Presque Isle’s plan to attract Chinese students shows financial promise

Posted Nov. 30, 2013, at 12:15 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 30, 2013, at 1:01 p.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — There are two serious challenges facing SAD 1 — declining enrollment and a loss of $2.5 million in revenue in the last five years. However, the district is trying to take a proactive approach in dealing with these hurdles with a growing Chinese initiative.

The China initiative is a three-pronged effort, Superintendent Gehrig Johnson told school board members during their last meeting on Nov. 20.

“We want to increase diversity at Presque Isle High School, which is currently approximately 1 percent,” he said. “Presently PIHS is one of the least diverse schools in the state of Maine, and Maine is one of the least diverse states in the United States.”

The second prong is accepting foreign tuition students at PIHS, which will increase the revenue stream into SAD 1.

“SAD 1 is expecting between five and 10 students from China in September 2014,” said Johnson, noting that the district has 275 more empty student seats than it did just 10 years ago. “These tuition students will pay approximately $30,000 each for the 2014-15 school year. This will generate between $50,000 and $100,000 in net income to SAD 1, and another $100,000 to $200,000 to the local economy.”

The third prong of the initiative is increasing the revenue stream into SAD 1 by participating in international schools in China.

“One Presque Isle international school, Shengli No. 1 High School in Dongying, China, is now up and operating, and there are eight students attending,” Johnson said. “Three more international schools are scheduled to start in the fall of 2014. SAD 1 will receive a percentage of the tuition on a per-pupil basis. We’re estimating it to be between $750-$1,000 per student, and the revenue to the district has the potential to be significant in future years.”

Johnson and Business Manager Charles Anderson traveled to China for the second time in October, when they participated in opening ceremonies at a new Presque Isle international school in Dongying, and visited with teachers, students and parents in the program. With all expenses being paid by their Chinese hosts, they logged 24,000 miles in eight days visiting schools in Dongying, Tangshan, Quijing and Nanning, all cities with populations between three million and five million.

According to the agreement, the joint experimental program’s goal is for the Chinese to learn from the philosophy, academic systems and management of an American high school, and prepare students for innovation, critical thinking and international communication.

The unique agreement was signed in 2011. PIHS students also will soon be able to spend a semester in China, if they choose.

At the November board meeting, Johnson and Anderson presented a brief slideshow of pictures taken during their recent China visit.