Effort to cut Bangor school budget fails

Bangor City Councilor Nelson Durgin
Alex Barber | BDN
Bangor City Councilor Nelson Durgin Buy Photo
Posted May 13, 2014, at 2:19 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A city councilor’s effort to force the Bangor School Committee to slash its proposed budget by an additional $178,000 fell short in a tight vote Monday night.

Councilor Nelson Durgin wanted the school board and city officials each to commit to cutting $500,000 from their respective budgets in an effort to soften the projected tax hike for Bangor residents.

However, the school committee recently learned it received $322,000 in unexpected revenue from federal sources, so Durgin counted that new revenue as part of the reduction in his proposal. The $178,000 reduction to the proposed $43.15 million school budget, plus $500,000 in cuts at the city level, would have brought the property tax rate — currently $20.80 per $1,000 of valuation — to $21.80 rather than $22.17.

“We’re trying to hold the line as best we can, and this is a chance to do that,” Durgin said.

Ultimately, his proposal was narrowly rejected, with four councilors in favor and five against. Councilors Pauline Civiello, David Nealley and Josh Plourde backed Durgin’s amendment.

The City Council has no authority over line items in the school budget — it can’t tell board members what to cut — but can reduce the School Department’s overall allocation.

Superintendent Betsy Webb told councilors before the vote that any further reductions to the school budget would hurt the quality of education in Bangor schools.

“To go deeper will jeopardize our programming,” she said.

Pressed by Councilor Jamie Gallant on what might be lost, Webb said that she has discussed eliminating clubs, going to a four-day school week, or even calling off the School Department’s most expensive sport — hockey. The school board never pinpointed exactly what it might cut if its budget were reduced further.

Civiello has asked whether it would be viable for Bangor to close or merge schools to save on long-term costs associated with administration and aging infrastructure.

Webb said that has been talked about but wouldn’t work because the many student transitions needed would put their education at risk. She cited data that show such major changes can contribute to student struggles.

“They did not choose to be educated during a recession,” Webb said, referring to Bangor students.

The rejection of Durgin’s motion effectively means the $43.15 million school budget has been approved and will appear before Bangor voters on June 10. The council still needs to approve the budget officially during its next regular meeting, but at this point it might be too late for the school committee to complete any major revisions in time for the election.

Councilors continue to weed through the budgets of each municipal department before tackling the task of determining what, if anything, should be cut, according to Council Chairman Ben Sprague. The city has said any further budget reductions will mean shrinking or eliminating city services.

Both city and school officials have pointed to decreasing state and federal funding, along with increasing unfunded mandates, as the main sources of financial woe.

City officials are planning a public meeting for Thursday, May 22, at the Cross Insurance Center to gauge feelings on the budget and to get an idea of what services people might want to see reduced or lost in order to limit the tax hike.

Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter @nmccrea213.

 

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