BANGOR, Maine — Back in late January, Bangor School Superintendent Betsy Webb already had a budget proposal she’d be quite proud of in a typical year.
But this isn’t a typical year.
“I loved our first draft budget because I know it was slim and trim, but it was a 1.5 percent increase and when I looked at the additional money needed from the city, I knew it was too high,” she said. “It was fiscally responsible in a perfect world, but it wasn’t doable. So we cut another $393,079 with supplies, overtime, transportation and trips.”
The result is a 0.54 percent increase and a 2013 fiscal year budget totaling $41,606,064. The 2012 adopted school budget totaled $41,380,595.
It’s the fourth straight year Webb and Bangor School Department administrators have had to produce a recessionary budget. This year, the estimated total loss in school budget revenues is $1.2 million.
“It’s pretty amazing we’re only up half a percent when you consider that we had to add back in the employees funded by the federal jobs bill, which Congress passed on a one-time basis to avoid layoffs,” said Webb. “We’ve taken and put those  people back into the regular budget, which amounts to $664,000, and our budget is still only up $225,000. So we had to cut in order to get this.”
Those cuts came in many forms, including full- and part-time staff and teaching positions, athletic uniforms, club and team trips, teacher professional days, food services, supplies including textbooks and computer software, athletic facilities maintenance, furniture, and printing services.
“We have cut 30-plus positions over the last four years,” said Webb. “We have really tried to take advantage of attrition and monitor school enrollment very carefully.
“For instance, we planned on hiring another teacher at Abraham Lincoln School, but someone retired late. I watched the enrollment over the summer and talked with the principal, and we reassigned some people and opted not to fill the vacancy.”
That kind of approach has helped Bangor avoid having to make more drastic cuts and kept the budget fairly steady over the last four years, with an average increase per year of 0.28 percent.
“I’ve worked under five superintendents in my 24 years teaching and I’ve been really impressed with her,” said Shelley Blosser, a teacher at William S. Cohen School. “I’ve never worked under one who does more prep work. She has vision and plans for what’s coming down the road.”
That doesn’t mean there aren’t any tough budget cuts.
“Ultimately on the secretarial side, someone will lose a position if someone doesn’t retire or leave. That’s hard,” Webb said.
The budget will be formally presented to Bangor’s City Council on April 11, but it’s unlikely it will look the same then.
“I’m sure there will be changes between now and then, and I’m sure there will be more afterward,” Webb said. “For us there are still variables moving on the funding and expenditures sides. Right now we just have to make a best guess to come up with these budget proposals.”
Case in point, Webb just found out Bangor’s state aid was decreasing $12,000 more than expected. The state aid total for 2012-2013 is $16,480,135.
“I’m keeping my fingers crossed that’s as [low] as it goes,” she said. “I’ve already lost another $50,000 in funding in one area and now $12,000 here from the state, but I’m also waiting to see what happens on expenditures.”
And that could bring good news. United Technologies Center, which serves as Bangor’s vocational center, hasn’t passed its budget yet, but Webb said UTC Director Fred Woodman indicated it can be cut by $27,000.
Webb has two major guiding principles when it comes to the budget: planning and “building it from the classroom up.”
Bangor even hired 30-year-old research and planning firm Planning Decisions in South Portland three years ago to project enrollments for Bangor schools.
“They said we’d grow slightly in the next 10 years, but they said the one thing they couldn’t estimate was a recession,” Webb said. “They said if you have one, what tends to happen in urban areas, especially service centers, is you’ll see an influx of people moving in.”
Three recessionary years later, that trend appears to be continuing.
“When you get to our middle schools, we’re kind of flat, and in high school, we’re down,” said Webb. “But in the elementary schools, we are bursting. We have a lot of children.”