By Cary Shuman
Precinct 4 Town Councillor Jeanne L. Maggio blasted the Winthrop School Committee for dragging its heels regarding the closing of the E.B. Newton School building on Pauline Street, during an animated discussion of the matter at Tuesday night’s council meeting.
“This is not a new idea. This idea about closing the E.B. Newton was discussed way back when, when this town was in difficulty for an override, when we were talking about cutting budgets and saving money for the town,” said Maggio. “This conversation came up in the winter.”
Maggio then brought down the hammer on the members of the School Committee, saying with her voice raised, “The thing that disappoints me the most is that absolutely no discussion and no action has been taken in relation to this move.
“They [the School Committee] said to us that they would be willing to close this building with enough time. Now between then and October 1 [the date recommended by Citizens Advisory Board for Finance Chairman Robert Wynne Jr. for closing the E.B. School building], it’s been almost 10 months, and I think a plan could have been devised by the School Committee. It disappoints me that it has reached this point, and now we are only four months away and this town is still anticipating further budget cuts from the state and there is even a discussion about saving the E.B. Newton building and keeping it open. Action should have been taken a long time ago, and I’m very disappointed in the School Committee.”
The Edward B. Newton School is the headquarters of the Winthrop School Department and the site for the offices of Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steven Jenkins. It also houses the computer data center and the Parks and Recreation Department, while CAPIC conducts its Headstart educational program for students in classrooms inside the building. After-school activities are held at the home of the former elementary school, and other local groups also use the building for meetings.
The School Committee has the final decision on the fate of the E.B. Newton School because it is a school property. Wynne said the town would save significant money in building maintenance and utility expenses if the building were closed.
“If it [the closing of the E.B. Newton School building] is going to have any impact on the town, it has to be acted on now so it can be implemented between now and next heating season,” Wynne told the council. “If we lose the next heating season, we’ve lost the savings, and the savings we’ve heard could be in excess of $100,000.”
Maggio’s verbal jab – with School Committee members Gus Martucci and Michael Goldberg and Superintendent Jenkins seated close by in the audience – followed a request, in the form of an official resolution presented by Precinct 2 Councillor James Letterie, who was seeking, with the cooperation of the School Department, to have the E.B. Newton School building vacated by October 1.
“I think the citizens of our town voted favorably to reach deep into their pockets in these extremely tough economic times to help the town, and, in turn, I believe that they deserve nothing less than our firm commitment to continue to tighten our belts and take advantage of any cost-saving opportunity we have and fulfill the promises we made prior to the election,” Letterie said prior to asking the council to consider his resolution.
Letterie’s motion was seconded by Maggio, but Councillor-at-Large Philip Boncore immediately requested that the council table the resolution, which was later clarified by Council President Thomas Reilly as an “objection that’s allowed under the charter.”
Reilly ruled discussion could continue on the matter of closing the E.B. Newton School.
Precinct 1 Councillor Richard Gill said there was a sense of urgency regarding the matter, adding that the town would have to begin heating the building on October 1, when the cooler weather arrives.
“Whether the E.B. Newton closes or not – and quite frankly I think we owe it to the town to look very seriously at that as a possibility – I think it’s an opportunity to save a fairly substantial amount of money for this town which is strapped [for cash]. I think it’s an extraordinarily important discussion to have in the history of Winthrop,” said Gill.
Gill also lightly criticized the School Committee for its lack of action on the matter of closing the E.B. Newton School.
“I sat at a School Committee meeting several months ago and this issue was brought up for the E.B. Newton School,” said Gill. “If discussion had started at that time, a conclusion would have been made. I have emotional ties to that school. I spent fourth, fifth, and sixth grades at that school. My fifth grade classroom was the superintendent’s office.”
Council Vice President Joseph Ferrino said he was totally supportive of the idea of closing the E.B. Newton School.
“I believe we need a plan – the intent of [Councillor Letterie’s] resolution is a good one,” said Ferrino. “I agree 100 percent that the E.B. Newton School needs to be closed. But I think that also it’s the School Committee’s decision, No.1, and No. 2. I believe that the Capital Asset Committee of this council and the School Committee Building Committee should come up with a plan to make it transparent of the use of the building, and make sure the plan involves a sale or lease before the building is mothballed because that’s clearly not going to work. So we need to work together with the School Committee in order to put that plan together.”
Reilly said because the council had voted earlier in the meeting to hold a special meeting Monday night (June 22) on the Dalrymple School property to discuss what the council president termed “new developments” regarding the sale of the property – and the motion for that meeting was limited to a specific purpose – then the E.B. Newton School issue wouldn’t be addressed until the next regularly scheduled council meeting on July 7.
The council voted unanimously to request that its Capital Asset Committee meet with the subcommittees of the School Committee relative to the E.B. Newton matter. No date was finalized for that proposed joint meeting of the two subcommittees, though.
Superintendent Jenkins, who exited the Joseph Harvey Room soon after the discussion about the E.B. Newton School, was asked to comment on the issue, but he politely declined, saying that it is the School Committee’s decision to make about closing the building.