Bangor school budget shows little increase despite state cutbacks

By Eric Russell, BDN Staff
Posted March 15, 2011, at 10:29 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A flat line on an EKG is bad news.

When it comes to creating budgets, though, Bangor school Superintendent Betsy Webb said she prefers a relatively flat line to drastic ups and downs from year to year.

“It’s steady. … I hope residents appreciate that,” she said.

Later this week, Webb will present a draft budget for the next fiscal year to members of the Bangor School Committee that decreases expenses by 1.8 percent but still would require an increase from local taxpayers of about $350,000. The local increase is in line with this year’s budget and the 2009-10 budget, too.

The reason behind the gap is less money coming to Bangor in state education aid as well as the elimination of federal stimulus funding that was used last year to plug holes in the budget.

In past years, Webb and her staff presented bigger budgets as a starting point and worked to trim those gradually with help from school committee members. In some years, different departments present “wish list” budgets, but that didn’t happen this year, she said. As such, the superintendent predicted little downward movement in her initial draft of the 2011-12 budget, which sits at $41.7 million.

“Everyone who worked on this was well aware of the difficult times we’re in,” Webb said.

Between lost stimulus funds and reduced state aid, Bangor will lose $1.6 million in revenue next year. Some of that, about $750,000, will be filled by the city’s share of a federal jobs bill that passed last year to further help boost the economy.

Still, Webb knows that money will not be around the year after next.

“When we’re looking at our budget, we’re not looking year to year but several years down the road,” she said. “Our goal was to squeeze back on everything rather than lop off whole sections.”

A recent study of Maine’s public schools by the Maine Education Policy Research Institute at the University of Southern Maine concluded that numerous Bangor schools were both high-performing and efficient. Webb said that’s a good sign that education dollars are being well-spent.

The Bangor School Department receives about 42 percent of its revenue from the state, based on a funding formula that considers enrollment and property valuation.

The rest comes from local taxpayers. An increase of $350,000 in the local share would translate to about 15 cents on the municipal tax rate, which currently sits at $19.20 per $1,000 of property valuation.

In trimming expenses, no one area of the budget is carrying more water than another. Webb said the budget would cut 10 positions, most of which will be eliminated through natural attrition. Some savings were achieved in heating costs resulting from the school department’s staggered switchover to natural gas in recent years. Much of that money was put back into essential education programming.

Webb will present the draft to committee members on Thursday. Later this month, the committee will host a first reading and a second reading, during which committee members and the public can ask questions and request more information.

Once the budget is approved by the school committee, it must then be approved by the City Council and, eventually, Bangor voters in June.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/03/15/news/bangor/bangor-school-budget-shows-little-increase-despite-state-cutbacks/ printed on July 28, 2014