BANGOR, Maine — With a last-minute and unexpected contribution from the Bangor Education Association, the Bangor School Committee approved a 2010-11 budget on Monday that would require only a slight increase in local taxpayer contribution.
Bangor city councilors followed suit with their approval later Monday evening, paving the way for the proposed $42.5 million budget to go before voters on June 8.
Superintendent Betsy Webb, business director Alan Kochis and school committee members have been working for nine months on the 2010-11 budget. On one hand, the city was able to apply $1.5 million in federal stimulus funding to offset holes in the budget; on the other hand, the proposed budget reflects a reduction of nearly $1 million in aid from the State Department of Education.
Late last week, as Webb was crunching the final numbers for the budget, she received a bit of good news. The Bangor Education Association, which includes several bargaining groups that represent school department employees, agreed to impose one unpaid furlough day for the coming school year for all employees. The gesture would save the city $100,000 in salaries.
“I think the superintendent did a fantastic job working through this process with us,” school committee Chairwoman Phyllis Guerette said Monday. “But I’m also impressed with the staff for making this concession. I think it’s unprecedented in the city.”
School committee member Nichi Farnham went one step further and challenged the City Council to urge municipal departments to do the same.
Councilor David Nealley said Monday night that the school department clearly looked under every stone for cuts and he praised the concession by school employees. Councilor Pat Blanchette agreed that everyone involved stepped up to the plate.
If approved by voters, the school department’s share of Bangor’s tax rate would increase from $8.70 to $8.77. Bangor’s overall tax rate for 2009-10 is $19.05 per $1,000 of property valuation.
Webb stressed that Bangor voters will not see budget figures with stimulus dollars included when they go to the polls next month. They will be asked to approve a nearly $41 million school budget. Compared with other schools in the area, some of which have proposed double-digit percentage increases, Bangor has been fiscally prudent while maintaining the same levels of academic programming, Webb said.
As it is, the school department already had trimmed $750,000 from the current 2009-10 budget to offset larger-than-expected reductions in general purpose aid from the state.
Most of the increases in expenses for 2010-11 cover salaries and benefits to teachers and staff. In order to soften the effect of those increases, cuts were made in capital improvements and materials and some teacher positions were eliminated through attrition. The budget eliminates five full-time positions and two part-time jobs, which are all vacant.
In previous discussions, Councilors Cary Weston and Richard Stone expressed concerns that stimulus funds were being used to mask problems further down the road. Indeed, if Bangor wants to include all the items covered by stimulus funding in the 2011-2012 budget, it will have to add an additional $1.5 million to the budget, or 85 cents to the tax rate.
Webb said that without federal stimulus dollars next year, the school department likely would have had to seriously cut into student services or ask taxpayers for more money.
Unless the revenue forecast improves by next year, the school department could have the task of creating a budget without stimulus money to fall back on. That has Guerette and others concerned, particularly if the state continues to pass on its budget problems to local municipalities.
“We’ll keep our fingers crossed for next year,” she said.