User fee is reduced to $250, but Middle School program is scaled back

The Winthrop School Committee wanted to send a message to the parents of public school athletes at their June 24 meeting. With $50,000 donation from the Viking Pride Foundation (VPF), the five members of the committee voted unanimously to reduce the student user fee from the present $425 to $250. However, a price tag for this reduction was that the sports program at the Middle School would be eliminated and replaced with an intramural program. The cost savings for this move was estimated to be $40,000.

“This needs to happen, they (the parents) need to see something tangible,” School Committeeman Todd Sacco said about the fee decrease.

The committee had decided to decrease the user fee after reviewing three options that had come from the Athletic Subcommittee meeting where Athletic Director Rob O’Leary had provided scenarios where user fees were to increase to cover the added expenses by as much as $150 per user. The projected budget for the sports program is estimated to be $225,000.

After reviewing the three options, Sacco had made rough calculation where he showed that with the $50,000 donation from the VPF and a matching $50,000 grant from the school committee then the user fee could be decreased to $185. per user. Last school year there were a total of 492 athletes that paid the user fee of $425.

School Committeeman William Holden urged caution about dropping the fee too low and thought $250 was safer.

“I would like to see no user fee,” Town Council President Jeff Turco said. “However, that is not a reality in today’s budget,” he added.

He then proposed that a fee be instituted as follows: $250 per athlete, $500 cap per athlete, as a student can compete in as many as three sports in one year and $750 cap per family. In addition, Turco also proposed a $125 increase be prepared to be implemented in all categories if the grant from VPF does not come through.

All members noted that the increase in fees has had a negative impact on student participation. Kevin Meagher, Director of Finance for the Winthrop Public Schools, noted that before the user fee was instituted in 1995 that participation in some sports seemed considerable greater. He had done this by taking a 1995 yearbook and counting the number of players on each team.

Before the vote, both School Committeewoman Mary Lou Osborne and School Committeeman Brian Perrin wanted to delay the vote until O’Leary could speak on the proposed user fee changes.

However, both Turco and Sacco argued that the figures that they were using for the calculations had been provided by O’Leary and if Meagher did not see a problem with the figures then there was no need of a delay.

On a roll call vote all members voted to accept motion for both a lower user fee and elimination of the sports program at the Middle School with an intramural program to be substituted in its place. The user fee for the intramural program will be $100 per user. Lastly all eighth grade students will be able to take part in the junior varsity sports program at Winthrop High School.

In a move that may be a harbinger of the way that appropriations are done in the Winthrop Public Schools, several school committee members led by Council President Jeff Turco seemed to tell Superintendent Steven Jenkins that they wanted to take more responsibility in moving money from one account where there maybe a surplus to cover another account where there maybe a deficit. In prior years, the superintendent had made the changes and then informed the school committee.

In other matters, Holden questioned Turco on whether the $240,000 that the Council had voted to set aside from the school budget could be used to add a new social studies teacher to the middle school as well as some Advanced Placement Text Books that are needed at the High School.

Turco said that he would introduce this request at the Council. Presently, the Town Council had earmarked $240,000 in the Town Budget that could be transferred for specific needs at the schools. This was done as a condition on the school budget having been cut by the Council last month.

The school Committee will be meeting on July 22 and at that time two new members maybe added to replace the position of both Pat Milano and Gus Martucci who resigned their seats last month.

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