A Winthrop Town Council member on Monday will ask the board to reconsider a $155,000 cut from the school spending plan, saying she should have asked more questions Wednesday before approving revised budget figures proposed by a fellow council member.

Priscilla Jenkins said she was surprised by the adjusted, $10.98 million spending plan that was proposed by Linda Caprara, the council vice chairwoman, at the last minute Wednesday night.

Jenkins recognized that the figures Caprara was offering were different from the School Department’s spending proposal, she said on Thursday, but she thought Caprara was offering those numbers to correct a mistake.

“I should have asked more questions,” she said, adding that she was “angry” about the $155,000 cut in the spending proposal that slipped by her.

Many people were shocked when the council unanimously stripped $155,000 from a spending plan for the town’s schools, which had been approved just hours earlier by the School Board.

Besides Jenkins, at least one other councilor who voted for the changes was surprised to realize what she’d approved, and numerous schools officials expressed dismay about the unexpected outcome.


“I had no idea we were voting on numbers that were not the numbers the (School Board approved),” said Rita Moran, a recently elected council member, on Thursday. “You have no idea the angry messages I have been getting. … I am embarrassed and uncomfortable with the fact that I participated in a public hearing and then we voted on numbers other than what people had public input on.”

Caprara — who didn’t respond to a request for comment on Thursday — made that proposal at the end of a meeting in which the Town Council was authorizing a total amount for next year’s school spending, so that the plan can be sent to voters in a couple weeks.

Voters rejected the town’s first, $11.19 million school spending proposal last month.

Earlier on Wednesday night, the School Board approved a new $11.14 million spending plan that would have consolidated a couple of teaching positions, reduced the pay for several administrators, eliminated a pay raise for Superintendent Gary Rosenthal and lowered the amount for the district’s nutrition program, among other savings.

But in Winthrop, the Town Council has approval authority over the total amount of all school spending plans before they can head to voters. A date has not been set for the next vote, but council is hoping to get it back out to referendum in late July.

After the School Board approved its spending figures Wednesday, the council held a public hearing that lasted nearly two hours, in which councilors and members of the public asked Rosenthal about different items. About 45 people attended the meeting.


Then Caprara began reading off the different parts of the budget for the councilors to approve.

When she got to the sections of the budget for school administration, then student and staff support, she read off spending figures that were, respectively, $80,000 and $75,000 lower than what the School Board had approved. But Caprara explained her changes only toward the end of the process.

“I think we need more of a reduction,” Caprara said on Wednesday. “I’m confident this isn’t hurting any students in terms of programs.”

Even before Caprara finished reading off the changes, Joseph Pietroski, a School Board member, registered his objection.

“I’m kind of upset that you would try to pull this off without the School Board’s consultation,” he said. “I think we should have debated this. I don’t think you can say it’s not going to hurt kids and the school system. We’re at bare bones level, and we’re going to have to cut some things. I can’t believe you’re doing this.”

According to Sarah Fuller, the Town Council chairwoman, the adjustments in the spending plan corresponded to positions in the school budget that Caprara and some other councilors would like to see eliminated or scaled back.


One of their hopes is to reduce the superintendent position to part-time, as it was some years ago, Fuller said. They’ve also questioned the need for a curriculum director position and a newly created health officer.

“They were all things that (Caprara) and the council had asked about cutting in previous meetings,” Fuller said on Thursday.

Fuller also asked why the School Department did not propose changes in its administrative spending earlier in the spring.

She said there will be a second reading of the spending plan Monday night that will give people who were confused or frustrated by the process an opportunity to express their views.

On Thursday, Rosenthal said school officials were “disappointed” and “blindsided” by the council’s decision to remove $155,000 in spending from their proposal.

He questioned Fuller’s view that his position might be downsized — “How many $11 million corporations do you find that are run by part-time CEOs?” — and said the proposed cuts would harm the quality of education in the school district.


The school district saved more than $300,000 in spending in the current school year, to help the town begin recovering from a $1.5 million budget shortfall, but that austerity can’t continue, Rosenthal said.

“We’re just about down to bone now,” he said.

Town and school officials have traded blame for that shortfall, but Jenkins and Moran said they are trying to extend more goodwill between the two sides — which made their unknowing approval of Caprara’s proposals on Wednesday night all the more frustrating.

“Most of us, at least on the council side, do not actually know how this error occurred in the first place,” Jenkins said. “I do not understand the tremendous ill feeling that has developed between a few of the folks. That just kind of amazes me.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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