Dan Gosselin, right, strides toward the voting booths at Shaw Gym on Tuesday. Gorham voters took a third crack at the school budget and approved it. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

It took three tries, but on Tuesday, Gorham residents voted overwhelmingly to approve a $49.9 million school budget for the 2023-24 school year, less than three weeks before classes begin.

Town Clerk Laurie Nordfors released unofficial results from Tuesday’s referendum that showed 2,235 residents voted to approve the budget and 1,431 were opposed.

School officials expressed relief that the town had finally endorsed a working budget for the upcoming school year.

“We would like to thank all those who turned out to vote on our third proposed budget. The Gorham School Committee is pleased with today’s vote and is eager to move forward,” the School Committee said in a statement. “We know our work is not done. We pledge to continue our collaboration with the Town Council and the community to find the best long term path forward for Gorham, its taxpayers, and its children.”

The debate over how much to spend on education in Gorham was unusually tense this year, with some residents and town leaders looking for ways 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.

School Superintendent Heather Perry told the Town Council during an Aug. 8 hearing that the budget approved Tuesday will result in an annual property tax increase of about $313 on a home valued at $400,000.


The Town Council voted 4-2 on Aug. 8 to recommend approval of the education budget following an hour-long public hearing. During that meeting, some councilors called on the School Committee to work more collaboratively with them on future budgets.

The budget approved Tuesday represents an increase of $3.5 million – 7.68% – over the 2022-23 budget. Almost half of the overall increase stems from a new pre-K program ($1.6 million), the costs of which are almost entirely offset by state subsidies and grants, according to the Gorham district.

Another $350,000 of the increase stems from higher special education costs. The district’s special education population has increased by almost 100 students in five years and the number of K-5 students with autism has more than doubled in the last three years.

Tuesday’s vote followed failed budget votes in June and July. The school district’s new fiscal year began July 1.

Voters on June 13 rejected a $51.5 million school spending plan, with about 10.4% of registered voters casting ballots. The School Committee revised its budget and presented the Town Council with a $50.2 million plan, but councilors ended up cutting another $2 million.

The resulting $48.2 million plan was presented to voters on July 25, but with 24 percent of voters turning out, it was rejected, forcing a third referendum vote. The defeat was a partial victory for school officials who campaigned against the plan because of the impact the spending cuts would have on staffing and extracurricular programs, and because it would have required high school students to pay to play in athletic programs.

The second defeat forced the School Committee to temporarily make some unwanted staffing cuts. Under Maine law, if a school district doesn’t have a voter-approved budget in place by the start of the new fiscal year, it must keep using the most recent budget. Shortly after the second referendum failure the Gorham School Committee voted to eliminate 20 staff positions, including 11 that were vacant. Nine people lost their jobs.

All but four of the 20 positions will be restored as a result of Tuesday night’s budget approval, according to Superintendent Heather Perry.

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