The Bangor School Committee strongly opposes the proposed reductions in general purpose aid to education in the governor’s state budget, which threaten the financial health of our community and the quality of education for our students.
If enacted, this proposed budget would be devastating to the quality of education for our students without a significant increase in the local property tax.
The governor’s budget proposes to reduce state aid to Bangor in fiscal year 2010 by $755,000, and it is estimated to reduce fiscal year 2011 state aid by approximately $2 million. Losing nearly $2.8 million in state aid over the course of the biennial budget would return Bangor to 2007 funding levels. All the while, the Bangor School Department has been lauded as an effective and efficient system, and our student enrollment has remained stable and is growing at the pre-K-8 level.
In 2004, Maine voters overwhelmingly passed a referendum that requires the state to provide 55 percent of the cost of education. After a great deal of effort spent developing this funding model, the proposed budget betrays the often-repeated goal of progress toward reaching 55 percent. The proposed budget would reduce the percentage of the state’s share of education costs to 44 percent in fiscal year 2011.
Historically, there have been attempts to alter the Essential Programs and Services school funding formula in difficult financial times, and we are concerned that the current climate may inspire such tinkering. Although the Essential Programs and Services formula is not perfect, now is not the time to introduce changes that may do more harm than good, particularly should such changes create an uneven playing field among Maine’s municipalities.
The formula that determines the allocation of funds should be the same formula to determine curtailments and reductions in funding as it is the most equitable option. Indeed, all Maine children deserve a quality education, and funding decisions must remain above the political fray.
The Bangor School Department has a long-standing tradition of academic excellence, and the community takes great pride in the success of our schools. As cited in many national reports, the educational program provided for Bangor children and youth is one of the greatest assets of our community. People want to live in Bangor for the quality of the educational system, and the economic health of the community is largely dependent upon the educational opportunities provided.
The mission of the Bangor School Department is academic excellence for all students and the Bangor School Committee uses this mission to guide all decisions. Although we know the importance of extracurricular activities in the education of our students, the governor’s budget clearly places these programs in jeopardy. Illustrating the magnitude of the proposed cuts, the complete elimination of all athletics at Bangor High School would cover less than one-third of the proposed loss in state revenue.
It is imperative that the voters of Bangor understand what’s at stake as the budget process unfolds in Augusta. In today’s fast-paced world, a quality education is critical to success. We must hold our legislators accountable for their fiscal decisions and communicate our unwavering commitment to excellence in education — and our expectation that the state will fulfill its obligation.
Shifting the tax burden from the state to the municipal level would leave Bangor’s property taxpayers holding the bag, and that’s no solution for the problems facing Maine.
This commentary was written by the Bangor School Committee: Phyllis Guerette, chairman, and members Mary Budd, Warren Caruso, Nichi Farnham, Beth Grant, Phyllis Shubert and Christine Szal.