WINTHROP — A year ago, Trisha Audette had trouble picturing her son, David, landing on his feet after graduating from Winthrop High School.

Throughout middle and high school, David suffered from anxiety and struggled with tasks: writing essays, asking teachers questions, making up the courses he’d failed a year earlier.

Then something wonderful happened, according to David and his mother. Last fall, at the start of his junior year, he switched from Winthrop High School to the adult education program for residents of Winthrop and Monmouth.

Now 17, he has thrived outside the traditional classroom setting, sailing through his courses and finding a job washing dishes at the Augusta Country Club. He feels ready for the state’s high school-equivalent exam. He has been putting money into a bank account and considering becoming a chef.

But the Audette family, like others who have spoken up in the last week, are worried about the possible closure of Monmouth/Winthrop Adult & Community Education, which has been running a deficit in recent years, according to Winthrop school officials. They’d like the program to still be available to David and other students next year.

“It’s better than high school,” Trisha Audette said during an interview in their kitchen. “He’s completely changed. He’s happy. He gives me hugs. I’m so proud of him. And it’s all from a program that someone wants to close.”

Audette was one of several people who attended a meeting of the Winthrop School Board last week to voice her support for the adult education program.

At that meeting, four women who work for the adult education program presented what they think are steps that would stop it from losing money, such as raising local taxes, expanding programming and seeking outside funds. Other supporters who spoke included students and two members of the Winthrop Town Council, Andy Wess and Priscilla Jenkins.

Winthrop taxpayers have been contributing $25,000 to the adult education program in recent years, while Monmouth taxpayers have been contributing just $5,000, said Claire Hersom, an English teacher in the adult education program who supports keeping it open. By contrast, she noted that some similar-sized districts, such as the Maranacook Area Schools, contribute about $60,000 in local funds to their adult education programs.

While School Board members acknowledged the comments, they made no decisions about the fate of the program, which has a budget of about $117,000 and is funded through a mix of grants, local taxes, and state and federal subsidies.

“We are 100 percent in support of your program,” said Gary Rosenthal, the district’s outgoing superintendent. “However, we are concerned that in order for the program to continue here in Winthrop, we need a plan from you that brings economic stability to the department. We’re not making a decision tonight. (We) want an opportunity to hear you proposal and reflect on the plan.”

The decision of whether to keep running an adult education program is one of many that local officials will have to make as they put together next year’s budgets with a close eye to the overall bottom line. The town is now trying to recover from a $1.5 million shortfall that developed after revenue to the school budget was miscalculated more than two years ago.

Town and school officials have traded blame for that costly error. They also have disagreed about other important subjects, including how to fund the local schools and whether Rosenthal is fit for his position.

Rosenthal announced his resignation in March after the School Board investigated a number of complaints against him. While the School Board has continued to support him, Town Council members have indicated they have no confidence in either him or the School Board.

Rosenthal didn’t respond to a request for comment last week. At last week’s meeting, he did not say how long the program has been running in the red or how large its deficit is. The information couldn’t immediately be found on the Winthrop School Department’s website.

On March 12, Rosenthal told the School Board that the adult education program might have to merge with the Maranacook Area Schools next year, according to minutes from the meeting. He told them that the program’s “numbers are dropping” because of a rise in the availability of classes online and in Augusta.

Rosenthal also said that the “subsidy” from the town of Monmouth was “not enough to cover expenses,” but the minutes did not provide further context for that remark.

Hersom, the English teacher, said that she and her colleagues were encouraged by the meeting with the School Board last week.

But in a prepared set of remarks that she read at the meeting, she did raise several questions, including how school officials had calculated the program’s debt, why local contributions have fallen, and whether the financial challenges were related to others that have bedeviled the town.

“Are we collateral damage to a major debt of another kind?” Hersom asked during the meeting. “If the money were managed differently, would we be in this situation? Everyone concerned deserves an answer before any consideration is entertained to cut this essential academic program so crucial to this town.”

Douglas Ludewig, chairman of the Monmouth Select Board, said that he was not familiar with the funding arrangements with the adult-education program and declined to comment without knowing more. Bill Zima, the superintendent of Regional School Unit 2 — which includes Monmouth — didn’t respond to a request for comment.

At the meeting last week, Hersom, along with other employees of the Winthrop-Monmouth adult education program, provided data to the School Board that suggested enrollment has actually been growing and bringing more state funds in recent years.

They also proposed improving the program’s finances by raising the contributions from Monmouth and Winthrop taxpayers, and hiring a permanent director who could focus on expanding its programming and finding new sources of revenue.

The program’s last director, Marsha Cook, died a few months ago. In March, the School Board approved hiring an interim director, Steve Vose, to work on a limited basis.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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