WINTHROP — Tensions flared among Winthrop School Board members Wednesday as they worked to reach consensus on a new version of the $13.4 million Winthrop Public Schools budget at a special meeting of the board.

As approved by a 4-1 vote, the spending plan would mean a 4% increase to taxpayers, but that was not the final step. The proposed budget is headed back to the Winthrop Town Council for discussion when it meets on Monday. 

When school officials intially approved the budget in April on a 3-2 vote, town officials sent it back to the School Board, not to cut more out of the budget, but to show more solid consensus on the spending plan.  

At its special meeting Wednesday, board members met to discuss changes to the budget made by Superintendent Jim Hodgkin.

Ivy Corliss, a School Board member, was a dissenting vote on the previous version of the budget and was the only board member to vote against the budget again, as she was not satisfied with the information Hodgkin presented to her on the transportation department after she asked for more details.

“I don’t know why it’s so hard to get information on this (transportation) line,” Corliss said. 

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She first asked Hodgkin for additional information in April when the School Board was scheduled to approve the previous version of the budget. Hodgkin and Corliss disagreed in recent meetings about the information — Corliss did not think it was enough and does not understand why the numbers are difficult to provide, and Hodgkin said he has given her all of the information that he can.

Corliss wanted to find cuts in the transportation department to slim down school spending that would not affect the academic portion of the budget. Hodgkin had identified $10,000 to cut in the newest version of the budget, approved Wednesday.

The total amount spent on the transportation department is $811,190, an increase of $232,562. Hodgkin said that’s mostly because the school district has its own bus fleet rather than chartering the buses through Northeast Charter, which the school district ended last year.

Hodgkin said $90,000 — the bulk of the cuts in the latest version of the budget — came mostly from the regular instruction portion, where he was able to cut $71,941. That’s the result of teachers announcing retirements at the end of the year and the expectation that newly hired teachers will be hired at lower salaries.   

Monika McLaughlin, a School Board member who voted against the previous version for the school budget for similar reasons as Corliss, voted in favor of the new budget. She, too, said she wanted more information, but suggested greater transparency as a change moving forward for next budget year. 

“I like this budget. It’s tight, it’s fiscally responsible and I don’t understand why it took so long for the transportation information. I have to echo Ivy on the lack of transparency, that I don’t understand,” McLaughlin said. 

School Board Member Tim Weiss expressed frustration around the tension that surfaced at Wednesday’s meeting as well as at recent school board meetings.

“I’m going to be honest, I’m very frustrated. We have a low budget and people worked hard on it, and we are still going to be the lowest (cost) per pupil in the area – it makes no sense. I don’t understand what’s going on with the transportation, it’s like something else is going on. It’s a solid budget and it makes no sense to me,” he said. 

Following Wednesday’s budget vote, town councilors plan to discuss the Winthrop Public Schools budget at its Monday meeting, but it’s  not clear if the council will vote on it.

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