Bangor School Department looks to increase budget for next fiscal year

Posted March 23, 2014, at 2:39 p.m.
Last modified March 24, 2014, at 9:17 a.m.
Betsy Webb
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BANGOR, Maine — Bangor Superintendent Betsy Webb has presented a draft budget to the school committee that amounts to a 3.84 percent increase in spending for fiscal year 2015. That would mean adding about $1.6 million to this year’s $42.62 million budget. Despite the increase, Webb said the proposed budget would barely cover the cost of running the city’s schools.

“It’s an extremely lean budget,” Webb told the Bangor School Committee at a budget workshop on Friday afternoon. “I would share with you that this is complicated by a loss of revenue, increasing utilities, increasing personnel costs.”

“Also, we only have four retirements at this date,” she added, explaining that typically she is aware of all planned retirements at this point in the year. “In the past, we’ve seen an average of 25 [retirements].”

On top of that, last Monday, Webb learned that the school department would be receiving $920,000 less from the state for the next school year.

Still, the school committee asked Webb to find places to make further cuts before the first reading of the budget, which is scheduled for next Wednesday night at the Bangor school committee meeting.

“We’re all confident this is a good budget,” said Bangor School Committee member Warren Caruso. “I guess we’ll task you to explore every way possible to make it more fiscally responsible.”

Webb and the committee members agreed that all educational programs should remain intact.

“Personnel is our most precious resource,” Webb said, emphasizing that schools are successful when they have quality teachers.

“I think that it would be devastating to the city to start closing schools. I think it would be devastating to the city to cut programs,” said Bangor School Committee member Sarah Smiley. “While it’s a problem for the school committee, I see it as a problem for the city as well, as far as attracting young families.”

Webb indicated she would look for savings by making purchases on items such as textbooks and furniture, and those items would be saved to be used during the next school year. She said she will also keep a close eye on enrollment because if the number of students goes down, she can eliminate a staff position.

“That only pushes the issue one year down the road, but I would rather do that than look at reducing programs or try the strategies that have been tried across this country,” she said, referring to the closing and consolidating of schools.

The Bangor School Committee and City Council will meet on Monday for another workshop. The committee will vote on whether to pass the budget on April 2. If it passes, it will be sent to the City Council for a vote.

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