The Portland school board voted unanimously Tuesday to use $13,000 to pay for staff brought on to support Lincoln Middle School for the last month of the 2021-22 school year because of staff departures that followed two middle school protests.

The money will come from the school board’s contingency budget, which had $86,000 at the beginning of the 2022 fiscal year and will have around $52,000 after the withdrawal.

Students angry over what they say is a lack of action by school administration dealing with bullying over equity and race issues protest outside of Lyman Moore Middle School in Portland, May 12, 2022. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

In mid-May, Lincoln and Lyman Moore middle school students protested what they said was a culture of tolerance among school faculty and staff for student-to-student racism, bullying and discrimination at the schools. Following the protests, several Lincoln staff left their positions and were subsequently placed on leave by the district, among them Lincoln interim Principal Robyn Bailey and two front office secretaries. The terms of the leaves are unknown. The school district did not respond to a request for details about Bailey’s leave of absence.

The $13,000 approved by the school board will pay the cost of bringing on a former school principal and two staffers associated with Maine Seeds of Peace, a nonprofit that works with children to promote peaceful conflict resolution strategies. It also includes money to fund stipends for staff who supported end-of year-activities.

The board also approved using around $3 million of federal COVID-19 relief funding to pay the salaries of almost 30 staff members, the purchase of four transit vans and behavioral and mental health programming for the 2022-2023 school year.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the district has received around $42 million from the federal government through the COVID relief funds including the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act Act and the American Rescue Plan Act. At Tuesday’s meeting, the board also held a workshop to discuss using unallocated federal COVID funds. The district had already allocated about half of the money as of May – around $23 million – and is deciding what to do with the rest.

Some ideas discussed included funding additional staff positions for mental health support, community engagement and outdoor learning.

Tuesday’s school board meeting was the first for three new school board members elected earlier this month. Sarah Lentz, Benjamin Grant and Sarah Brydon were sworn in and joined the nine-person board, which had been short-staffed for months.

Lentz, 40, is an at-large board member. She is a nonprofit manager and has one child in the school district. Grant, 44, is an attorney with two children in the district. He also took an at-large seat. Sarah Brydon, 43, represents District 5, is a compliance analyst and has two children in the school district.

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