The Winthrop School Department, as a member of Alternative Organizational Structure 97, continues to reflect the excellence that has characterized the efforts of staff, students, and parents throughout the state. We are one of the very few school districts in Maine to have an increase in our student population, and our high school is ranked at No. 20 in academic strength and quality, as measured by the Maine DOE indicators and No. 13 in the latest Maine high school rankings released by US News; we are the only high school in central Maine to receive this national recognition.

At the same time, the quality of a school district is measured by many factors beyond test scores and we are proud that:

* The performing and visual arts programs continue to add great energy to the school district and are recognized for their excellence throughout the state. Our one-act play team has finished first in the state for three of the last four years in Class C competition.

* Winthrop continues to offer several special programs that distinguish the district (e.g., gifted and talented, Latin I-V, technical education, math league at the middle school and math team at the middle and high schools, a cross-section of Advanced Placement courses at the high school, and literacy labs at all three schools).

* Winthrop’s athletic program is broad and deep, with more than 35 sports teams at the middle and high schools; many of these teams also participate in post-season play each year.

Maine is a state with high standards for both its curriculum frameworks and its NECAP testing program. As noted in our school report cards, Winthrop’s students are meeting benchmarks on a regular basis and are performing at high levels. The next phase of education reform in Maine will emphasize the continuation of the content and skills emphasis in the curriculum frameworks — better known as the Maine Learning Results — but signal the need to add new aspects to the education of students to prepare them for the 21st century through the new common core standards in mathematics and English/language arts/reading.

We continue to provide all of these opportunities for our stakeholders in the Winthrop community — despite continuing severe economic conditions — and the loss of significant federal and state dollars, as has occurred throughout our state; in addition and not unlike other districts, over the last three years, we have lost more than 40 staff members, not bought new resources and supplies for our classrooms, and seen our special education costs increase more than 30 percent. In light of these concerns, our teachers, our parents, and our students have stepped up to the plate in order to ensure the continuation of quality programming in our schools.

Now in Winthrop, we are faced with another significant loss of programs and staff — despite an increased enrollment in our buildings — if our budget is not approved Tuesday. While I have coordinated $116,000 in budget adjustments from our original FY13 budget submitted to the Town Council, any additional cuts will result in loss of program equity for students not just here in Winthrop, but throughout the region and will come from cuts in textbooks, athletic and co-curricular programs and funds to support an increase in our student enrollment at the Augusta Career Tech Center, one of the cores of enhanced student engagement as put forth by the governor and our state education commissioner. In addition, library books and media supplies, as well as staff designed to accommodate our present and expected district enrollment increases would also have to be re-examined.

Though the fiscal downturn will continue to affect our district and community, as it does the rest of our state, in terms of scaled-down programs and opportunities, I remain committed to ensuring a quality program of teaching and learning in all of our classrooms in the Winthrop public schools.

I want to urge voter support for the passage of our FY 13 school budget Tuesday. With our latest round of cuts, as well as those from the town budget, Winthrop has reduced the average tax increase for the 2012-2013 budget year from $91 to $54 for a homeowner with an average home price of $109,000 here in the town.

I also want to extend my sincere thanks to all stakeholder groups throughout the state for their support of their local school budgets, and everyone’s support in ensuring that all of our schools remain high-quality with many signature programs — recognized regionally and statewide — and well-trained staff who continue to be the foundation of our programs of teaching in learning in our schools.

Gary Rosenthal is superintendent of schools for AOS 97.

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