Bangor School Committee approves budget, but will City Council?

By Eric Russell, BDN Staff
Posted March 31, 2011, at 5:45 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Bangor School Committee members on Wednesday unanimously approved a $41.7 million budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year that asks for an additional $350,000 from local taxpayers.

Despite efforts by Superintendent Betsy Webb and her staff to cut nearly $825,000 from last year’s budget, more local money is needed because Bangor has lost $1.9 million in state revenue sharing and federal stimulus funds.

In trimming expenses, no one area of the budget was spared. 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, but much of that money was put back into essential education programming.

“There is certainly pain in this budget, but it retains that core Bangor experience that makes us so special,” Webb told school committee members Wednesday.

The passage of the budget came just two weeks after it was first presented to school committee members, who offered no suggestions or changes. Webb made some minor adjustments to the first draft but it didn’t significantly change the total.

Member Kate Dickerson said Wednesday that she was impressed with the diligence of Webb and her staff but disheartened that any cuts needed to be made.

“I’m hopeful this is the last year we have to maintain the status quo,” she said. “I don’t want to have to keep looking in cup holders … and in kids’ piggy banks for loose change.”

The next step for the Bangor School Department budget is approval by the City Council, and that may not come as easily. Councilors already have said that they want to hold the tax rate flat at $19.20 per $1,000 of property valuation. If the school budget asks for $350,000 from taxpayers, that would mean 15 more cents on the tax rate.

“It certainly puts pressure on us,” City Councilor Rick Bronson said. “Does the municipal elected body just take that budget as it arrives and move forward or do we say, ‘This isn’t going to work’?”

It’s been a long time since city councilors have seriously questioned the school department budget, but Bronson wondered if this might be the year. City councilors and the school committee are scheduled to meet in a joint workshop next Thursday, April 7.

Webb has said her goal in crafting next year’s budget was to avoid any peaks and valleys but to make minor cuts across the board. About $650,000 in lost revenue will be plugged with funds from a federal jobs bill that passed last year, but that is one-time money.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/03/31/news/bangor/bangor-school-committee-approves-budget-but-will-city-council/ printed on July 23, 2014