2 Millinocket School Board Members Who Criticized Superintendent’s Resignation

Two members of the Millinocket School Board who criticized the school department for a lack of transparency around its handling of funds and a key program resigned Tuesday night.

Erika Mackin and Michelle Brundrett resigned during an executive session at Tuesday’s board meeting.

The resignations followed months of controversy in which Brundrett, Mackin, city councilors and community members repeatedly raised concerns about a lack of information about how the school department handled its finances and an international student exchange program, and was spending federal COVID relief funds. They were also skeptical of the school department’s 2022-23 budget numbers.

Mackin cited “months of unanswered emails, requests for agenda items [and] total disrespect for any of my questions or comments made during the meetings.

“I cannot sit on a council that is completely dysfunctional, biased and suspicious of anyone outside of the school,” Mackin wrote in an email to city officials that she forwarded to the Bangor Daily News.

Brundrett said in her resignation letter that she had been “abused, ignored, berated, yelled at and humiliated” since joining the board in November 2020 and felt “bullied” during of Tuesday’s meeting.

“Counseling is beyond dysfunction,” she said. “Last minute agenda items are added hours before the meeting without any communication. I don’t have time to process the information given to me, and when I asked for more time, I was shot.

Mackin was appointed to the board in February after Peter Jamieson resigned to become Millinocket’s city manager. His term was due to end in November.

Brundrett’s three-year term was due to expire in November 2023.

The resignations leave President Warren Steward, Vice President Donald Raymond and Kevin Gregory as the remaining members of the Millinocket School Board.

Mackin and Brundrett publicly criticized the school department and its head, Superintendent Dr. Joshua McNaughton, for handling bank accounts holding over half a million dollars and the international student program.

The school department had operated its own bank accounts for years independent of the city treasurer’s control, which were discovered during an annual audit last July. City auditors said the school department was handling those accounts in violation of state law, which required the city to control the funds. McNaughton, however, refused to relinquish control of the accounts, which contained $630,000, for three months.

On Tuesday, the school board met to discuss the budget change for the 2022-23 school year, which it had already approved on May 31. McNaughton had asked to review it due to fears that the international student program would not have the funds to sustain itself.

But in recent days, the superintendent said, Millinocket had entered into new contracts with two Chinese schools under which 136 students would participate in Millinocket school programming. As a result, he said, the program would run a surplus of $188,000 in the next school year.

Brundrett was skeptical, however, and she and Mackin had asked to delay a vote on the budget so they could have more time to consider new international program numbers.

“[T]Suddenly having a commitment of 136 students when over the past 10 years there has only been an average of 30-40 students participating in the dual degree program seems unrealistic,” Brundrett wrote in his resignation letter. .

McNaughton also said the department’s attorney was reviewing the international program — through which Millinocket welcomes international students and franchises its program to Chinese schools — because of an unspecified legal issue. However, Mackin, Brundrett, Jamieson and City Council Speaker Steve Golieb said they were never informed of the nature of the legal problem.

Mackin and Brundrett’s resignations came during a meeting characterized by accusations from members of the public and the head of the local teachers’ union that the two board members were undermining the superintendent.

“I just feel like you have a certain level of distrust of the superintendent that I find disturbing,” said an unidentified audience member. “You have to trust your leaders.”

Terry Given, an English teacher at Stearns High School, urged the board to vote for the new budget containing updated figures for the international curriculum.

“The people of the city deserve it,” she said. “I feel like there’s a lot of mistrust towards our administrators.”

Mackin and Brundrett said they were elected to ask questions and get the most accurate information possible.

“Every time we meet, there are five different versions of this,” Brundrett said, referring to the budget proposal.

Millinocket Education Association president Matthew Waite accused board members at Tuesday’s meeting of violating the oversight policies of their powers and responsibilities and their code of ethics.

He accused board members of ‘creating an unhealthy and hostile work environment, which leads staff to question whether our employer has the best interests of our students and staff at the heart of its decisions’ .

Waite said he could not publicly discuss the details of how those policies were violated due to Maine labor law and federal privacy laws.

He declined to comment further when contacted by the BDN.

School board president Warren Steward did not respond to a request for comment.

The city council will have to appoint new board members, hold a special election or leave the seats vacant until the next election in November, McNaughton said in an email to the BDN.

Golieb declined to comment publicly on the resignations and said the city has yet to consider what it will do to fill the vacancies.