Social worker Jamie Caouette, left, and Megan Dumais, an ed tech, sit at Lewiston High School’s “Store Next Door,” a program that helps homeless students stay in school. The state Department of Education rejected federal funding that for years helped the program. The Lewiston School Committee voted Monday night to spend emergency funding to help the program continue. (Bonnie Washuk/Sun Journal)

LEWISTON — Lewiston High School educational technician Megan Dumais’ position helping homeless students was on the chopping block until Monday night.

For the first time in more than 10 years, the Maine Department of Education rejected Lewiston School Department’s annual application for federal funds to help students who are homeless or living on their own, Superintendent Bill Webster said.

The Store Next Door at the high school serves about 100 students, helped by Dumais and social worker Jamie Caouette.

School Department homeless coordinator Dan Sansoucy works with homeless students in grades K-12.

At Webster’s recommendation, the School Committee on Monday night unanimously approved $35,000 to make up for the federal grant; $31,000 of it to cover Dumais’ position and $4,000 for student transportation.

Webster said he was surprised to find out three weeks ago Lewiston did not receive the grant from the Maine Department of Education, which oversees who gets federal McKinney-Vento grants.

“We were surprised, given that it always has been approved,” Webster said. “We felt we are doing a good job and had a good application, and given the need in Lewiston.”

The number of homeless youth here is among the highest in Maine, if not the highest, Webster said. “This group of students is particularly vulnerable. Without this support many would be less successful.”

Other schools that routinely receive McKinney-Vento money to help homeless students also didn’t receive funding, Webster said. “We were all rejected except for Bangor. Then the state announced it was rescinding approval for Bangor and reopening applications.”

When the state reopens applications, Lewiston will reapply, he said.

Webster wrote to Maine Education Commissioner Robert Hasson three weeks ago asking what happened. As of Tuesday there was no response from Hasson.

The Sun Journal contacted the Maine Department of Education on Tuesday asking for comment on why Lewiston did not receive the grant.

In an email to the Sun Journal, Rachel Paling, director of communications for the department, said no grants were issued under McKinney-Vento this year.

“Due to a scoring issue, all selection packages were not in compliance with the state request for proposal requirements, therefore the state’s Procurement Office rejected them all,” Paling wrote.

There will be a new request for proposals released and districts, including Lewiston, will be able to reapply, she said.

On Tuesday Dumais and Caouette said they’re grateful to the School Committee for approving funding.

“If my position was eliminated, Jamie would have left,” Dumais said.

Caouette said her position is not funded by the federal grant, but she couldn’t do her job without the help of the ed tech.

The program would have been pared back, leaving the homeless coordinator Sansoucy, who this year oversees homeless students in all grades. Sansoucy replaced Mary Seaman, who retired in June and worked with students in grades nine to 12. The change means less help at the high school.

So far this year “it’s been crazy busy,” Dumais said. “We have a lot of kids in extreme need.”  There’s been two fires which have made several families homeless.

Caouette has seen an increase of pregnant teens, including four freshmen.

The Store Next Door has much support from the community, Dumais added. “We love what we do because we love our kids. It drives us.”

Typically homeless students show up in The Store Next Door at the high school at 7:30 a.m., waiting for Caouette, or to grab snacks and drinks.

“They’re in here all day long, leaving books, leaving clothes, letting us know how their day is,” she said. “It’s a whirlwind from 7:30 to 2:30.”

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