Voters on June 13 rejected a $51.5 million school spending plan with 10.4% of registered voters casting ballots. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Gorham voters will be asked a third time to validate a school’s budget that will result in a property tax increase if it’s approved.

The Gorham Town Council voted 4-2 Tuesday night to adopt the school district’s proposed $49.9 million 2023-24 budget following an hour-long public hearing.

Schools Superintendent Heather Perry told the council that the revised education budget will result in an annual property tax increase of about $313 on a home valued at $400,000.

The council’s decision means the budget is headed to a third special school budget referendum vote, which is scheduled for next Tuesday. Polls will open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.

Of the 25 or so people who spoke at Tuesday’s hearing, about two-thirds asked the Town Council to not cut the $49.9 million revised budget that was presented by the school committee. Some of the speakers felt the budget still made too many cuts, some said the proposal was OK, but not perfect, while others asked for more budget reductions.

“I’m sad that taxes are going up, but I moved to Gorham because of its amazing schools,” said Rhonda Vosmus, who moved to Gorham from Portland. Vosmus urged the council to pass the $49.9 million budget.


Lou Simms said he moved to Gorham from Portland in 2020 largely due to the school district’s positive reputation, adding that “Gorham is a great place to raise a family.” He also supported the budget proposal.

But others, like Kelly Brown, said the original education budget was “tone deaf” to the financial needs of the town’s residents. She said the budget presented to the council Tuesday was still too high and would raise taxes for those who can least afford it.

“This is our money. It’s taxpayer money. For some folks to try to shame us, it is incorrect. We all care about our kids, but it’s our money and we need to be better stewards of our money.”

Town councilors weighed in as well.

“This whole process has added a few gray hairs to my head,” said Councilor Robert Lavoie, who supported the schools spending plan. Lavoie said he received and read more than 380 emails regarding the education budget vote. “But tonight (the school district) presented us with a budget I can fully support.”

“We all care about our kids … a lot,” added councilor Virginia Wilder Cross, who described the budget as a compromise. “This has been the most difficult issue during my time on the council. Compromise stinks because there is always going to be someone who thinks they lost.”


Cross voted to support the budget as did councilors Lavoie, Ron Shepherd and Seven Siegel. Voting against the budget were Philip Gagnon and Suzanne Phillips. Council Chairman Lee Pratt recused himself from the vote, citing a financial conflict of interest.

Phillips said the division that passage of the school budget caused should serve as a warning that in the future the school committee and Town Council need to “work together and better” at presenting the community with a budget that is acceptable to everyone.

Gagnon said many people move to Gorham because its schools have a good reputation and it’s a good place to raise a family, but the influx of new families means the school district needs to keep pace.

“If we keep increasing our costs, it’s going to go straight to our taxpayers,” said Gagnon, who urged the town to balance residential growth with commercial growth to lessen the tax burden.

Next Tuesday’s budget validation vote follows two failed validation referendums, one in June and another in July. The new fiscal year began July 1.

Voters on June 13 rejected a $51.5 million school spending plan with 10.4% of registered voters casting ballots. The school committee came back with a $50.2 million plan, but the council ordered $2 million lopped off. That $48.2 million proposal failed on July 25 with 24% of voters turning out.


The budget’s second defeat was a partial victory for the school committee, which in the days leading up to the referendum urged voters to oppose the plan. School officials campaigned for a ‘no’ vote on the second budget proposal, warning that it would force staff reductions, cuts to extracurricular programs and require pay-to-play athletic programs at the high school.

Under Maine law, if a school district doesn’t have a voter-approved budget by the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, the district must keep using the budget its committee mostly recently approved, even if voters haven’t signed off on it. The defeat of the referendum on July 25 led the Gorham School Committee to eliminate 20 positions, 11 of which were vacant, because the district must operate on the $48.2 million spending plan rejected by voters on July 25.

Among the positions that were cut were those of Assistant Superintendent Brian Porter, $165,020 in salary and benefits; Bei Ju, high school Mandarin teacher, $54,895 salary and benefits; Emma Ambrose, middle school guidance counselor, unreported; and Debra Leone, part-time K-5 guidance counselor, $49,000.

In an email Tuesday night, Perry, the superintendent, said all but four of the 20 positions would be restored if voters approve the budget at next week’s referendum.

The referendums are costing taxpayers money.

Town Clerk Laurie Nordfors said that the June 13 referendum cost $8,623.16 and the July 25 referendum $12,504.91 because more ballots were ordered. Nordfors said the referendum expenses do not include overtime pay for personnel in her office.

Several people who attended Tuesday’s council meeting wore maroon to show their support for the school budget. The council chambers were filled to capacity.


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