February 27, 2013

Winthrop school board hears voters; district to host public forums

By Susan McMillan smcmillan@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WINTHROP — As Winthrop Public Schools tried to pass a budget last year, some residents said it would be easier for voters to get on board if they knew where the district was going.

Residents including Jennifer McConnell asked that district officials create a plan to guide decisions about buildings, teaching curriculum and money.

Educational goals and the strengths of the school system often get lost in public arguments about the budget, McConnell said this week.

“I think if we could come up with more of a vision, both financially and academically, maybe we could not have to use as much energy on emotion, and be able to stay with more of a formulated plan that needs some tweaking as things change,” she said.

School board Chairman Ike Dyer said board members listened to comments like McConnell’s at meetings last year and are responding by starting a strategic planning process. District leaders will gather input at two public forums in March about priorities and areas to be addressed.

The first is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. to noon Saturday, and the second is to take place 5:30 to 8 p.m. March 27. Food will be served at both events in the Winthrop Middle School cafeteria.

Dyer said he does not know whether Winthrop schools ever have had a strategic plan, but there has not been one during his decade on the board.

He said a strategic plan would guide the board’s decisions throughout the year and could make it easier for the board and voters to reach agreement on budgets.

It took three votes to approve a budget referendum last year.

“We don’t want to work at cross purposes to what the taxpayers want, and at the same time we want to provide a 21st-century education for our kids,” Dyer said.

He said a broad range of topics could be addressed during planning. They might include how to adjust the use of buildings to reflect changing enrollment, how to incorporate technology into instruction or how to offer more foreign languages or other subjects outside the academic core subjects.

“I hope (residents) come with an open mind,” Dyer said. “I’m somewhat fearful in this economy that we won’t take long looks ahead because staring us right in the face is the conundrum of lack of funding and taxes going up. While that should be part of it, it shouldn’t be all of it.”

Another resident who would like to see more planning is Steve Curtis. He said it would be most helpful if school and municipal officials in Winthrop were to coordinate on developing priorities, so one side’s budget doesn’t have to be cut for the sake of the other.

“I applaud the strategic planning approach,” Curtis said. “At least it gets people thinking outside the box.”

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
smcmillan@mainetoday.com

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