WINTHROP — The school department’s budget is taking its final shape three weeks before it’s supposed to go to voters.
In presenting a $10.3 million budget to Town Council, Winthrop Public Schools Superintendent Gary Rosenthal said there may be a few changes before the school board votes on it next week, but the major contours are in place.
In its current form, the budget is 4.2 percent higher than the one voters approved in February, which in turn was essentially flat from the 2012-13 budget.
“We played a little bit of catch-up this year,” Rosenthal said.
The increase includes higher costs for health insurance, transportation and cleaning services, as well as more staff and new textbooks.
The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget at 6 p.m. Tuesday. It will then go to Town Council, which will make preliminary decisions on both the municipal and school budgets at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 28.
The official public hearing on both parts of the budget is scheduled for 7 p.m. June 2, after which Town Council will vote. The council’s vote on the municipal budget is final, but if they approve the school budget, it will go to a public referendum on June 10.
Most of the increase in the budget is driven by the addition of instructional staff.
A new kindergarten teacher would bring class sizes down from 18 students to 15, and the guidance counselor’s job at Winthrop Grade School would change from the equivalent of three days a week to four.
At Winthrop Middle School, the physical education teacher would become full time so the students can have gym class multiple times per week, instead of just one 45-minute class per week.
Two new education technicians would provide additional support to students struggling in math and English language arts at the middle school. The state report card released last week gave the school a C, down from an A the previous year. It showed that students in the lowest quartile of performance aren’t making as much progress as they should, Rosenthal said, particularly among this year’s sixth graders.
The district would pay stipends to five teachers to become instructional coaches working with their fellow teachers on the evaluation system Winthrop will pilot next school year and fully implement in 2015-16, as required by state law. The instructional coaches are part of a model being developed by a group of school districts that Winthrop has joined, the Western Maine Education Collaborative, and Rosenthal said the stipends will probably be $1,000 or $1,500.
New students with special needs require the hiring of five more education technicians, and the special education article of the budget is also being pushed higher by the addition of the director’s compensation, which had been part of the Alternative Organizational Structure 97 budget.
After Fayette’s withdrawal, Winthrop is the only school district remaining in AOS 97, but school board Chairman Ike Dyer said they plan to keep the name and organizational plan in place in case another community wants to join.
The budget would buy science and reading books for the grade school, replace physical textbooks with electronic ones for middle school math and provide new French, English, science and social studies textbooks for the high school.
The budget also starts the school district on multiyear plans to replace sports uniforms, upgrade technology and improve the school buildings, which are priorities in the strategic plan that will be released in June, Rosenthal said.
He also told Town Council about some future goals, like a new boiler and chimney at the middle school, new kitchen equipment, an on-site day care for grade school staff’s children and expansion of foreign language at the grade school and middle school.
Councilor Linda Caprara said she thinks expanding foreign language offerings — whether by adding a third language or teaching it to younger students — is important. Rosenthal agreed and said foreign language classes also help students with English, but he said the district has had to set other priorities for now.
“The more pressing need at this point was English and math because that’s what we’re being judged on,” he said. “I don’t like it more than anybody else, but when the state and the feds tell us that’s our main criteria for evaluation, for benchmarking, for our report cards, we’ve got to pay some attention to that.”
Councilors did not make any criticisms of the budget as presented, and some of them praised the turnaround in the school nutrition program, which is in a position to finish the year in the black for the first time in years.
Nutrition program interim director Erin Dow, hired in January, said participation has increased by 22 percent, and workers are cooking more meals from scratch instead of relying on packaged foods, creating net savings of more than $1,000 per day. Dow said she has introduced 17 recipes and is visiting classrooms with samples to familiarize the kids with new foods.