Brewer school budget shortfall already being discussed

Posted Oct. 21, 2011, at 9:23 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — When Superintendent Daniel Lee and school department business manager Gretchen Gardner presented this year’s school budget to the City Council in May, they warned that future state aid reductions were likely.

Their prediction is coming true to the tune of at least $213,000, but that is not the bottom line loss, Lee said Friday.

“We project we’re going to lose $213,000 in general purpose aid [and] $233,000 in education jobs funding for a total $446,000 that we project we’re going to lose, at the minimum — this is a minimum,” he said.

Add into that the increased cost of personnel, insurance, energy, transportation and materials and “it could take almost $700,000 to make us whole,” the superintendent said.

The school department’s strategy is to try to save money now.

“We’re trying to preserve as much carry-forward as we can to offset this difficult loss,” Lee said.

Brewer is not the only school district talking state funding decreases. Bangor Superintendent Betsy Webb updated her school board recently when she sent out a systemwide email about the projected $1.4 million drop in revenues for the Queen City.

Brewer differs from Bangor in that nearly half of the high school’s population is made up of students from outlying communities, who have school choice.

“We have 717 students at the high school and 325 are tuition students,” Lee said. “That’s a little less than half, but nevertheless it’s a very significant portion.”

School leaders project its tuition rate each year, which is set by the state based on spending, and “if we’re off at all with this number … it can have a disastrous effect,” the superintendent said.

School leaders are juggling several revenue streams concerning the preliminary fiscal year 2012-13 budget, Lee said, saying it will be months before any official figures are known.

“Our goal is to create a budget that still maintains and hopefully improves the amount of educational programs for our children,” he said, adding whether that happens will depend on local leadership and funding.

This year, thanks in part to federal stimulus funds, school officials were able to ask city taxpayers to pay less for education, Lee said.

Brewer’s school budget for 2010-11 is $19,596,958, which was offset by $14,141,927 in revenues, leaving $5,455,031 to be raised by city taxpayers, which is a drop of $125,000 from the amount they contributed during the 2009-10 school year.

“We’re planning for what appears to be inevitable cuts from the state,” City Manager Steve Bost said Friday. “We’re preparing to brace ourselves for those cuts and determine how to move forward.”

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