I want to let you know (remind you) of an important meeting for the high
school scheduled for Thursday, December 4th at 7 PM in the high school
auditorium. It is being sponsored by the MDI League of Towns. The topic is
whether or not the present high school funding formula is fair. Unfortunately
I will be out of town that week, so you will not see me at that meeting,
but I want to urge you to attend.
As I presume you know, the high school has been since the 1960s a
collaborative effort between the four towns on MDI. The funding formula
that has been in effect since then is one that apportions the budgetary
assessment to each of the towns based 67% on the property tax valuation of
each town and 33% on the number of students each town has in the high
school at any one time. Therefore, if you use a different rubric to look at
the apportionment, say, only a cost per pupil sent, you are going to see
that Mount Desert seems to pay a lot more per pupil sent than other towns
because of our perennially robust property values relative to other towns.
That is the rubric that some in our town have been pressing for the past
several years. Cost per pupil is, in their stated opinion, the only fair
way to look at the bill. That assertion is often accompanied by threats to
attempt to withdraw the town from the high school system.
It has long been my position that maintaining an island-wide high school
system is vital to the needs of high school students from the town of Mount Desert. There is no way that any one town could replicate the services we now
provide together. To attempt to do that would be to turn back the hands of
time to the middle of the last century. The only way to successfully
run a system like ours is for member communities to consider ourselves part
of a greater whole in this respect, not parochially-minded individual units.
For me the fundamental question is what formula taxes similarly-situated
taxpayers in every town as equally as possible. Property taxes are the
method for funding essential services in our communities. We all pay to
support those services regardless of how much we individually use the
service based on the assessed value of our real estate. So, I pay for the
fire station based on my property value whether or not I have a fire this
year. I pay the same rate for the high school now that my child has graduated
than I did when she was a student here. And I should pay approximately the
same if my house were picked up and moved to another town. How many high
school students happen to be in my town at any one time should be
irrelevant as long as my tax bill is similar in each town. I am not buying
an equally-priced ticket to the high school for each Mount Desert student. I am paying to support a vital community resource. Taxpayers in my town, in the
aggregate, have far more assessed value than taxpayers in any other town.
Valuation should be taxed equally across the board. If the formula that
flows from that principle is 100% valuation or 100% pupil census, 50/50%,
the current ratio or some other formula altogether is not of concern to me.
The issue is, and must be, equity for each taxpayer regardless of where on
MDI s/he owns property. Appeals to principles that disproportionally favor
taxpayers of one town over the other are self-serving and should be
rejected by all. Even though its adoption might lower my property taxes
some (the more the property value, the more the tax cut), I suggest that
the cost-per-pupil assertion fails the fairness test and therefore must be
At the meeting on the 4th Rob Liebow, our superintendent, is going to be
presenting a comprehensive review of the facts and figures that accompany
the various perspectives in this debate. (I believe Rob's data is already
on the Union 98 web site, but as I write this over Thanksgiving weekend,
the site seems to be down. Perhaps Rob could verify it is there and provide
a link when it is back up?) There will be time for a lot of Q & A
and audience input. The purpose of the meeting is to attempt to inform and
gauge community sentiment on this issue.
If a formula change is to be accomplished, practically speaking, it would
have to be by general consent of all parties. The high school governance
and funding formula was created by a private and special act of the state
Legislature. The only politically feasible way provisions of the act will
change is if the communities involved can be persuaded that a change is
warranted and that a failure to change would work an injustice. If that is
the broad consensus, then so be it. But if it is the general consensus that
the current formula remains, rather remarkably after all these years, as
fair as we can make it, then those members of our community who so
persistently advocate otherwise should be encouraged to accept things as
they are. A continuation of the challenges and threats will serve no one
well. It will serve only to undermine support vital to the well being of
the high school. There is nothing wrong with raising an issue. But, there
is something wrong with persisting ad infinitum regardless of how the facts
Please feel free to pass on my request to others.
Thanks for considering this matter, and for attending on the 4th.
MDES school board member and High School Board chair.