June 19, 2018
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Attorney: Millinocket’s school board threatened to sue town

Nick Sambides | BDN
Nick Sambides | BDN
Kenneth Smith, Superintendent of Schools, Millinocket School Department
By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff

MILLINOCKET, Maine — The School Committee has threatened to sue the Town Council if the schools don’t get $158,000 in unbudgeted state Sudden and Severe Impact funds, the town’s attorney said Tuesday.

Superintendent Kenneth Smith cited the Town Charter and state laws in issuing the threat to sue in a letter dated Oct. 25, attorney Dean Beaupain said in a memo to councilors. Town Manager Eugene Conlogue released Beaupain’s memo Tuesday morning.

Beaupain advised councilors not to honor Smith’s request for the Sudden and Severe Impact funds, which typically go to municipalities such as Millinocket that suffer vast drops in tax funding. Millinocket’s loss occurred with the devaluation of the town paper mill over the past year.

“Any allegation that the Millinocket Town Council has violated the charter in adopting or funding the school budget has no basis in the charter or state law,” Beaupain wrote.

“Should the school board actually sue the town for these funds and succeed, the town could direct the school board to reduce its fiscal 2013 budget revenues and appropriations accordingly dollar for dollar. No one is served by such a spectacle,” he added.

It was unclear whether town officials had already received the funds. Councilors and committee members will meet at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in special session at Stearns High School to discuss the funding dispute.

Smith commented briefly via email before the meeting.

“The school department provided the town with a legal opinion as well as additional relevant citations. This is a legal matter which should be addressed by the attorneys representing the parties,” he said.

He did not immediately respond to a request for the legal opinion the school department provided the town.

Dissent between councilors and committee members was apparently sparked, and grew far beyond, the sudden resignation of committee Chairman Arnold Hopkins last month.

Councilors were concerned about rumors that Hopkins, a council favorite, had been rudely treated by fellow committee members during a committee meeting prior to his resignation. The committee meeting was not attended by any newspaper media or personnel from the local-access television station, which usually covers committee meetings.

Hopkins had most recently made the news by saying school leaders had instituted a spending freeze in anticipation of a predicted $140,000 to $150,000 shortfall caused partly by the school system’s failure to meet its goals for tuition-paying Chinese students at Stearns.

The Town Council met Thursday and decided to send to the committee a list of about 13 matters for discussion at Tuesday’s meeting.

The issues, Conlogue said, include: the fiscal-year 2013 school budget parameters; school salary and benefit negotiations; a town property tax freeze; more detailed accounting of federal grants in school budget documents; debt-service payments attached to the installation of a new heating system at Stearns; and retiree health insurance costs.

New committee Chairman Kevin Gregory invited councilors to Tuesday’s meeting. He said it was important that the air be cleared between both boards with the 2011-12 fiscal year about half over and budget deliberations between the committee and council set to begin in a few months.

Under the town charter, the committee controls school spending within a budget that councilors set.

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