BANGOR, Maine — The School Department’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2014, which Superintendent Betsy Webb characterized as an “incredibly difficult budget year,” is $932,000 higher than the current budget, a 2.26 percent increase.
Webb, joined by members of the school committee, presented the budget proposal to the City Council for the first time during a Thursday evening meeting.
The $42.2 million proposed budget is still in flux as legislators review and counter Gov. Paul LePage’s biennial budget plan. Earlier this week, the Legislature’s Education Committee opposed the governor’s recommendation to shift half of teacher retirement costs to school districts. The state currently pays that bill in full. LePage’s proposal would have provided districts with nearly $29.4 million in additional funding over the next two years to help cover those costs.
If the retirement shift were to happen, Bangor School Department would see its fiscal year 2014 budget increase to $42.8 million, or 3.8 percent over this year’s, according to Webb.
“What is clear is there will be changes,” Webb said of her budget, adding that the School Department prepared its budget without accounting for the committee-opposed retirement shift.
There are other “moving parts” that might affect the school budget picture. For example, the Education Committee proposed increasing school funding by $30 million, though some budget committee members countered that none of the lawmakers proposed a way to pay for that increase.
The majority of the proposed increase in funding was the result of an analysis by Rep. Brian Hubbell, D-Bar Harbor, which found that state funding falls $22 million short of covering Essential Programs and Services, which is the state’s own minimum school funding guidelines.
Webb said the budget increase is the result of a number of factors, including a decrease in the number of tuition students, a projected $462,000 drop in revenue, a $271,000 curtailment, and the fact that 51 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunches. The superintendent said the School Department lost more than $1 million in revenue in the past year and more than $6 million during the past five years.
The district has eliminated nearly 27 positions in the past four budgets, according to Webb. Because of an enrollment increase, this year’s budget would add three more teachers, an educational technician, a technology position and a half-time grant writer.
The budget also includes salary for an assistant superintendent, a position that is vacant after Robert Lucy resigned in March. His salary was $101,000. When Councilor James Gallant asked whether the position was factored into the proposed budget, Webb said most school departments of Bangor’s size have an assistant superintendent, and that having someone to oversee curriculum, assessment, technology and other efforts would be vital.
“We need that position,” she said.
Councilors seemed supportive of the budget. Councilor Joe Baldacci called it “conservative and prudent.”
Councilor Ben Sprague suggested that the city and School Department might be able to consolidate services, sharing human resources or information technology staff as a way of cutting costs in the future.
Debbie Cyr, the city’s finance director, said such a change would be difficult, as the state requires that school departments use certain programs to keep track of data, such as accounting information, and those aren’t the same used by city staff. Having staff use two separate programs to track data for two organizations likely would result in errors, she added.
For information on the Bangor School Department budget, visit www.bangormaine.gov/image_upload/Schoolbudget2014WEB.pdf