WINTHROP — The Winthrop Public School board met Wednesday night for the first time since Superintendent James Hodgkin announced that there would be a cap on the number of students that are able to participate in remote learning.

The board went over new business, including moving some teachers to cover different grades and discussing the schools’ budget, which was previously an issue as the coronavirus relief funds expired Dec. 30.

Because of that, the district was forced to put a cap of 100 students on the remote learners as there was no extra room in the budget to hire additional teachers to keep up with the need.

Five teachers were hired with some of the relief funds in order to accommodate individuals that chose to do remote learning and Hodgkin was able to budget to keep them hired through June.

However, despite running out of those dedicated funds, Hodgkin said that he was able to budget well enough that the district is in “good shape” leading to March when the district is expected to be reimbursed for the expenditures.

“We are around 50% done with the school year and revenues are OK, and expenditures are near 44.5 (percent) to a high of 68 (percent),” Hodgkin said. “By and large, everything is OK.”

It was announced Wednesday that Maine schools would receive $183 million in addition coronavirus funds as part of the stimulus bill that Congress passed last week and Hodgkin briefly told the board about the money, citing that he didn’t know any more information after just hearing about it that day.

In addition to not having enough teachers to accommodate the remote learners, the district is also trying to encourage less people to learn remotely as the schools try to transition to learning in-person five days a week instead of the current four days a week.

It’s unclear how much money each school in the state will receive, whether it’s more or less than the previous amounts, or if Winthrop’s plan for remote learning will change with the additional money it may receive. In the last round Winthrop received around $1.5 million.

“We are looking at building maintenance issues,” he said to the board of the next round of CRF money. “We want to decide how much money will go into the grade school.”

With the past relief funds, Winthrop elementary, middle and high schools were able to install a new ventilation system that Hodgkin said will “kill 100% of the viruses in the air” through its high-tech filtration system. This was also part of the decision to cap the remote learners.

On social media, news of the cap spread fast, with a member of the community, April Picard, claiming that it’s a “parent’s choice” if they want their child to participate in remote learning.

The board also went over new business, including electing Susan Belz and Jana Diket as the chairperson and vice chairperson, respectively, for the 2021-22 Winthrop School Committee.

They also agreed to use Winthrop High School to hold the special election March 9 for the public to vote to fill the state Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Shenna Bellows, who was elected to be Maine’s next secretary of state. To accommodate voting, the high school has scheduled remote learning for that day.

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