WINTHROP — A controversial school budget has cleared a major hurdle, receiving narrow approval from the Town Council on Monday night despite one councilor almost sinking the measure because she misinterpreted the way it was presented.

The $11.19 million spending plan, which is down less than 1 percent from this year’s budget and has been the subject of contentious wrangling between town and school officials, will go to voters on June 13.

“I’m very happy,” said Gary Rosenthal, superintendent of the Winthrop School Department, after the council’s 4-2 vote. “This has been a very long budget process. (I hope) we can establish some bridges with the council as a result of this.”

Earlier this year, the School Department was pushing for an $11.4 million school budget, which would mark a 2 percent increase and preserve all the system’s existing programs. But the council 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.

About 200 residents attended a meeting last month, many of them to protest a draft budget that would have cut arts programs, sports and activities to meet that goal; and a day later, the council voted for school officials to come back with the recommendation that was approved Monday night.


Some councilors questioned the necessity of those proposed cuts, saying the School Department could have found other savings, but school officials insisted they couldn’t reduce any other costs. Councilors also have continued to emphasize that even a $11.19 million spending plan would drive up the town’s property tax rate, an increase that’s hard to afford, given the town’s current financial challenges.

Under the new school budget, the owner of a $100,000 home can expect to pay $160 more, Town Council Chairwoman Fuller said.

About 50 people attended the meeting Monday night, some to speak against any tax increases, and others to speak in favor of the school budget.

The $11.19 million spending plan almost didn’t pass, as two councilors, Linda Caprara and Linda MacDonald, continued to oppose it. A third, June Bubier, almost sided with them. The council even held an initial vote, in which the budget was rejected, 3-2.

But after a resident sitting in the audience, Elizabeth McKenney, reminded Bubier that she was one of four councilors who recommended the $11.19 million budget figure last month, Bubier said that she misunderstood the way the budget was presented in a form handed out Monday.

That form listed two costs, adult education and the school nutrition program, that totaled $170,000 and appeared to be added to the spending plan, bumping its total amount to $11.36 million. Bubier moved for another vote, and the school budget passed, 4-2. It will now head to voters on June 13.


Bubier has been on the council for less than a year, after being selected to serve on an interim basis when her late husband, David Bubier, died last winter. After her mistake, several officials noted the town’s budget forms can be hard to understand.

Residents will vote to fill two open seats on the council next week. Both Bubier and McKenney are running for seats in that election.

Andy Wess is running against Bubier for her seat, which has another year-and-a-half on it. Five candidates are running for another seat that was vacated by Richard Henry in April: McKenney, Andrew Bellegarde, Milton Hadley III, Amanda Meader and Rita Moran.

On Monday, councilors also passed a $6.99 million town spending plan, which is down a fraction of a percent from this year’s budget and was drafted by Town Manager Peter Nielsen — who announced on Monday night that he is resigning because of a recently discovered tax mistake.

Not included in the new town budget are a number of capital costs, including road paving and the replacement of an ambulance and a police cruiser. But on Monday night, at the last minute, councilors decided to add one additional cost to their spending plan, $29,297, to pay for a police officer to patrol downtown Winthrop and the town beach.

Last summer, police officers were called to deal with many reported disturbances at the beach and at downtown businesses.


The town also is building a $1.8 million fire station this summer, but that project will be paid for with a mix of grants and loans. The first loan repayment will be due in the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

Twitter: @ceichacker

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