Bangor school budget may see hike

Posted March 12, 2009, at 9:46 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Bangor School Committee members on Thursday were presented with their first look at the 2010 fiscal year budget, which proposes an overall increase of 1.8 percent over 2009.

Superintendent Betsy Webb, who outlined the preliminary budget during a workshop session, stressed that the initial projections show a state subsidy that is exactly the same as last year, $17.9 million.

In reality, Webb said, “We don’t know what our state subsidy will be. It’s like trying to create a budget at home without knowing your salary.”

Most of the projected budget increases are in teacher salaries and benefits, as well as adding resources to meet special education needs. The school department projects savings in part through a series of energy efficiency improvements and other streamlining measures.

“You can clearly see that a majority of our budget goes directly to the schools and the students,” Webb said.

Webb called the modest budget increase — from $41.4 million in 2009 to $42.2 million in 2010 — amazing when considering that the state has not pledged any additional funding.

Aside from the state subsidy unknown, the superintendent also cautioned school committee members that Bangor’s initial budget does not take into account the laptop initiative extension outlined this week in Gov. John Baldacci’s State of the State address.

Webb said she supports the laptop program in principle, but she expressed concerns that adding 1,400 laptops for Bangor High School students could create added costs at the local level.

“The laptop initiative creates all kinds of questions,” she said.

So far, few details have been released about how the laptop initiative would be carried out, but Webb said, from what she has heard, the program would be voluntary.

Bangor is one of many districts throughout the state that is supposed to receive 55 percent of funding for essential programs and services, the criteria of which are determined by the state. However, the state is still in the process of ramping up that process and has not yet met the 55 percent threshold. At some point in the future, when that threshold is reached, it’s likely that more and more of the school department’s budget will fall to local taxpayers, Webb told committee members.

Thursday’s workshop was just the beginning of the budget process. An official first reading will be held during the school committee meeting on March 25. The school committee’s budget recommendation will be made in April. Bangor residents will vote on the budget June 9.

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