Unable to get expense details, Millinocket won’t let school department use COVID relief funds

The city of Millinocket will stop its school department from spending more of its $1.7 million in federal COVID relief funds after city officials say they have not received reimbursement owed to them for the school department expenditures so far or details of what the school department is doing with the money.

The Millinocket School Department received $1.7 million under the American Rescue Plan Actwhich provided $411 million to Maine schools to help them reopen during the pandemic while meeting the mental health, academic, social and emotional needs of students.

The city council voted Feb. 24 to transfer $1.5 million from its unrestricted fund balance to the school department, so it can begin using federal money before it actually receives the funds.

As of May 31, the school department had spent $331,634.08 of that money but had not reimbursed the city, according to a copy of the ordinance the board voted 6-1 to approve Thursday night.

Under the order, City Treasurer Mary Alice Cullen will not approve any applications submitted by the department for approval.

Thursday’s action by the city council was the latest step in an ongoing dispute between Millinocket and the school department over transparency in how the school system spends its money.

City officials said earlier this week that they were reconsidering funding an international student exchange program due to declining student numbers and concerns that contracts allowing Chinese schools to teach a franchised version of Stearns’ programs could produce not the expected income.

Superintendent Dr. Joshua McNaughton said he could not publicly discuss the program because the city and school department had hired an attorney.

City Council Speaker Steve Golieb and City Manager Peter Jamieson, however, said that was not true, and school board member Erika Mackin said McNaughton requested a lawyer without permission. advice.

McNaughton, who was scheduled to give a presentation on the school’s budget at Thursday night’s council meeting, did not show up for the meeting and did not respond to a request for comment on the suspended use of the federal or international school program funding.

McNaughton has also clashed with the city over control of bank accounts which the school had administered for years before they were discovered in an annual audit and found to be run in violation of state law because the city government had no control over them.

The school department planned to spend federal school funds on projects dealing with student learning loss, facility maintenance, health services, salaries, and replacement of technical equipment, according his plan outlining how he intended to use the funds. The plan, however, did not specify how much money it allocated to each project.

The school department spent a portion of federal COVID funds on a curtain for the school auditorium, replacing tables in the Stearns cafeteria with new foldable mobile tables and chairs and a John Deere utility vehicle, according Minutes of the May 3 school council meeting.

The state government suspended the city’s request for reimbursement due to a problem with the request, which the school department submitted several months ago, according Cullen.

Golieb said he didn’t know the details of why the state delayed reimbursement.

A spokesperson for the Maine Department of Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

McNaughton told the board ahead of Thursday’s meeting that he wanted to discuss the international program at a budget workshop next Tuesday, Golieb said.

The school board voted 3-2 to pass the 2022-23 budget, which includes funding for the international program, at its May 31 meeting, with Mackin and Michelle Brundrett voting against the budget, and board chair Warren Steward, Vice President Donald Raymond and Kevin Gregory back him up.

“The superintendent who wants to have another budget workshop after the budget has already been voted on shows that [it] was actually not ready for a vote and the cart was put ahead of the oxen,” Mackin said.

Steward told the Bangor Daily News earlier this week he could not discuss the international program and declined to speak at Thursday night’s meeting when councilors asked him for his opinion on the international program and their vote to suspend use by the school department of its federal government. funding.


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