WINTHROP — Days after slashing $100,000 from a proposed school budget, councilors have hastily organized an emergency meeting to reconsider their decision.
Councilors have scheduled the special meeting for 7 p.m. Monday at the town office. The sole item on the agenda is reconsideration of the 2013-14 school budget that the councilors last week agreed to send to voters. That budget slashed $100,000 from a proposal presented by the school board.
Councilors took the action Monday despite the urging of dozens of people during a public hearing to forward to voters the budget developed by the school board. The budget cut was designed to force the school board’s hand to require teachers to pay a greater portion of their health insurance, which has been an objective for the council since the budget process began last summer. Councilors targeted the cuts to the regular instruction line item, which nearly exclusively includes teacher salaries and benefits.
But the Winthrop School Board met Wednesday and announced that instead of requiring teachers to pay a larger portion of their health insurance premiums, the budget cut would force the district to lay off as many as 10 teachers. That number, suggested during Wednesday’s meeting by school board member Kristin Shumway, is an estimate because the positions have not been identified. Shumway said the layoffs would involve a number of teachers, however, because by the time they occur the educators would have already been paid for much of the year and the teachers who are laid off would have the least amount of tenure and thus earn less money.
Councilor Lawrence Fitzgerald, who attended the meeting, responded by suggesting he would urge the council to reconsider the cut. He said the council “was not interested” in layoffs.
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 has said everyone who commented urged councilors to send the budget 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 premiums. Councilors have said the mandate is motivated by the desire for teachers’ plans to be similar to what’s offered to town employees. Winthrop teachers currently pay nothing for individual coverage and 15 percent of premiums for plans that include spouses and families.
Rosenthal said before Wednesday’s meeting that 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 match 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.
Craig Crosby — 621-5642 [email protected]