POLL QUESTION

Bangor School Committee reluctantly trims budget further

Posted May 19, 2011, at 7:51 p.m.

Poll Question

BANGOR, Maine — Bangor School Committee members approved with much reluctance an additional $130,000 in cuts from the proposed 2011-12 school budget in an effort to hold the city’s tax rate flat.

In a special meeting Thursday, the committee voted 4-1 on the $41.6 million budget, which still needs council approval next week and then voter approval at a referendum scheduled for June 14.

Chairwoman Phyllis Guerette said she supported the additional cuts out of respect to the City Council and to Bangor taxpayers, but she also said she was disheartened by the need for more cuts.

Committee member Kate Dickerson, who cast the lone opposing vote, was more vocal with her frustration.

“We have such a history of being an efficient school department. It seems like that’s recognized by everyone except our city councilors, with all due respect,” she said.

City councilors met last week with School Committee members and tasked them with making additional budget cuts to help keep the council’s pledge of a zero tax increase.

School Committee members approved the original budget in late March, two weeks after it was first presented by Superintendent Betsy Webb. That budget decreased expenses by 1.8 percent but still required an additional $350,000 from local taxpayers because of steep cuts in state and federal funds.

The initial budget reflected cuts from areas including supplies, textbooks and minor capital improvements. It also eliminates 10 positions, half of which will result in layoffs. The additional cuts announced Thursday would eliminate a history teaching position at the high school and one position each in vocational education and co-operative education, and include some minor cuts to athletics.

City councilors have power over the School Committee only on budget matters, but it’s rare for the council to disagree with what the school board already has approved. Dickerson said she felt as though councilors did not have solid justification for asking for further cuts.

“There are certain things you have to pay for,” she said.

Webb told School Committee members that the cuts come dangerously close to reducing the quality of service in Bangor’s schools and she worried about the impact of additional cuts in the future. The Bangor School Department has been continually recognized as one of the best and most efficient in the state by a number of state and federal education entities.

Next year, Webb said, the school department will start the budget process $663,000 in the hole because of the loss of one-time federal funds. That money currently is being used to retain 16 positions.

Committee members shared the superintendent’s concerns.

“I feel that continued belt tightening will get us to where we can’t breathe anymore,” said Christine Szal.

Added Warren Caruso: “We cannot sustain this direction in the future. A year from now, we need to be looking at this in a different way.”

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