WINTHROP — The town has a new school budget proposal.

Winthrop Town Council members approved a $12,108,159 spending plan in a 4-3 vote Monday night. The council previously had approved a school budget, but residents voted it down in a June 11 referendum. 

But is school spending really what’s worrying Winthrop residents? 

“We voted for the town budget, and the residents shot down the school budget,” Councilor Andy Wess said. “I’m concerned that the residents are taking out their angst on the tax hikes on the school budget because that’s the only place they can take it out. It’s the only target available.”

Because the town has a council form of government, councilors approve the municipal spending plan, as opposed to residents voting on it at an open Town Meeting. Residents do, however, vote on the school budget.

“People in this town could not vote for the municipal budget,” resident Paul Rheaume said. “I hear from a lot of people that the only way they can reduce their taxes is to vote against the school budget.”

Councilor Linda Caprara, who voted down the 2019-2020 municipal and both school spending plans, said she’s heard numerous residents’ reactions to the budget. 

“They’re irate,” she said.

In addition to Caprara, Barbara Buck and Rita Moran voted against the new school spending plan. Chairwoman Sarah Fuller, Vice Chairwoman Priscilla Jenkins and Councilors Andy Wess and Scott Eldridge were in favor of the proposed budget.

Residents will vote on the newly proposed budget from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Aug. 13 at the Town Office, located at 17 Highland Ave.

The spending approved for the 2019-2020 fiscal year is $8,528,932, an increase of $1,020,735 — or 13.59% — from the 2018-2019 spending of $7,508,197. Revenue for the municipal budget is projected to be $3,088,477, just $82,354 — or 2.74% — more the previous revenues of $3,006,123.

The local share of the municipal budget will be $5,440,455, an increase of $938,381 — or 20.84% — from last year’s local share of $4,502,074.

One resident asked if it was too late to reconsider the municipal spending. Chairwoman Sarah Fuller said that it was, and “that basically the new budget has been enacted.” 

The municipal budget hike was driven by capital improvements, which had been delayed when the town experienced a $1.5 million shortfall in 2015. 

“That budget is representative of things that are actually needed at this point,” Fuller said, “and if not funded, those expenses would only increase in next year’s budget.”

The second attempt at a school spending plan, $12,108,159 in expenditures approved by councilors Monday night, reflects a $92,999 decrease from the $12,201,158 version shot down by voters on June 11. That spending plan had been a $3.73% increase from 2018-2019’s budget of $11,782,350. The new proposal would be an increase of $325,808 — or 2.77% or  more than 2018-2019. 

There was no change to the projected revenues in the new proposal. They remain at $5,185,813, an increase of $76,660 — or 1.5% — from 2018-2019 revenues of $5,109,153.

The school spending plan rejected by voters June 11 called for an increase of $342,148 — or 5.13% — in the local share. The updated plan includes a local share of $6,922,346, an increase of $249,149 — or 3.73% — from the previous local share of $6,673,198.

The biggest spending reduction would be for the school nutrition program. The proposal includes $150,000 for the program, a $55,000 — or 57.89% — increase from the previous year. The first version of the budget included spending $223,000 for the program, a $128,000 — or 134.7% — increase.

Interim Superintendent Cornelia Brown told the council that the change reflected a payoff of school nutrition debt spent from 2017-2018 funds. At the end of that year, she said, the School Department faced a deficit of $72,000 in the school nutrition program, and Brown speculated that the deficit in the 2019-2020 school year could be around $97,000.

Those deficits were caused by a decrease in federal and local funds, along with a decrease in the number of lunches sold. 

A $20,000 decrease was made for student and staff support. The budget now calls for $1,035,884, an increase of $139,320 from the last fiscal year’s budget.

Brown said the district still plans to hire a director of teacher and learning, a person who would guide teachers and administrators in developing and implementing curriculum and instructional programs.

“Increases to the administration was offset by reductions in teaching staff,” said Winthrop Committee Vice Chairwoman Kristin Shumway. “Overall we’re not reducing programming and quality of programming — my child included — but (what) we are doing is we are making realistic decisions for what we are, which is a municipal school district. We have the same administrative needs, just the same as an RSU with a smaller student population.”

Residents asked whether Winthrop should join with another district, and Shumway explained that the committee looked into joining Rural School Unit 2 or RSU 38 but determined it would not save the town money.

Winthrop’s 2018-2019 tax rate is $18.31 per $1,000 of assessed property. Taxes on a $150,000 home, for example, are $2,746 before any exemptions are taken into account.

In other news, councilors approved a parking ordinance relating to the Winthrop Grade School that would require parents and caregivers to drop off their students on Highland Avenue. 

Drop-off no longer will be allowed in the parking lot on the south side of the school near the entrance to adult education. Several parking spaces will be marked on Highland Avenue in the southern direction that heads toward U.S. Route 202. 

Between 8 and 8:40 a.m., and 2:45 and 3:30 p.m. on school days, people dropping off children will not be allowed to park. Children also may not be dropped off in the northern direction of the avenue that goes toward Main Street. 

The ordinance will be in effect until the town can address improvements after consultation on security updates to municipal and school facilities.

Also, work on Memorial Drive will resume Monday.

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