Downtown Millinocket is shown in August 2020. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The town of Millinocket will give teachers and school staff pay raises, even though it has no approved school budget for the coming year, after an uproar involving the school department, teachers and town councilors led some staff to question whether they would be paid at all.

The new fiscal year began last week, but Millinocket does not yet have a new school budget amid a months-long dispute between the school department and town over the department’s perceived lack of transparency about its finances.

On Tuesday, school department treasurer Joshua Deakin submitted a payroll warrant for school staff covering June 11 to July 1 to town treasurer Mary Alice Cullen. The warrant reflected raises that custodians, secretaries, clerical assistants and administrators negotiated for in new contracts that began July 1, according to Superintendent Joshua McNaughton.

Cullen, however, said she would not pay the warrant without town councilors’ direction, as it contained raises the council had not yet approved. The school department was effectively acting as if it already had an approved budget, she said.

Another wage increase for teachers is set to take place on Sept. 1, under the terms of their union contract, McNaughton said.

“You were informed that you will need to operate within the prior year’s budget until your fiscal year 2023 budget is fixed and approved,” Town Manager Peter Jamieson wrote to McNaughton, denying the warrant request and citing previous emails he and the town council had sent to McNaughton dating back to April.

State law requires that school departments adhere to their previous year’s budget until a new budget is approved.

The Millinocket School Department has submitted two budget proposals to the town council, but the council shot down both of them because their revenue didn’t fully cover expenses, according to Council Chair Steve Golieb and emails reviewed by the Bangor Daily News.

In a Tuesday email to school staff and the Town Council, McNaughton said that the failure to approve the warrant effectively stopped teachers and staff from being paid.

“Our employees have been three weeks since their last paycheck,” he wrote. “Our employees rely on consistent paychecks to support their families and pay their personal bills.”

He also cited a law that barred employers from requiring employees to work without pay, and said that “failure to pay employees pursuant to the terms of [their] collective bargaining agreement would also subject the District to potential prohibited practice complaints and grievances.”

Matthew Waite, the president of the Millinocket Education Association, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Terry Given, an English teacher at Stearns High School, responded to McNaughton’s email, and said that denying the payroll warrant would lead to a lapse in her health care coverage.

“Is this what you want?” she wrote to town councilors. “I hope not, because the fines and penalties levied against the town and additional restitution above and beyond our paychecks will certainly adversely affect town finances.”

McNaughton blamed the failure to present a new school budget on his inability to access town accounts that held carryover funds from the previous school year.

“If we had access this issue would not exist,” he said in an email to the BDN on Wednesday. 

Golieb disputed that.

“The school’s bookkeeper has access to the entire accounting system,” he said in an email to the Town Council, McNaughton and school staff.

“There are no other accounts within the town [with] any relevance to the school that aren’t already available to the school. Clearly all of the previous superintendents have been able to properly conduct their budget process without the need for this supposed account, which doesn’t exist.”

In a special meeting on Wednesday, citing contention between school staff and the council that included plans for a protest outside the town office, town councilors agreed to approve the payroll warrant with the wage increases despite reservations about a “lack of information or communication” from the school department, Golieb said.

Golieb said the council was worried that the new payroll warrant included new line items, like new positions, for which the town had not yet approved a budget.

“They had time to speak to the unions, to speak to their employees, and to speak to the town on how to best proceed, given that it was evident that there was no FY 23 budget that was going to be passed before the end of the fiscal year,” he said.

“Instead, the superintendent has chosen to mislead his staff into believing that the town council would ever consider something as preposterous as withholding funds from our communities, hardworking staff and teachers.”

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Lia Russell

Lia Russell is a reporter on the city desk for the Bangor Daily News. Send tips to