Four of seven seats on the Gorham School Committee are up for election on Nov. 7.

Five people are running for three three-year positions. None are incumbents. The candidates are Bill Benson, Billie Capozza, Michael Lewin, Kate Livingston and Jen Whitehead.

Two candidates are also on the ballot for a one-year vacancy. The position has been open since Tim Burns resigned in April. Voters will choose between Aaron Carlson and Dennis Libby for the seat.

The most pressing issue will be rapid growth in Gorham’s public schools.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows Gorham is one of the fastest-growing towns in Maine. Its estimated population in 2016 was 17,381 – up 1,000 from six years prior.

As a result of rising enrollments, the school committee has been studying the configuration of Gorham’s three elementary schools. The Gorham Town Council also approved $150,000 to begin planning an expansion at the high school. That multimillion-dollar project would ultimately be funded by taxpayers and decided by a referendum as early as fall 2018.

Those initiatives, along with growing class sizes and crowded schools, are hot topics.

Benson said his priority is making sure Gorham recruits the best teachers. He isn’t ruling out projects like a high school expansion, but said it is a secondary concern.

“I’m more fiscally conservative,” Benson said. “My going-in position is that exceptional teachers are much more important than the cost of a building.”

Benson, who owns a manufacturing business, said he also would take a special interest in vocational programs in Gorham. He would be open to reconfiguring the elementary schools and said he wants to make sure the school committee is transparent in its decision-making.

“I think the school committee needs some new blood and new ways of looking at things,” he said.

Capozza, whose daughter is in first grade at Narragansett Elementary, said she was alarmed last year by talk of moving students to different schools. While her daughter didn’t relocate, she wanted to learn more about what was going on in the district.

“It was a sign that a small community was growing a little faster than we expected five years ago,” Capozza said.

Capozza hasn’t yet taken a position on a high school expansion, but she said she wants to make sure taxpayer money is spent wisely. She works as the corporate relations and special events director at Cheverus High School in Portland, and also has a real estate license. She said her experience could help her strike a balance between attracting new residents to Gorham and managing their impact on the town.

“I have kids that are going to be going through the Gorham system for the next 18 years or so,” Capozza said. “This is my first stab trying to get involved.”

Lewin also decided to run because of his young child.

“With a daughter in kindergarten, the thought came to my mind, how can I serve better and serve more?” Lewin said.

Lewin is a supporter of proficiency-based learning and wanted to help with its implementation in Gorham schools. He is open to changes in school configuration, but he said he doesn’t want kids to have to take long bus rides across the sprawling town. He also said he considers high school expansion to be a good and timely investment.

“Now (is) the time,” Lewin said. “By involving the community now, we’re going to get a better sense of what the community wants.”

Livingston began attending school committee meetings when she noticed her daughter’s class sizes getting bigger. She also started a Facebook group about Gorham schools.

“Our three elementary schools aren’t quite equal with the programs they offer or the class sizes they offer,” she said. “I felt like I needed to just stop complaining to my friends about it and do something about it and be an agent of change.”

Livingston said she wants to make sure all students have similar class sizes and facilities, even if it means reconfiguring the schools. She also said she wants to see a closer relationship between the Town Council and the School Committee.

“There’s a big disconnect right now,” she said. “That’s why we’re having some of these issues with growth.”

Whitehead, a former special education teacher, said she too noticed the growth in her children’s classrooms. Her son was in a second-grade classroom with 27 kids; her daughter’s grade added a classroom to accommodate the number of students. She suggested the district could phase in changes with incoming kindergarteners.

“The growth is good, but it seemed like it wasn’t being managed in a way that was effective for the schools,” Whitehead said.

Whitehead said she feels strongly that the district needs to make a change at the high school, but wants to learn more about the options for that project. She also wants to see the district collaborate more often with the University of Southern Maine, similar to partnerships she witnessed as a teacher in New York with Columbia University.

“I really felt the responsibility where I have the background in education, and I have three children, and I’m a taxpayer,” Whitehead said. “I felt a civic duty.”

Both candidates for the one-year seat said they wanted to make sure they could commit to the demands of the position.

Libby, who is the committee’s vice chairman and has served 12 years, said he recently was promoted to a new role at work. He signed up to run for the one-year seat as he settled into that role, but now feels confident he could balance both responsibilities.

Libby has been active in the schools since his children were elementary students. He said his perspective from four terms could be valuable as so many newcomers join the committee. Libby also said growth is one of the greatest challenges for Gorham, and he supports an expansion to the existing high school over a new building, which was one of the district’s initial options.

“If money was no object, I would be fully supportive of a new school,” Libby said. “But money doesn’t grow on trees.”

Carlson said his son switched classrooms last year as a result of increasing enrollments, which prompted him to start attending school committee meetings. He wants to make sure that whatever solutions are proposed to manage Gorham’s growth are the result of collaboration among all the town’s decision-makers – the School Committee, the Planning Board, the Town Council and various subcommittees.

“With a finance background, I recognize the idea that we can’t just spent at will without having impacts on people who pay taxes,” Carlson said. “So trying to figure out the right balance, how to manage growth, is something I’d like to be a part of.”

Polling places open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Depending on street address, residents of Ward 1 vote at either Gorham Middle School at 106 Weeks Road or Little Falls Activity Center at 40 Acorn St. Ward 2 residents vote at the Gorham Municipal Center at 75 South St.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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