WINTHROP — Teachers could begin receiving notices as early as next week that they will lose their jobs after town councilors on Monday cut $100,000 from a budget proposal scheduled to go to voters next month.
School Superintendent Gary Rosenthal said during Wednesday’s school board meeting that the contract requires a 90 day notice for layoffs, which means teachers will begin to receive notification Monday for layoffs that would likely occur in April. School officials say more than 10 positions would have to culled in order to meet the $100,000 reduction.
“I have to give the announcement now,” Rosenthal said. “If we don’t get our money back in the budget in those 90 days, you will lose your job.”
Councilor Lawrence Fitzgerald, who attended Wednesday’s meeting, urged the board to delay sending the layoff notices to give the council time to hold an emergency meeting to discuss the budget. Fitzgerald said the council’s decision to shave $100,000 from the budget was designed to force the teachers’ contribution toward health insurance to match the percentage of town employees. Fitzgerald said councilors believed the cut would have the least impact on students and programs.
“I have talked to councilors today about layoffs and there’s no interest in that,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re not trying to disrupt lives.”
The budget, minus the $100,000, is scheduled to go to voters on Feb. 11, though that timetable could change if the council agrees to Fitzgerald’s suggestion to hold an emergency meeting to reconsider the budget.
The discussion comes on the heels of councilors’ decision Monday to shave $100,000 from the 2013-14 budget proposed by the school board. Councilors targeted the cuts to the regular instruction line item, which nearly exclusively includes teacher salaries and benefits. The reduction is aimed at requiring teachers to pay a greater portion of their health insurance.
“I said during the meeting that this was a very tight budget, and if any money was cut, at all, it was going to result in cuts in services and programs and staff,” Rosenthal said. “Our administrative team met (Wednesday) morning, and we have begun to discuss adjustments to the budget. We don’t have anything definitive yet. I’ve asked everybody to begin to look at their programs and come up with some priority adjustments that we can look at throughout the district.”
The nearly $10 million budget proposed by the school board was about $500 less than the 2012-13 budget. It closely mirrors a proposal town councilors rejected in June after an auditor flagged problems in more than 20 school spending accounts. Councilors froze spending on the accounts and delayed the budget process until the completion of a more thorough audit, the results of which were presented in September.
The budget process stalled until December when councilors agreed to send the budget to a public hearing, which was held Monday night. Rosenthal said more than 150 people attended the public hearing, about 70 of whom commented. Rosenthal said everyone who commented urged councilors to send the budget forward to voters.
But councilors rejected the budget and agreed to send forward to voters a budget that cut $100,000 from the instruction line item. Both votes were 5-2, with Sarah Fuller and Don Ellis casting the dissenting votes to accept the school board’s budget and to reject the council’s proposal.
Councilors have urged the school board since last summer to revamp the teachers’ contract to force the educators to pay a greater share of their health insurance. Councilors have said the mandate is motivated by the desire for teachers’ plans to more closely mirror those of other town employees, who pay a greater percentage of their health insurance. Winthrop teachers currently pay nothing for individual coverage and 15 percent for plans that include spouses and families.
Rosenthal said the school system is already paying less for better coverage. He said if employees on the single plan paid 10 percent of their coverage, and those with spouses and family plans paid 25 percent, it would only save the schools $27,000. Rosenthal, who believes the council came up with the $100,000 reduction to mirror health insurance cuts in the municipal budget, said the school board’s negotiations attorney has said it is impossible for the board to save $100,000 in health insurance benefits.
“We have a contract in place. I can’t just go in and cut the contract to my employees,” Rosenthal said.
The school board, which voted unanimously to urge voters to reject the council’s proposed budget, delayed signing the warrant for the Feb. 7 referendum for fear that it would send the message to voters that the board approved of the budget proposal. School Board Member Kristin Shumway said there is a large section of the community that is willing to help spread the word about the budget and encourage voters to overturn it.
“We don’t want any information misconstrued about our budget, that cuts are being made because it’s going to result in a tax increase,” said board member Kristin Shumway. “I don’t agree with the changes.”
Rosenthal said state law requires the town to vote every 45 days until a budget is approved. That means the school board could simultaneously continue work on the 2013-14 budget while developing the 2014-15 budget. Shumway said no budget process in the state has extended past March. Winthrop, if the budget is rejected Feb. 7, is on pace to break that record.
“This is unprecedented territory for the state,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a notoriety we should be proud of.”
Staff Writer Susan McMillan contributed to this report.
Craig Crosby — 621-5642 [email protected]