WINTHROP — The ax fell, but the tree didn’t.

The school board met Wednesday looking to chop upwards of $370,000 from a projected $980,000 deficit for the 2011-12 school year.

Four hours later, the board had cut $223,000, leaving a gaping shortfall of more than $750,000.

Under the current plan, the board is hoping the town of Winthrop will plug $600,000 of that hole with an increase in the property tax rate of $1 in additional tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value.

The board authorized spending reductions Wednesday of about $183,000 — less than 2 percent of the proposed $10.1 million budget — in part by eliminating an educational technician position in the grade school and not filling a vacancy from retirement in the high school physical education and health program.

In earlier meetings, the board had approved spending cuts, partial closures of facilities and staff reductions valued at approximately $440,000.

Among other cuts approved Wednesday, the grade school’s budget for library books and supplies would be reduced by $7,500 and several administrators would forego a scheduled raise. Expenditures for professional staff development and training would be cut by $57,000. And the board voted to approve a two-tier busing arrangement, as well as to seek information about the possibility of contracting with a private company to provide busing for Winthrop’s schools.

“The effort,” said Keith Morin, assistant principal of the middle and high schools, “is to make sure that the cuts or reductions were least restrictive on the classroom.”

The board considered, but rejected, a proposal to eliminate all middle school extracurricular activities, for a projected savings of $75,000. Instead, a plan was adopted to impose activity fees for sports and other activities at the middle and high schools to raise $40,000 in revenue. A recommendation to eliminate one of three teachers in the grade school’s Learning Lab was also considered, in sometimes anguished debate, but discarded.

Ultimately, the school budget must be presented to the Town Council and approved at Town Meeting.

School board member Mark King argued against personnel cuts that would hurt the classroom.

“Enough is enough,” he said. “We need to go to the town with a budget that isn’t fully balanced and say, ‘What are you going to do for us?’ I don’t want to go and cut everybody and then have them say to us, ‘You got to cut some more.'”

Chairman John Mitchell agreed the school board needs to go to the Town Council, “but before we go, we have to go through with this exercise,” he said.

Still about $150,000 short of where the board wanted to be, Mitchell then turned his attention to a 3.3 percent pay raise for Winthrop’s teachers, scheduled to take effect in July.

Addressing teachers in the audience directly, Mitchell asked if they would be willing to forego their scheduled raise for another year.

“This is the sentiment of the community,” he said. “It’s not that you’re not entitled to it. It’s not that you don’t do a good job. It’s that these are difficult times.”

In its last act of the evening, the board passed a motion to ask the Winthrop Education Association, the teachers’ union, if its members would be willing to defer the raise from this year to next.

A one-year deferral could pare another $100,000 from the budget deficit.

In a separate meeting that immediately preceded those deliberations, the board of directors of Alternative Organizational Structure 97, comprising the towns of Winthrop and Fayette, voted to approve a budget of $390,000. Of that amount, the AOS board voted to set aside a scheduled 3 percent pay increase in a contingency fund, pending final outcome of Winthrop’s budget process. That set-aside affects the pay of 4 employees of the central administration.

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