The Bangor School Committee began its budget process with three goals: to maintain the best interests of the city’s students, to be fiscally responsible and to maintain the high quality education the city is known for. Its proposed budget, which cut nearly $1 million from the previous year, met those goals. Still, some of the Bangor City Council wanted more cutting, so the superintendent squeezed another $130,000 from the spending plan.
Rather than continue to chip away at the school budget to reach an arbitrary goal of no tax increases for city residents, city council members should focus on what the Bangor schools have achieved and should continue to achieve and what it costs to accomplish this.
Council members are right to want to avoid significant tax increases, but the city’s schools have been recognized, both by in-state and national groups, as exceptional performers that make efficient use of city tax dollars. Maintaining the quality education that draws families to Bangor is an important economic consideration.
Bangor’s schools have been identified as higher performing, more efficient schools as part of legislatively mandated research by the Center for Education Policy, Applied Research and Evaluation at the University of Southern Maine. The ongoing study looks at student performance and education spending.
Last year, the James F. Doughty School was one of two schools in the state of Maine selected as 2010 National Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence.
Further, they must recognize that the proposed school budget calls for spending less money than last year. However, because of a loss of state and federal funding, a bit more is needed from the city to avoid more drastic cuts. As education funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act are phased out, Bangor will get $1.6 million less in ARRA and state funds in 2012 than this year. Since most of the school spending goes to personnel, Superintendent Betsy Webb prepared a budget that eliminated 11 positions, five of them requiring the termination of people. Funding for textbooks, supplies, adult education, extra-curricular activities and other areas were also made.
After the council asked the school department to cut another $130,000, Superintendent Webb rewrote the budget to eliminate another teaching position, while also paring back on alternative education, school-to-work programs and athletics.
The school committee, which had approved the first budget last month, approved the revisions by a 4-1 vote Thursday. Committee member Kate Dickerson, who cast the lone opposing vote, expressed frustration with the request for further cuts. “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.
The city council is expected to vote on the proposed school budget at its Monday meeting.
It should approve the spending plan, which would then go to the city’s voters in June.