After 200 residents went to a meeting in Winthrop Town Hall earlier this week, many to oppose proposed cuts in the School Department’s arts and extracurricular programs, the council and School Department might be reaching a compromise on next year’s budget.

The School Department has been pushing for an $11.4 million school budget for next year, which would mark a 2 percent increase over this year’s $11.2 million budget and preserve all the system’s existing programs.

The council has resisted that proposal, instead asking school officials to cut costs next year and come up with a $10.9 million budget. The town is trying to crawl out of a large budget deficit that was discovered last summer, and the council decided on that lesser amount because it’s about as much as the School Department has spent this year.

To reach that target, the department drafted a budget that would decimate the system’s arts, music and drama programs, while also ending sports teams such as cross country and tennis, and extracurricular activities such as the robotics and outing clubs. School officials have said those programming cuts would have been unavoidable, given the rising cost for things such as health insurance and special education.

On Wednesday night, though, the council softened its stance and asked the School Department to come back next week with an $11.19 million budget proposal, with some of the programs restored. Many councilors have said they support those programs too, and they were hoping the department could find savings in its administrative costs.

Now Superintendent Gary Rosenthal said he’s working with school administrators to determine which programs should get priority. The department had proposed eliminating an art teacher and a music teacher to meet the council’s budget target, but those positions probably will be restored in the new draft budget. They also might restore the robotics clubs, a high school play and some sports that have been targeted for removal, Rosenthal said.


The School Department plans to present its new budget recommendations to the council Tuesday. If councilors agree with the proposed numbers, the school board hopes to vote on the budget the next day, Rosenthal said. That would allow the council to vote on the budget the following week, before sending it to voters in a June 13 referendum.

Both Rosenthal and Sarah Fuller, chairwoman of the Town Council, said their respective sides were able to find compromise at the meeting Wednesday night.

But Fuller said that even a $11.19 million budget would drive up the town’s property tax rate. Under such an increase, the owner of a $100,000 home could expect to pay $160 more next year, Fuller said.

Town officials have insisted on minimizing next year’s tax increase, to spare the financial burden on taxpayers who live on fixed incomes and to help the town begin its recovery from a deficit. That deficit was caused by a mistake two years ago, in which officials overcounted the revenue going to the School Department by $700,000, inadvertently shortchanging the system.

Since the deficit was discovered last summer, town and school officials have disagreed about which side is responsible for the costly mistake. Officials now are considering borrowing $2 million so that the town can pay back the deficit and restore its operating funds next fiscal year.

No increases are expected in the town’s $7 million municipal budget. The council is planning to delay several capital improvement projects, such as road paving, and to remove about $22,000 in spending next year.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

Twitter: @ceichacker

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