Winthrop school officials are pushing back against the blame they think they have received unfairly for a $717,000 budgeting error that was discovered in the late summer and have now asked that the town pay the school district $534,140 for separate budgeting errors they say were made over the last couple of years.

But in an interview Thursday night, Sarah Fuller, chairwoman of the Town Council, said she disagrees with those accusations and will be meeting with the town’s auditors Friday “to get the facts together.”

At a special meeting Thursday night, Gary Rosenthal, superintendent of the Winthrop School District, and Virginia Geyer, chairwoman of the Board of Education, said they were requesting the $534,140 payment for budgeting errors that were made in the last four years but that they discovered only recently.

Those claimed errors included the town’s failure to make debt service payments to the district in the last two years and to reimburse the school district for an alternative program known as the Carleton Project in 2012 and 2013.

When the $717,000 error first was announced at a Town Council meeting two months ago, Rosenthal declined to blame anyone publicly, instead pointing out that a number of local officials and an auditor review the school budget before it’s approved by voters. But on Thursday, he handed out copies of a letter in which the school district’s attorney says town officials were responsible for the budgeting mistake.

Officials made the error when they were calculating the 2015-2016 school budget and accidentally counted a $717,000 revenue item twice. The total budget approved by voters that year was $10.82 million. The extra $717,000 was then carried over into the $11.2 million budget that voters approved in June this year.


That has left the school district with $717,000 less than it thought it had. Since the shortfall was discovered, school officials have identified several measures to make up for it, including a budget freeze, the refinancing of a storage shed, the delay of technology purchases and the spending of $182,000 in surplus funds. They have pledged not to make raising taxes necessary to address the shortfall.

On Thursday, Geyer expressed frustration that some residents have seemed to blame the school district for the error.

“(Rosenthal) has been belittled and yelled at in a public council meeting and in private, all because you think Gary is to blame and the municipal side has no blame,” she said, reading from a letter she wrote to Town Manager Peter Nielsen last week.

Nielsen was not at Thursday’s meeting and didn’t respond to a call or email seeking comment.

No town councilors attended the meeting, but reached afterward, Fuller said she thinks Rosenthal and Geyer have “only recently … changed their story” about the $717,000 budgeting error. When it was first discovered, she said, they acknowledged the mistake and agreed to find ways to address it.

Fuller also expressed doubt that the town owes $534,140 to the school district and said she will be reviewing those numbers with the town’s auditors Friday. She said the Town Council probably will consider the request from the school district to pay that amount at its next meeting, in early December.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

Twitter: @ceichacker

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