Two Gorham School Committee incumbents are hoping to fend off a challenger for one of their two available three-year terms.

Darryl Wright, board chairperson, and Anne Schools, vice chairperson, are facing political newcomer Liesl Turner in the municipal election Nov. 2.

The three candidates weighed-in on COVID-19 vaccines for educators and agreed the pandemic and aging school facilities are the top concerns.

Wright said teachers and staff have taken seriously the benefits of getting vaccinated for themselves, students and the community, which is shown through the high staff vaccination rates of 99% at the high school and 96.1% at the middle school, according to the Maine CDC.  The school staff average throughout the state is 75.59%.

“I am proud to be part of a district where the safety of the students that attend our schools is paramount,” Wright said.

Schools said she also is proud of Gorham schools’ staff  “for the way they have handled the pandemic with courage and adaptability,” but “I am not a medical professional, nor do I believe that I have a right to tell people that they should be vaccinated. That is a choice between themselves and their medical provider.”

Turner said it is important to her that schools stay fully staffed.

“I do support regular testing and an education campaign on the mounting evidence that vaccines are safe and highly effective against serious illness. I strongly encourage everyone who can to become vaccinated as soon as possible for COVID-19 as well as the common flu.”

Wright said the ongoing pandemic continues to be the biggest issue for Gorham schools.

“As a School Committee, we need to continue to follow what the data shows and make decisions that we feel is in the best interest of all our students,” Wright said. “The decisions we have made and need to make in the future are not easy and there is no clear, correct answer, but we need to continue to keep our students as our focus.”

While educating children during COVID-19 has been and remains a huge issue facing the district, Schools said, “I don’t want COVID to overshadow what I believe is an even larger issue. Our facilities need help, and we are running out of time.

“For example, our largest class has just entered seventh grade, which means that the clock is ticking quite quickly towards our deadline to somehow expand our already overcrowded high school,” she said. “This year will bring the results of our facilities study and the need to cooperate closely with the Town Council, with the support of the community, to come up with a solution.”.

Wright said he is optimistic the joint facilities study by the Town Council and School Committee will move “our community forward together to address those issues.

“Once we receive the results of the facilities study, we will need to think strategically about how we meet the demands of not just our school facilities, but the town facilities as well,” he said.

Schools said facilities in general are aging and necessary upkeep keeps getting postponed due to budgetary constraints.

“While I understand the need for fiscal responsibility, we end up costing taxpayers more in the long run when we defer these necessary projects,” she said. “I believe the needs of our facilities need to be taken seriously.”

Looking ahead, Turner said, “I see overcrowding, school repairs and plans to upgrade the high school as the top issue facing Gorham. These problems need long-term solutions that balance fiscal stewardship with high quality education, inspiration for learners and teachers, and safety.

“We have many difficult decisions ahead as building and operational costs continue to rise, and taxpayers struggle to recover from the pandemic and inflation,” Turner said.

If elected, Turner said she would bring to the “table a desire to listen and learn, respect for all opinions, the ability to prioritize and 20-plus years of work-life experience analyzing data, negotiating and making tough decisions.”

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