Gorham resident Priscilla Wheatley has opposed a hike in the town’s school budget because it will increase taxes, which she says many residents can’t afford. Staff photo by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Gorham residents will vote Tuesday on a school budget that would eliminate middle school sports and cut nearly 20 teaching and administrative positions.

The spending cutback, if approved, would come after the town has for decades approved school budget increases.

The current $48.6 million budget proposal is $2 million less than the one voters rejected in June, in part over concerns about increased taxes. That large a decrease would have a serious impact on students, said Heather Perry, superintendent of Gorham schools. 

“I feel very strongly that this proposed budget does harm children,” she said. “My role as a superintendent is to advocate for the needs of children. This budget does not meet those needs.”

The budget changes include getting rid of middle school athletics, and high school sports would become “pay-to-play,” requiring fees for participation.


“The reduction of middle school athletic programming would result in Gorham being the only public school in our conference, as well as across the state of Maine, that does not offer sports programs at the middle school level,” said Tim Spear, Gorham schools athletic director.

If passed, the budget would be $2.2 million, or 4.7% more than this year’s $46.4 million budget. On an average home assessed at $400,000, the annual tax bill would increase by about $122, from $3,344 to $3,467, according to Perry.  

Gorham residents will vote on the budget Tuesday, with polls open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., Town Clerk Laurie Nordfors said. 

Even before the $2 million reduction, the budget was lowered by $909,000 because of a salary miscalculation in the version sent to voters June 13. Gorham voters rejected the $51.5 million budget 956 to 660, or 59% to 41%. Voter turnout was about 10%, slightly more than average for a school budget vote, Nordfors said. 

If the budget gets rejected again, it will be sent back to the committee and council and then to residents for a third vote. It often takes three attempts to get a budget approved after it has been rejected by a town, Perry said. 

The Gorham School Committee issued a statement saying it is against the proposed budget. 


“Making these cuts is antithetical to our mission as a school department and the School Committee cannot, in good faith, support this budget,” the statement said. “To meet the budget reductions required by the Town Council, the School Committee reluctantly removed items, programs, and positions that directly and negatively impacted all aspects of the student experience.” 

Moving forward, the School Committee and the Town Council will collaborate to create a community-based financial sustainability committee that will develop recommendations with the goal of increasing the overall fiscal sustainability of the community in the short and long term, the statement said.  


Under the reduced budget, switching Gorham High School athletics to a pay-to-play format would save $100,000, while cutting middle school athletics would save an estimated $50,000. High school and middle school non-athletic co-curricular activities would be eliminated to save a combined $118,000.  

Gorham High School enrolled 836 students during the 2022-23 school year. Over 50% of students at the high school participate in at least one athletic program, said Spear.  

“This will definitely impact students’ ability to grow as student-athletes and engage fully in the college athletics recruiting process as well as impact eligibility for valuable scholarships that are earned for athletics,” Spear said in a statement to the Press Herald.  


Making high school athletics pay-to-play will create inequity in who can participate in sports. Decreasing middle school offerings limits the opportunity to try a new activity in safe a safe environment, he said.

The budget also includes a decrease in kindergarten- through fifth-grade teachers, a budget savings of $280,000. This cut would increase classrooms to the maximum size per grade level. Kindergarten classes would have up to 20 students, first and second grade would have up to 24 students and third through fifth grade would have up to 28 students. 

Assistant Superintendent Brian Porter’s job would be eliminated by the budget cuts.

A sign in downtown Gorham this week urged residents to vote against the proposed school budget. Staff photo by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Porter would not discuss the risk specifically to his position but said in an email that he was “deeply saddened” by the potential cuts.

“This budget does not allow us to meet the need of our students. The impacts of these cuts on the Gorham educational community will diminish opportunities and quality programming,” he said.

Other positions that would be terminated include: an education technician, a health teacher, a Mandarin language teacher and a technology teacher. Administrative assistants and secretary positions would also be decreased in several buildings across the district.  


Funding for athletic supplies, a late bus, science textbooks, summer curriculum and supply lines would be lowered as well. The district would reduce the part-time crossing guard position at Village Elementary School and would look to coordinate volunteers for the role.  

Gorham School Committee Chair Sarah Perkins said she does not support the budget with the proposed cuts. 

“I believe that a healthy school system is a vital component of a strong community,” she said. “These cuts significantly impact the Gorham School District’s ability to ensure that students learn in a safe, positive and inclusive environment and therefore weaken the community as a whole.” 


The impact of the budget cuts on the community could extend to Gorham’s real estate market.

Porter said in his email, “The Gorham Schools are one of Gorham’s most tremendous assets – one that draws many new families to this amazing town.”


But changes in the quality of a school system can “dramatically affect the buyer pool, especially at times when there’s limited inventory,” according to Elias Leland, a Realtor in the Gorham area.  

Strong school systems attract potential new residents, and the loss of educational programs can steer buyers elsewhere, he said.

“It would affect prices, but probably not for another year or two,” Leland said. Such changes could ultimately affect the town’s property tax revenue.

The current tax rate in Gorham is $12.85 for every $1,000 of assessed property value. Many people in the town can’t afford an increase, said resident Priscilla Wheatley.  

“I really do think that there’s a belief in Gorham that people have a lot of money to spend, and that’s not the case,” she said. 

Having been a teacher in Connecticut for 10 years and having parents who were both public school teachers, Wheatley knows the importance of education. It’s the impact the budget will have on taxes that is hard to get behind.  


The 75-year-old bought her house in 2001 and has a relatively low mortgage, she said. But she couldn’t afford to buy in Gorham now.  

“You can’t have an average income in Gorham nowadays and afford an average house,” Wheatley said. 

The school budget had previously been reduced in areas that had less impact on students, Perry said, so when this reduction came it was positions the School Committee cut. 

“This is a difficult budget process coming on the heels of a revaluation process that impacted our residents significantly,” she said. “Gorham has always been a very strong supporter of public schools.”

“Low voter turnout seems to have played a role in the first budget referendum,” Perkins said. “Which is one reason the School Committee is urging voters to get out and vote no.”

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