By Jeffrey S. Burroughs
As I enter my 4th year as Head of School at Lincoln Academy, one of the most frequent questions I hear is “Is Lincoln Academy a public school or a private school?”
The best answer is we’re a blend of the two. Since our founding we have existed in the space between public and private that can be best described as a private school serving a public purpose. For 220 years Lincoln Academy has upheld a proud tradition of providing an excellent education for students who choose to attend.
Lincoln Academy was founded in 1801 by the Reverend Kiah Bailey. The school was technically founded in Lincoln County, Massachusetts, since Maine would not become a state until 1820 as part of the Missouri Compromise. Unlike some schools founded around the same time, LA has been co-ed since its founding. Reverend Bailey insisted that the school educate girls as well as boys.
Over the next 200 years, Lincoln Academy’s relationship to local towns has adapted with the times. In 1873 Maine established “free high schools,” and while many towns chose to build public high schools in that period, Lincoln Academy’s sending towns decided to maintain Lincoln Academy as their secondary school of choice. In 2008, during Maine’s school consolidation process, Lincoln Academy’s local sending towns – Damariscotta, Newcastle, Nobleboro, Jefferson, Bristol, South Bristol, and Bremen – chose to form an AOS, literally “alternative organizational structure,” which allows each town in AOS93 to maintain local control of their K-8 schools and offer high school choice.
Lincoln Academy proudly supports families’ freedom to decide which school best suits their student’s educational needs. Students from AOS93 can choose to attend any school they would like, and while most choose LA, some local students attend Medomak, Camden, Erskine, and Boothbay high schools, among other great options.
Town Academies are operated and funded differently than public schools. According to state policy, Lincoln Academy is known as a “Private School Approved for Tuition Purposes.” This means that towns only pay tuition to Lincoln Academy for a student that chooses Lincoln Academy as their high school. For the 2021-2022 Academic Year, the state set the Maximum Allowable Tuition at $12,480.00 per student. For the 2022-2023 Academy Year, the state will set the rate in January 2023. For the 2022-23 school year, 89% of LA students are supported by town tuition. 11% of LA students are private pay students, including both day and residential students from surrounding towns that are not part of AOS93 including Wiscasset, Waldoboro, and Boothbay Harbor, and countries from Brazil to Germany to Cambodia.
This tuition structure illustrates three of the major differences between LA and public schools.
First, towns pay LA for only the number of students that actually enroll each fall. To illustrate how this tuition reimbursement impacts our finances, if LA builds a budget in the spring based on the number of students we project will enroll that fall, and then 20 students decide not to enroll, we lose $250,000 in operating revenues. Contrast this to a public school, where the budget remains the same even if those same 20 students choose to enroll elsewhere.
Second, LA cannot set the cost of tuition based on anticipated costs, rather, our tuition (known as the Maximum Allowable Tuition or MAT) is calculated each year by the Maine Department of Education (DOE). Like most public schools, our per-pupil costs exceed the MAT. We make up the deficit between operating costs and tuition revenues through fundraising and other miscellaneous revenue, including income from the residential program.
The third major difference revolves around how the school is governed. Lincoln Academy is a 501c3 non-profit institution governed similarly to other nonprofits. Our Board of Trustees maintains fiduciary responsibility for the institution and hires the Head of School, who in turn hires faculty and staff. The Head of School oversees the day to day running of the school, enrollment, fundraising, compliance with local state and federal laws, maintaining certification through New England Association of Schools and Colleges and the DOE, and managing relationships with area educational partners including AOS93.
Lincoln Academy supports school choice for families. We are proud of our long tradition of serving all students who choose to attend our wonderful school.
Jeffrey S. Burroughs
Head of School