Gorham town councilors and Town Manager Ephrem Paraschak listen Tuesday to a School Department budget presentation. Pictured, from left, are Ronald Shepard, Virginia Wilder Cross, Paraschak, Lee Pratt, Suzanne Phillips and Rob Lavoie. Robert Lowell / American Journal

The challenge of figuring out what do with a Gorham school budget with a 19.5% tax increase now lies with town councilors, who said Tuesday the tax hike is too high but finding ways to cut the budget will be difficult.

The Gorham School Committee has delivered to councilors a $52.3 million spending plan, up $5.8 million, or 12.6%, for the fiscal year beginning July 1. It would raise the school portion of the town’s property tax rate 19.5%.

“We’re pricing people out of town with tax increases,” Town Councilor Phil Gagnon said Tuesday at a joint meeting of the council and the school committee. “I think we’re outpacing what the town can afford.”

As the school budget stands now, it would raise taxes $632 on a home assessed at $400,000.

Gorham Superintendent Heather Perry explains her budget development process to the Town Council Tuesday. Robert Lowell / American Journal

“This kind of increase puts me in a bind,” Councilor Virginia Wilder Cross said, expressing her concern for taxpayers and the likelihood that voters won’t pass the budget at the polls June 13. “I don’t know where you can cut.”

Councilors can cut the school budget but can’t dictate to the School Committee what to reduce.


Taxes for many Gorham homeowners rose more than $1,000 last year because of a town revaluation, council Vice Chairperson Ronald Shepard said after the meeting. He said he will review the school budget to determine what kind of cut would be “palatable.”

“You don’t want to see people out of a job,” Shepard said.

Superintendent Heather Perry and School Committee Chairperson Darryl Wright Tuesday offered a detailed presentation of the process several months long that developed a school spending plan.

Perry said the school budget is scrutinized line by line.

“We don’t point our fingers at a number and call it good,” Perry said. “We built a budget from the ground up.”

Wright said the budget as presented is necessary.


There was no public comment segment at Tuesday’s workshop. Resident Jim Means, a former Cheverus High School board chairperson, emailed councilors Tuesday urging them to cut the budget and called for an increase of no more than 5%.

“In just a few hours each of you will be demonstrating to Gorham residents if you have a spine or not,” Means wrote. “Perry and the School Committee have wildly exceeded all expectations and fears in calling for a mill rate increase of $1.58, nearly 20% more than last year. Their wild spending spree is over 30 times the town municipal spending plan.”

Gagnon, with an eye on potential savings in the future, urged discussion between the School Department and municipal government about consolidating some departments, such as the finance departments. He suggested as a future solution shuttering Village Elementary and relocating students to Narragansett School, where he said space exists.

Perry will be available at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 3, at Baxter Memorial Library to answer residents’ questions about the budget and again May 31 at the North Gorham Public Library.

The seven-member Town Council will vote on a school and municipal budget May 16. Council Chairperson Lee Pratt will ask to be recused from the vote because of a financial conflict. If the council vote ties 3-3, the school budget would go to voters June 13 at its current level, but Pratt doubts a tie would happen.

Pratt said Wednesday he has “complete faith” that the council will find common ground that is in the best interest of students and taxpayers.

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