WINTHROP — A 2013-14 budget for Winthrop Public Schools could be a few months off, but Superintendent Gary Rosenthal said that won’t disrupt preparations for the school year.

Rosenthal said the district can work with the $9.9 million budget from 2012-13, which is only $541 higher than the school board’s proposed budget for 2013-14 that Town Council rejected on Monday.

“We’re getting ready to prepare for the opening of school. We’ve got 850 kids coming back and teachers,” he said. “It’s time to move forward.”

The school board can shift up to 5 percent of the money in any cost center to another cost center for purchases and staffing changes they planned while creating their new budget, Rosenthal said.

Town Council rejected the school budget 6-1 on Monday with Priscilla Jenkins dissenting. They said school staff’s health insurance coverage needs to change so it’s equitable with coverage for town employees, and they also want to wait until an auditor’s review is complete before approving a school budget.

A referendum on the school budget was tentatively scheduled for Sept. 10, but the auditor’s review may not be complete until October. The auditor has flagged problems with school accounting practices, but school officials have denied any mismanagement.

Changes to health insurance would have to be made through negotiations, which are ongoing with two employee associations, both of which have contracts that expire in August.

School and union officials have said that councilors’ demands regarding insurance could amount to third-party bargaining and cause legal trouble for the school board.

When a school budget is not approved in time for the new fiscal year that begins July 1, the budget in effect is the last one to be approved by the district’s legislative body, which in Winthrop’s case, is the Town Council.

Deputy Education Commissioner Jim Rier said that should mean a 2013-14 budget, which Winthrop doesn’t have. The Department of Education, however, will not dispute the legality of Winthrop using its 2012-13 budget, and the district will receive the appropriate subsidy payments from the state.

Winthrop town attorney Lee Bragg said councilors can direct the town assessor to set the tax rate based on the amount of the 2012-13 school budget if a new budget has not been approved. They typically have committed taxes in September, but Bragg said there’s no deadline, though councilors will have to find another way to maintain cash flow if the town collects taxes late.

An indefinite continuing appropriations resolution is funding Winthrop Public Schools until a school budget is approved both by Town Council and voters at referendum.

“In the meantime, it’s the council’s intention to keep the doors open and see that school operations are funded essentially at the level requested by the school department,” Bragg said.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
[email protected]

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