Originally published in Castine Patriot, December 2, 2021 and The Weekly Packet, November 24, 2021
GSA trustees agree to formation of town-nominated budget review committee
by Jeffrey B. Roth
A proposal to form a committee composed of one representative from each of the eight George Stevens Academy sending towns to oversee the private, nonprofit high school’s annual budgetary process is one step closer to reality.
“I circulated, to all of you, copies of what we call the Draft Summary of Towns’ Proposal,” Sally Mills, chair of GSA’s Board of Trustees, explained to members of the Financial Planning Advisory Committee (FPAC), during its November 22 Zoom meeting. “We wanted to go to the board with something in writing, so if we got some detail wrong, everyone could see where we were wrong. This is the memo that we went to the board with…and it was very-well received. The board would like to proceed on this basis.”
The two-page draft Budget Review Committee (BRC) document that Mills referenced is based on a proposal developed by Jim Goodman, a Penobscot School Board member. The proposal was introduced at the Financial Planning Advisory Committee’s October 25 meeting. Under the proposal, the eight sending towns—Blue Hill, Brooklin, Brooksville, Castine, Orland, Penobscot, Sedgwick and Surry—that pay tuition for students who choose to attend GSA, will each appoint one representative to serve on the committee.
“The BRC is formed for the purpose of providing the sending towns with opportunities to review all drafts of the GSA budget on a line-by-line basis and to offer input and recommendations to the GSA Board of Trustees prior to formal approval of the budget,” according to the draft summary. “Each committee member will be appointed for a three-year term, although this may be staggered at the discretion of the BRC. Representatives from GSA will attend BRC meetings to answer questions and receive feedback.”
The tentative schedule of BRC meetings, included in the draft document, is based on GSA’s annual budgeting process timetable. The timetable states that the first draft of the GSA budget is presented to the board of trustees in May or June. That draft budget would then be presented to the BRC in July or August, during which time the oversight committee will make recommendations. Then, in September or October, the draft budget will be presented to members of the FPAC and the public.
In October, GSA’s trustees vote to approve the budget. Once approved, the budget is presented to each of the sending towns’ school boards during the following months: Penobscot and Brooksville in December; Blue Hill and Surry in January; Castine in February; Orland in March; Brooklin in April; and the Sedgwick in May.
The document recommends two possible next steps in the process: 1) Develop a mission statement that details the purpose of the BRC and the committee’s duties for the sending towns to approve; and 2) Develop an action plan and milestones memo to form the committee and get it functioning.
Ben Wootten, a Blue Hill school board member, suggested that the Budget Review Committee should be involved as early in the budget process as possible. Wootten said that the tentative schedule does not involve the BRC in the process until GSA’s board approves the draft budget proposal, which would limit the committee’s involvement to reviewing draft line items without any knowledge of the justification for those proposed cost estimates.
“The process has to start somewhere,” Goodman said. “A budget has to be created by the entity who’s putting the budget together, initially, and get started. I think, after a second year, once you get the BRC rolling, it becomes an annual thing.”
Goodman said that, initially, GSA compiles the draft budget and then the BRC gets involved in the process. Then, as the process continues, GSA’s trustees will start to understand the towns’ positions, questions and recommendations, and the towns will better understand GSA’s priorities.
Ben Astbury, chair of Sedgwick’s select board and chair of the FPAC, suggested that each town develop criteria for the selection of its BRC representative. Once the towns establish BRC nomination criteria, that information should be submitted to the FPAC and GSA within the next two months.
“I think it’d be important to cross that bridge fairly soon,” Astbury said. “I think the towns are going to have to discuss this and figure out how to appoint one person to this committee and, then, in the next month or two, we should be able to nail that down and then we’ll communicate and see where it goes.”
Mills suggested not holding a Financial Planning Advisory Committee meeting in December to allow the towns time to come up with nomination plans, which will then be placed on the agenda for the January 24 meeting. The committee agreed with the timetable.