WINTHROP — Residents head to the polls Tuesday to vote on a $10.98 million school spending proposal, after a majority last month rejected a budget about $200,000 more expensive than that.

The latest proposal comes after several contentious weeks in which members of the Town Council have pushed for a series of administrative cuts to the School Department, including a reduction in the superintendent’s hours. School officials have opposed those cuts.

But School Board members now are encouraging voters to approve the $10.98 million proposal, because they expect the town to receive about $277,000 in additional school revenue from the state budget that was approved in early July and hope some of that revenue can be used to restore two of the cuts.

Throughout the budget negotiations, some residents have supported the council’s hard line. They point to a $1.5 million shortfall in the town’s finances and the fixed income of elderly residents as reasons to limit local spending.

Other taxpayers have opposed any large reductions in the school budget, arguing that they could diminish the town’s school system. One of those taxpayers, David Hughes, lives in a home just off Main Street and has planted a sign in his front yard. It advises residents to “Vote No: School Budget is Too Low.”

The previous, $11.19 million spending proposal was rejected in June in a 477-438 vote. Roughly 20 percent of registered voters turned out for that election.


The new proposal marks a 2 percent reduction from the current year’s $11.2 million spending plan and would preserve many of the schools’ existing programs. An earlier proposal by the School Department would have ended various arts and extracurricular programs, but that proposal was removed from the table, in part because of an outcry from local parents and students.

On top of the $10.98 million in the school spending plan, the proposal includes $120,000 for adult education and school nutrition, bringing total possible spending to $11.1 million. Town Manager Ryan Frost didn’t respond to a request for an estimate of the budget proposal’s effect on the town’s tax rate. The plan that was rejected in June, when combined with town spending, was projected to raise the tax rate from $1,584 per $100,000 in valuation to about $1,744 per $100,000.

The proposal would cut a total of $155,000 in administrative costs, which could lead to the district’s superintendent having to work part time — a change the Town Council approved last week but school officials have opposed. It also would eliminate an existing curriculum director position and a health aide position the School Department hoped to create this year.

If the budget passes on Tuesday, Superintendent Gary Rosenthal plans to ask the Town Council whether $100,000 of the $277,000 in new state revenue could be used to restore his position to full time and create the health aide position.

The remaining $177,000 should be used to shore up the town’s finances, Rosenthal said.



The Town Council proposed reducing the funding for the School Department’s central office in part because its members think the district can get by — for a limited time, at least — without a full-time superintendent. Councilors also proposed the cut because a budget recommendation from Gov. Paul LePage would have diverted state funding away from school administration.

But in an interview, Rosenthal said that the budget approved by the Legislature now includes $121,000 for administration in the Winthrop School Department. He thinks the council should consider using that restored revenue to fund his position full time. Rosenthal’s salary during the 2016-2017 school year was $99,854.

Rosenthal also said the proposed health aide position is necessary, given the growing number of health and behavioral needs facing Winthrop children and the fact that just two health workers currently work in the district’s three schools.

“We only have one nurse and one health aide for all three facilities,” Rosenthal said. “Both of those ladies are running ragged. What we’re asking for is a third position … in order to give us one health aide in every building. We are the only school in the region that does not have either a nurse or a health aide in every one of its buildings.”

In an open letter to residents this week, Rosenthal laid out those arguments. He also described the district’s accomplishments, as well as its growing assortment of challenges, which include rising homelessness and nearly 45 percent of students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.

“We are continually asked to do more with less,” he wrote. “We have worked hard and have achieved high performance levels and want to maintain consistent academic leadership throughout the region.”


If the $10.98 million spending proposal is approved on Tuesday, it’s not clear whether the Town Council would agree to spending $100,000 on the health aide or the restored salary for Rosenthal. Sarah Fuller, chairwoman of the Town Council, said councilors will consider those requests at a meeting on Aug. 7 if the budget passes.

“We’re looking forward to seeing what voters do on Tuesday,” Fuller said, before referring to a presentation that was made by the School Department’s nurse, Rachel Miville, at a Town Council meeting earlier this month. “There was a good case made for the health position that was needed. I think there might be some support for that. Rachel brought hard numbers in terms of students’ needs, student issues and the kind of logistical challenges of being one person between three buildings.”


The council also will consider how the additional state revenue could be used to mitigate the tax effect of future budgets, Fuller said.

If passed, the school budget would join a $6.99 million municipal budget passed by the Town Council in June, which included no cost increases.

Councilors have made their spending proposals based on this year’s operating expenses of the School Department. School officials managed to save more than $300,000, after a $1.5 million shortfall was discovered in the school side of the budget last fall. Now councilors think the School Department should maintain those savings in the coming year as the town starts to recover from the shortfall.


But town and school officials have disagreed about which side was responsible for the shortfall — which stemmed from an error two years ago in which the amount of revenue from the state was counted incorrectly — and the School Department has argued that too much austerity could affect the quality of the school system.

Hughes, the Winthrop parent with the sign on his lawn, attended a recent Town Council meeting and chastised councilors for their proposed cuts. In an interview on Thursday, he said he’s concerned that any cuts to the school budget this year won’t be restored in the years to come, though the council has said its recommendations are just meant to last a couple of years. And he disagreed with school officials’ decision to back the latest spending proposal, on the hope that the Town Council will reverse course in the next couple of weeks.

Hughes expressed those views to Rosenthal on a recent afternoon, after the superintendent paid him a visit at his house. By coincidence, Rosenthal arrived at Hughes’ house immediately after a reporter and photographer had come to ask him about the sign on his lawn.

“I have no faith the Town Council wants to put money back in,” Hughes said. “I think the school board’s position is one of fear, and I don’t think they should ever make decisions out of fear.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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