Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, October 11, 2018
Future of Schools Committee crunches the numbers
by Tevlin Schuetz
Residents of Deer Isle and Stonington were presented with more detailed information and research findings by the Future of Our Schools Committee at an October 3 meeting. This was the third of four public meetings the committee will hold, Committee Chairman and CSD Board Chairman Jane Osborne said.
“The first two meetings were more about hearing from you. This meeting is to present some of the data we are finding as we’re doing research,” Osborne said. She explained that the information will go to the CSD Board and the community in December, with two to three options proposed with respect to school structure, staffing and how to proceed with use of school facilities.
Facilities Subcommittee Chairman and Head of Schools Lynne Witham walked the audience through existing and projected costs for maintenance at both school buildings and shared facilities. Current needs—which were mostly maintenance projects addressing health and safety issues that needed to be remedied, and some of which have already been done, Witham said—total $1,048,639. Future maintenance, spanning the next 15 years, is projected to cost $1,935,356, with the average annual cost of maintenance over that time being $129,023, Witham said.
Witham noted that years of pushing maintenance projects down the road have contributed to a situation where some projects are much more expensive. “Deferring costs has gotten us to where we are now,” she said.
Witham spoke to the costs of a new school building, for which the possibility of state funding would be slim.
“There was a heyday in school building for a while. It’s not happening anymore,” she observed.
A new school funded by the municipalities would be between $15,000,000 and $25,000,000, Witham said, and state funding would be extremely unlikely due to the low student population on the Island. As an example, Witham said Sumner had to pursue a grades 6 through 12 building to receive state approval for funding, and their original school building had been built in 1952.
When asked what the estimated cost of an addition to the elementary school (to accommodate the influx of students in grades 9 through 12) would be, Witham said those figures will be ready for the November meeting.
In identifying specific maintenance issues, Witham cited recent inspections as well as a 2015 Merriam Architects Facilities Study. For the elementary school building, Witham said current architectural needs could add up to $122,045 and include the following: replacing fiberboard trim with vinyl, carpeting; wall and ceiling repairs; a crack in the gym wall; and entry pad repairs. Future building maintenance could total $718,305, and the projects include: roofing; exterior doors; gym floor; windows; and flooring. Needed HVAC work is estimated to cost $84,413.
Current architectural needs at the high school building are estimated at $514,173 and include: soffit and fascia repair; exterior doors and windows; floors in common areas and the gym; work in locker rooms and bathrooms; and new heating and insulation in the marine trades building. Future maintenance through 2035 could cost $713,130 and include work on siding, roofs, ceilings and floors. Witham added that building HVAC and kitchen exhaust work is needed and could total $144,628.
School Structure Subcommittee
Union 76 Superintendent Christian Elkington presented data and reviewed state funding and cost comparisons between Deer Isle-Stonington schools and other districts around the state, with a focus on student populations.
Elkington noted the property valuations for Deer Isle and Stonington. Together they add up to $762,350,000 for 2018-19. The student population is around 320 students.
“Our land is very valuable,” Elkington said, and he pointed out that other school districts of similar size are far behind with respect to their state valuations.
“State valuation is one of the biggest drivers of why we get less aid,” he said, adding that, per the Essential Programs and Services formula, the state says Deer Isle and Stonington should be able to raise $4,092,6 04 for the current school year. Plus, the towns must raise that amount at a minimum, in order to receive a state contribution of $658,327, Elkington said.
From the data Elkington shared, the two districts the subcommittee investigated with the closest student populations to CSD#13 are Machias and Schenck. Machias has 490 students, has a property valuation around $132,000,000 and must raise $2,983,676 to receive $1,864,316 in state aid. Schenck has 260 students, has a valuation around $71,325,000 and must raise $2,150,915 to qualify for $1,546,079 from the state. The state covers just 16 percent of Deer Isle and Stonington’s combined required contribution, while it covers 62.5 percent of Machias’ and 71.8 percent of Schenck’s. Machias’ property valuation is 82.7 percent less than the Island towns’, and Schenck’s is 90.6 percent less than the Island’s.
The next public meeting of the FOOS Committee is scheduled on Wednesday, November 7, at 6 p.m. at the high school. There will be information sessions for the public from December through February leading up to voting in early March, Osborne said.