WINTHROP — They came for a cut. They left with a trim.

After lively and sometimes contentious debate Wednesday, the school board approved two motions that would reduce the deficit by $92,000 — less than 10 percent of the shortfall facing Winthrop schools.

The deficit, estimated at $1.4 million at the start of the budget process, had already been cut through staff and program reductions at an earlier meeting to a $980,000 gap.

The board met Wednesday in front of a crowd of more than 100 people at the Town Office to look for ways of reducing the looming budget deficit for fiscal year 2011-12.

Karen Criss, principal of the middle and high schools, and Jeff Ladd, principal of the grade school, recommended the board save $47,000 in energy and custodial expenses by closing the second floor of the grade school, which currently houses fourth- and fifth-graders, and the new wing of the middle school, where three classrooms are located.

Although this option would result in somewhat lower savings than closing the south wing of the grade school or the middle school outright, Criss and Ladd argued closing the second floor of the grade school and the new wing of the middle school would be less disruptive to education.

Ike Dyer, vice chairman of the board, agreed.

“Let’s keep the three schools and pay the piper,” he said.

The board also voted 5-0 to authorize Criss and Michael Jack, Winthrop athletic director, to find ways of generating $45,000 in revenue from fees for participation in co-curricular activities, such as clubs and sports.

Criss noted that Winthrop currently spends about $300,000 per year on co-curricular activities, including transportation to school-sponsored events.

Mark King, board member, reminded those present that colleges prefer well-rounded students who have participated in co-curricular activities.

The board also considered, but discarded, a four-day school week as a means of cutting costs. A motion to consider a two-tiered busing arrangement was also briefly considered, then tabled.

Several audience members focused on the cost of administration and asked whether it was in line with Maine’s Essential Programs and Services guidance. One person asserted that Winthrop’s system administration expense was at least $200,000 higher than the recommended standard.

“We’re going to take a look at administrative costs,” said John Mitchell, chairman of the school board.

Although further reduction of staff appeared as an agenda item, it was skipped Wednesday night and might be considered again at a later meeting.

Wendell Scott is a Kennebec Journal correspondent who lives in Winthrop.

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