A voter walks to the vote counting machine after filling out a ballot for the Gorham school budget election on Tuesday. A majority of voters rejected the budget, but state law requires it to be put in place until voters accept a new proposal.  Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Nine school employees lost their jobs Wednesday even though Gorham voters overwhelmingly rejected the budget plan that put those positions at risk.

The Gorham School Committee said the school department was forced to eliminate 20 positions, 11 of which were vacant, because the district must operate on the $49 million spending plan rejected by voters Tuesday in the town’s second budget referendum.

State law says if a school district fails to approve a school budget before the start of the fiscal year on July 1, the district must operate on the most recent budget submitted by the school committee – in this case, the one rejected by voters on Tuesday – until a final budget is approved.

During a long and at times emotional meeting Wednesday night, the board voted to eliminate the positions and cancel contracts for four teachers and Assistant Superintendent Brian Porter. Four support staff members also lost their jobs.

Porter, who was principal at Village Elementary School for 20 years before becoming assistant superintendent, did not respond to an interview request sent to his school email Wednesday.

“They had to go forward with the reduction of several positions last night in order to be fiscally responsible,” Superintendent Heather Perry said.


School committee members encouraged voters to reject the proposed budget because they felt the $2 million in cuts went too far. They knew that they might have to make difficult decisions if the budget failed, but their “hope and intention” is to bring back the employees who lost their jobs once a final school budget is approved by voters, Perry said.

Perry acknowledged that even if the final school budget puts the district in the position to rehire the employees, they might already have moved on to new jobs given that schools across the state are in desperate need. The state is experiencing a long-running and stubborn shortage of K-12 teachers that was severely exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The district’s contract with the Gorham Teachers Association states that before the district can accept outside applicants any teachers who are laid off shall be recalled if the position opens back up within two years.

The debate over how much to spend on education in Gorham was unusually tense this year, with some residents and town leaders looking for places to cut the budget to keep property tax increases in check. Those in favor of further reductions cited the impact on people living on fixed incomes and the tax increases people saw after a recent revaluation.

But residents and school officials pushing back against the Town Council’s $2 million reduction said it would require cuts to staff and programs that will be harmful to students.

Gorham’s initial $51.5 million proposal would have amounted to a more than $5 million, or 11%, increase over this year’s $46.4 million budget. After the vote, the budget was lowered by $909,000 because of a salary miscalculation. The Town Council then voted in July to cut $2 million to bring the budget to $48.6 million.



The reduced budget included getting rid of middle school athletics (saving an estimated $50,000) and switching high school sports to “pay-to-play” by requiring fees for participation (saving $100,000). High school and middle school non-athletic co-curricular activities would be eliminated to save a combined $118,000.

“The school committee understands the real message from Tuesday’s vote results was the community wanted us back at the table to have a conversation about the school budget,” Perry said. “That vote really said come back to the table and find a middle ground.”

On Wednesday, the committee began the process of approving a third proposal by discussing a target for reductions, but did not go as far as suggesting what kinds of cuts should be included. The board directed Perry to cut between $400,000 and $1 million from the committee’s first $51.5 million proposal, far less than the $2 million included in the second proposal.

They will review and vote on a new spending plan on Aug 2. A public hearing and Town Council vote is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 8. If that timeline is followed, a third town vote on the budget will take place on Aug. 15, about two weeks before classes are set to resume.

A silver lining in the drawn-out process to get a budget approved is that the discussions have engaged the community, Perry said.

“They’re talking with their elected officials about what they want and why they want it,” she said. “We’re listening and we’re very hopeful this third budget will be met with approval across the board.”

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