BANGOR, Maine — The Bangor School Committee, like most educational bodies in Maine, has had to make its share of tough budget decisions and cuts over the last few years. And that trend doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon.
Superintendent Betsy Webb already has made fellow school officials and employees aware of future dire financial straits. After taking time to update school board members and the public at a recent school board meeting, Webb has put out a systemwide email notice illustrating some of the specific funding challenges ahead.
• Because of a change in the funding formula, Bangor is estimated to lose $437,122 in general purpose aid in 2013, the third-largest loss in Maine behind Easton and Winslow, according to a preliminary Department of Education estimate.
• Bangor no longer will have federal Jobs Bill funds, which now amount to $735,000. That money is funding 16 positions in the school budget.
• Maine Department of Education Deputy Commissioner Jim Rier has advised state school systems not to count on Medicaid reimbursement revenues. In 2009, Maine systems were reimbursed $29 million, but last year federal regulations changed and Maine received just $6 million.
• School departments also have been informed that state agency client reimbursement for wards of the state will utilize changes found in the Medicaid reimbursement process, meaning Bangor faces additional losses of revenue in that area, which now accounts for approximately $120,000, according to Webb.
“What this all means is we are facing a reduced revenue stream. We’re still a great system in a great situation, but just as all households and businesses are doing, we have to really look at our costs and make very fiscally sound decisions when we put our budget together,” said Webb. “For me, that’s why I’m soliciting ideas and reactions from our faculty and employees.”
Webb said the total estimated loss of revenue for Bangor is nearly $1.4 million, and any further cuts to general purpose aid will make the situation even worse.
Webb said Bangor’s School Department budget has only grown 0.6 percent over the last three years — 1.48 percent in 2009, 1.36 percent in 2010, -2.25 percent this fiscal year. Bangor has lost 27½ positions over that period, but most of them were through natural attrition in the form of retirements or teachers leaving to take other jobs.
Bangor has employed several cost-cutting measures during that span.
“We’ve done energy conservation kinds of things to reallocate funding from outside electrical lines.We’re now spending less for power,” said Webb. “We use vegetables from our own garden, which is sustained with a school composting project. It’s not a lot, but every bit helps.”
“One of our school committee members said it’s like we’re looking for loose change in the couch,” Webb said.
Webb’s memo about the expected financial shortfalls is not intended to cause panic, but some teachers and school employees are nervous.
“I don’t think they should panic. It’s very early and these are only projections,” Webb said. “I do want them to know what we’re facing and hopefully find some ideas from others outside the department or committee that may be practical cost-savers for us. We’re in a brainstorming state right now and we’re looking at all options. I feel confident we can find some solutions.”
Webb said enrollment for pre-kindergarten through fifth grade is up, middle school enrollment is stable, and Bangor High School’s enrollment is down 38 students to 1,250.