The School Administrative District 17 board of directors meets Tuesday night in Paris, voting to approve a $3.6 million loan to cover a cash shortfall attributed to coronavirus relief bill reimbursements. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

PARIS — The School Administrative District 17 board of directors voted Tuesday to authorize a $3.6 million loan to cover a cash shortfall attributed to federal coronavirus relief bill reimbursements.

Superintendent Monica Henson asked the board authorize her and the district’s business manager/chief financial officer to arrange for a tax and revenue anticipation loan up to the $3.6 million.

“I was notified by the former chief financial officer that we are experiencing a cash flow issue,” Henson said. “I independently verified with two other sources that the cash flow issue is related to the administration of federal grants program.

“We are going to have to do some unraveling and corrections. It could take several months to correct in order to get the reimbursements and bring our cash flow to what it should be.”

Henson said last week she accepted the resignation of Cathy Coffey, the district’s longtime business manager, and has since appointed SAD 17 accountant Carrie Colley as interim chief financial officer.

“The Finance Committee — Scott Buffington, Lew Williams, Sarah Otterson and myself — recommend that the board pass this so that we can go forward and meet our obligations,” committee Chairman Bob Jewell of Paris said. “The way, this will work is much like a line of credit.”

Jewel said the committee expects the district will not need to borrow more than $2 million, but without knowing how reimbursement funds will come in, the committee unanimously agreed a $3.6 million loan is prudent.

Directors voted in favor of the measure, with the exception of William Rolfe of West Paris.

Henson also updated the board on staffing shortages in the transportation department that have thrown schedules into disarray and resulted in seven school buses failing a state inspection last week.

Originally down a full-time driver and a mechanic at the start of classes last week, another driver suffered a medical matter over the weekend and will require a lengthy recovery period, she said.

“We have had one substitute driver applicant who has gone through licensing and is available to work as a spare,” Henson said. “We have five staff who have signed up to train as substitute drivers. We have three applications on file for new drivers and no applications for the open mechanic’s position.”

She said she is discussing with RideSource, a Norway-based transportation company, to subcontract for school routes, and with Northeast Charter of Lewiston to handle transportation for the athletic department.

To address the driver and mechanic shortages, Henson asked the board to approve $1,500 sign-on bonuses for new drivers who get their commercial driver’s license and stay with the district for at least two years. The same would be paid to current drivers in three installments as a retention bonus.

Despite concerns that other employees will not receive bonuses or driver payouts will affect future contract negotiations, the board approved Henson’s request.

Rolfe voted against the measure and Chris Miller of Norway abstained.

Henson said she expects the total cost of the bonuses, which will not exceed $70,000, to be covered mostly by coronavirus relief bill money and the district’s contingency fund.

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