BANGOR, Maine — The Bangor School Committee approved a $43.7 million budget Wednesday night for fiscal year 2015, an increase of 2.42 percent over this year’s budget. If the Bangor City Council approves the budget in May and city residents vote to pass it in June, property taxes will increase by 3.8 percent.
The Bangor School Department is asking to increase its budget to accommodate the rising costs of personnel and utilities, which is coupled with a $920,000 decrease in the amount of funding that it will receive from the state, according to Superintendent Betsy Webb.
“I think it’s always important to remember that we have been cited as a high performing and efficient school system,” Webb told the Bangor School Committee at the first reading of the budget on Wednesday night. The committee voted 4-1 to accept the budget.
Students in the Bangor school system scored better than the state averages on standardized tests last year, while the cost per pupil was about $1,000 less than the state average, according to data provided by the Maine Department of Education.
Fifteen school districts in Maine’s more densely populated areas, including Portland, Lewiston and Augusta, are also proposing budget increases this year, according to Webb.
The Bangor School Department will receive less money from the state next year because the number of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch and the number of students who receive special education services have decreased, as has the overall population of students within the school system, Webb said.
The budget increase will put the City Council in a difficult position.
“The two things we hear most are ‘don’t raise property taxes’ and ‘protect our schools,’” said City Council Chair Ben Sprague at a joint budget workshop between the Bangor School Department and the City Council last week.
“I think we all want the same thing here, which is the best schools possible at the appropriate value,” he said.
At the meeting, Webb’s draft budget was 3.84 percent more than this year’s budget, which she brought down at the request of the Bangor School Committee and the City Council.
Last year, the Bangor School Department’s budget increased by 2.26 percent, but in the two years prior, it shrunk by 0.34 and 2.25 percent, respectively. Webb pointed out at Wednesday night’s meeting that over six years, the budget has increased by only 0.8 percent.
This budget is still several steps from passing.
The Bangor School Department will have a second reading of the budget on April 9. Webb will hold a meeting with parents to go over the budget at 7 p.m. April 15, at the Bangor High School Lecture Hall.
The Bangor School Committee will have another joint workshop with the City Council on April 30. The City Council will hold readings of the budget in May, and city residents will vote whether to approve the budget on June 10.