Bangor school committee approves budget

Posted April 01, 2010, at 10:06 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — School committee members in Bangor approved a 2010-11 fiscal year budget Wednesday that asks local taxpayers to contribute approximately $350,000 more toward education than they did last year.

The budget of $42.6 million reflects an expected reduction of nearly $900,000 in state aid but also includes approximately $1.5 million in federal stimulus funding that is being used to offset revenue loss, according to Superintendent Betsy Webb.

She said without that stimulus funding, the school department likely would have had to seriously cut into student services or ask taxpayers for more money.

“We feel this is fiscally responsible and will help us get through a difficult recession,” she said Thursday.

The proposed budget, which still needs approval of the Bangor City Council and city voters, would increase the school department’s share of the municipal tax rate by 20 cents, from $8.70 to $8.90. Bangor’s overall tax rate is $19.05 per $1,000 of property valuation.

“Creating our budget is a challenge from year to year, but I think the process went very well,” School Committee Chairwoman Phyllis Guerette said Thursday. “I’m very pleased where we ended up. I think by any standards that’s pretty darned good.”

With stimulus funding included, the budget reflects an increase of 1.7 percent over the prior year, but without those funds, the budget actually is 2.7 percent less than the 2009-10 budget.

Most of the increases in expenses are reflected in the area of salaries and benefits to teachers and staff. In order to soften the effect of those increases, cuts were made in capital improvements, materials and the elimination of some teacher positions through attrition. The budget eliminates five full-time positions and two part-time jobs, which were all vacant.

Webb also pointed out that the school department already had trimmed $750,000 from the current budget to offset larger-than-expected reductions in general purpose aid from the state.

Last December, the superintendent and her staff were charged by the school committee to present a 2010-11 budget that did three things: represented the best interests of students, maintained the level of services the Bangor school department is known for, and showed fiscal responsibility.

Guerette said the budget accomplishes those goals but also reflects an even approach, as opposed to big swings up or down that she feels would affect students.

Webb and Guerette will present the school department’s budget to city councilors on April 14. During its own budget discussions recently, the City Council has been firm in keeping a flat tax rate, even at the expense of cutting services in areas like fire and public works. It’s unclear whether councilors will ask the school depart-ment to honor that pledge as well.

“I can’t see further cuts without affecting services [in a negative way],” she said.

Guerette agreed and was optimistic that the council would approve the budget as presented.

“I know on their side that they have called for a zero percent increase and I know they are struggling with a lot of hard choices,” she said. “What I’m hopeful for is that we have a chance to present to the process of how we got where we got.”

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