then decide at the budget referendum June 13 whether to approve the final school budget proposal.

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.