News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, May 11, 2023
CSD 13 seeks 5% increase in local taxpayer support
While spending grows less than 1%, more funding needed to offset lower state funds

by Jack Beaudoin and Will Robinson

The proposed 2023-24 school budget—unanimously adopted by the Consolidated School District 13 board at a special meeting on May 8—will ask island voters for an additional $261,139 over the current year’s budget, an increase of 4.96 percent.

An earlier draft of the K-12 spending plan initially projected as much as a 25 percent increase in the local tax share, according to Superintendent Dan Ross, but board members decided to allocate $400,000 from the district’s Balance Forward account to limit the impact on local taxes.

Compared to the previous year, school spending is only increasing from $6,408,435 to $6,457,335, an increase of $48,900—less than 1 percent. That’s well below the rate of inflation. A review of the budget shows that rather than targeting major programs for cuts, the board held spending even with the prior year, or cut back a little, across the board.

Elementary school expenses are up $170,000 and high school expenses are down nearly $95,000, reflecting the decision to move the eighth grade back to the elementary school building. Special education spending, which represents nearly a fifth of all spending in the district, was cut by nearly $98,000, or 8 percent.

Ross said the biggest drivers behind the nearly 5 percent increase in local taxes included a $47,000 reduction in state aid and a $160,000 reduction in the amount of tuition the schools expect to receive from out-of-town students.

“In the current year, the previous administration budgeted about $196,775 for students who ‘tuition-in’ to CSD 13 schools,” Ross said. “But in reality, we’ll only get about $60,000 from out-of-town tuition. So this year, $60,000 is what we’re budgeting.”

Unsustainable reliance on surplus

Ross expressed concern about a second consecutive “dip” into the Balance Forward account. “Balance Forward” is commonly called “surplus,” but Ross said the account is meant to be used only in emergencies. Last year the board chose to use $400,000 to reduce the local tax impact, and this year did the same. “That’s just not sustainable,” he said.

The issue is further complicated by the fact that an audit for the district’s previous year finances has not been completed. While the board and the administration have records of 2021-22 spending and revenue, the exact amounts are usually considered “unofficial” until the audit is completed. This year’s audit is late and Ross said the completion date remains uncertain.

In separate budgets, food service expenses will rise by $34,010, primarily due to increases in personnel costs, while the adult education budget dropped by about $7,100.

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Tuesday, May 30, at 7 p.m. at the Reach auditorium in the elementary school before it goes before voters in June.

Eighth grade moves back to DISES

In other business, the board also voted unanimously to move the eighth grade from the high school back to the elementary school. At its previous meeting, the board—which has been weighing the pros and cons of the move for a number of months—heard from teachers, parents and students who supported keeping this year’s seventh graders in the elementary school for another year.

During the public comment period of the May 2 meeting, a group of high school students said the feeling of their peers is that next year’s eighth graders are “not mature enough to be in the high school.” They said the current eighth graders they spoke with did not like being at the high school and would prefer being with the other middle school grades.

Parent Torri Robbins said the course offerings at the high school may be limited because of the presence of the eighth grade. DISHS could be losing students to off-island schools because of this lack of course options, she said, adding, “We have the ability to teach what our students need, but the teachers have to have the time to do it.”

Liz Lincoln, president of the PTO, said her children are uncomfortable going to the high school after seventh grade. She said that because the eighth grade is split between both schools (because of sports, band and other activities), they fail to integrate to either one.

“To put them into a situation that we already know is flawed is a bad idea,” she said.