BANGOR, Maine — City councilors approved the Bangor School Department’s proposed 2010 fiscal year budget Wednesday after lengthy discussion about whether the school department should share more of the potential cuts that councilors are wrestling with on the municipal side.
Councilor Geoffrey Gratwick, the only councilor who did not support the school budget, admitted that it wasn’t fair for any department to have to consider cuts at all.
“[But] these are grim times in Bangor,” he said. “Revenue is down, [subsidy] from the state has been cut. We have to come up with that shortfall.”
Councilor David Nealley, who ultimately supported the school budget, suggested that there should have been more consideration about wage freezes, an issue that has generated significant debate among municipal departments.
“We can’t give specifics [on cuts]; that’s not our job,” Nealley said. “But if other reductions are not found, a wage freeze would make sense.”
Superintendent Betsy Webb, addressing the concerns of Gratwick and Nealley, said she, her staff and the school committee presented a budget that addressed the outlined goals of city staff and councilors. Although the total of $42 million is a 1.4 percent increase over the current budget, Webb said her budget could actually decrease the local taxpayer share once Bangor’s local assessed property value is updated. Of that $42 million, $17.9 million comes from state aid, $2.4 million comes from local revenue and $20.7 million will be paid through taxes.
“We were very clear from the beginning that these were difficult times,” Webb said Wednesday prior to the City Council meeting. “It really forced us to prioritize. We appreciate all the support of school committee members. We had 6,000 lines in this budget, and we went through, line by line, looking for efficiencies.”
Most of the budget increases are in teacher salaries and benefits, as well as in added resources to meet special education needs. The school department projects savings in part through a series of energy efficiency improvements and other streamlining measures.
The Bangor School Committee approved the budget earlier this month. With City Council approval, the budget has just one final hurdle, a voter referendum on June 9. This will be the second straight year that Bangor voters will get the chance to approve the school budget through a referendum. Webb said the budget process is exhaustive but for a good reason.
“I think it just shows the amount of transparency involved, that it goes through multiple, multiple steps,” she said. “I think taxpayers understand that the value of a quality education is really an investment in the future, and we have a tremendous community that has always supported education.”