The Winthrop School Department is coming out of a long budget season, bruised from its failed efforts to get voters and the Town Council to approve more funding for this year, but resolved to continue offering the same quality of education to local children.

While the School Department originally proposed a roughly $11.4 million school spending plan last spring, the budget that was ultimately approved by voters was more than $300,000 lower, at $11.1 million.

Voters rejected one budget proposal in June, before passing the second, $11.1 million plan in July. That spending plan, which is now in place, is 1 percent lower than last year’s $11.2 million budget.

More recently, the Town Council refused a proposal by the School Department that would have allowed it to spend another $100,000 — about a third of the state revenue that’s coming to the district — on administration and the creation of a new health worker position.

But Gary Rosenthal, superintendent of the School Department, said the required cuts won’t hurt the programs and services available to local students.

“Some things, administratively, might be pushed back,” Rosenthal said. “Letters might not be answered as quick. Reports might not be answered as quick, but we’re not going to sacrifice kids. Everybody in this district is for the kids. That’s what we’ve tried to stress to the Town Council.”

The budget cuts also won’t affect Rosenthal’s position, even though some town councilors have suggested the department could continue to operate with a part-time superintendent for the next couple years, as the town tries to recover from a $1.5 million shortfall.

At a Town Council meeting last month, Rosenthal also seemed to suggest that the budget cuts could mean a reduction in his hours. But this week, Rosenthal said that those remarks, made during a tense exchange with members of the Town Council, were meant as a rhetorical question.

“That comment was, ‘What are you trying to do, cut us back to part-time?'” Rosenthal said. “The (School) Board has been consistent and forthright in their determination that this be nothing less than a full time position. The last thing they want is for this district to go backward.”

The district had a series of part-time superintendents before Rosenthal arrived more than five years ago, but during those years, the district suffered in numerous ways, according to Rosenthal.

“It took me literally three years just to stabilize the district academically, financially and in other measures,” he said. “We had no preventative maintenance plan, no uniform replacement plan, no strategic plan in place. We literally had teams out on the field with three different uniforms.”

Before the Town Council sent the second school budget proposal to voters last month, Linda Caprara, chairwoman of the Town Council, convinced the group to remove $75,000 from the section of the budget that includes Rosenthal’s $99,584 salary and other administrative costs. Earlier in the budget process, Rosenthal agreed to forgo a raise.

That section of the budget, which funds both Rosenthal’s office and the School Board, was reduced from $361,417 last year to $315,581 this year, a 13 percent cut.

That was one of the reasons school officials asked earlier this week to spend $100,000 of the $277,000 in state revenue that was received by the district, but the Town Council rejected that measure. Now, the $277,000 will remain in school reserve funds until next fiscal year.

Without that $100,000, the School Department has found several savings in its administrative costs, Rosenthal said. A part-time bookkeeper is retiring, an administrative assistant’s hours have been reduced, and some maintenance projects will be delayed, he said.

Besides restoring administrative funds, the School Department also hoped to use about a third of that $100,000 to pay for a new health worker, so that each of the district’s schools could be staffed with someone to focus on the health needs of students.

Some members of the Town Council have suggested they would support such a position, including Chairwoman Sarah Fuller and Councilwoman Rita Moran. But because the Town Council refused to vote on the $100,000 request, that position won’t be created this year, Rosenthal said.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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