WINTHROP — Local voters rejected a $11.19 million school spending plan Tuesday and elected two people, June Bubier — an incumbent — and Rita Moran to seats on the Town Council.

Residents voted 477-438 against the school spending plan, providing the latest twist in what’s been a tumultuous year in Winthrop.

With that outcome, the Winthrop School Department will continue to operate under the current year’s $11.2 million budget until a new spending plan can be passed by voters.

The proposed school spending plan was controversial, in part because of a large error that was discovered in the town’s finances last year and that has left the town with a $1.5 million deficit and a shortage of operating funds. Town and school officials have argued about which side was responsible for that error.

More recently, Town Manager Peter Nielsen handed in his resignation following the discovery of a smaller, unrelated funding error.

Because of the town’s financial challenges, some residents and town councilors pushed the School Department to cut more out of next year’s spending and find savings in areas that don’t affect school programs. They have argued that even the slightest increase in property taxes can be hard for elderly residents to afford.

The school spending plan — along with a slightly reduced municipal budget that was passed by the Town Council last week — was projected to raise the town’s tax rate from $1,584 per $100,000 in valuation to about $1,744 per $100,000.

Outside the polls on Tuesday, two handwritten signs advised residents to reject the proposed school budget, which is a fraction of a percent lower than this year’s $11.2 million plan.

One man who had just voted, 47-year-old Michael Buck, said he doesn’t pay close attention to the town’s finances but decided to oppose the budget after seeing those signs.

The Town Council will meet with school officials on Monday to discuss ways to reduce the spending proposal, said Sarah Fuller, chairwoman of the council. They will try to avoid reducing any student programs, Fuller said.

The Winthrop School Department has said it can’t remove any more spending without cutting educational programs, and there was an uproar among local families last month after the department proposed eliminating arts and music classes, sports and other extracurricular activities. About 200 residents attended one Town Council meeting, many to oppose the drafted cuts.

“The school budget needs to pass, and it needs to be bigger,” said Peter Selwood, 76, after he voted Tuesday afternoon.

A retired educator whose children attended Winthrop schools, Selwood said he’s aware of the town’s financial challenges, but he doesn’t think children should be deprived of music classes and other opportunities as the town climbs out of its deficit.

On Tuesday, voters also filled two seats on the Winthrop Town Council, choosing from a large field of candidates.

Moran received 275 votes and won election to a seat that has 2.5 years remaining on it, after it was vacated when Richard Henry moved out of Winthrop in April. Also running for Henry’s seat was Andrew Bellegarde, Milton Hadley III, Elizabeth McKenney and Amanda Meader.

Meader received 263 votes, McKenney received 142, Hadley received 117 and Bellegarde received 67.

There were 903 votes cast in the election.

Moran, 71, was the co-owner of Apple Valley Books, a bookstore on Main Street that was open for about 20 years and closed in 2015. She has also been involved in other efforts around town, including the creation of a farmer’s market, and said last month she can bring a mix of new ideas to the council.

Bubier received 432 votes and was elected to a seat that has 1.5 years remaining, which she was appointed to fill after her husband David Bubier died last winter. She was challenged by Andy Wess, who received 408 votes.

Bubier, 68, ran for re-election, she said, because she would like to continue her husband’s efforts to keep the tax rate low for Winthrop residents.

Going forward, the council will have to work with the School Department to craft a new spending plan. It will also have to decide what steps to take following the resignation of Nielsen, the town manager.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

 

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