As a former town councilor in Gorham, I’ve had the distinct privilege of delving deep into the intricacies of our school budget process. Our shared aim is always the welfare of our children, providing them with unparalleled education while keeping our financial responsibility in check. However, I find it pressing to address two significant issues that have come to light: the alarming trend of unsustainable budget hikes and, even more concerning, the reported use of school resources by school administrators to influence and sway the local referendum process.

Over recent years, our school budgets have seen consistent and sizable increases that exceed inflation. While I staunchly believe in investing in our children’s futures, the pace of these augmentations is unsustainable. We need to ensure that our spending not only addresses today’s needs but is also prudent with an eye on our community’s long-term financial health.

This brings me to an even more pressing concern. Superintendent Heather Perry used her position to exert undue influence over the local budget voting process. She publicly encouraged community members to vote against one budget in favor of another. She used official school-department communication channels, funded by taxpayers, to increase voter turnout by those more likely to support higher school spending (those with kids in the school system). Such a method of advocacy is not just inappropriate, but it also breaches the fundamental principles of transparency, fairness and trust we place in our school administrators.

Superintendent Perry, like all school officials, holds a position of immense influence and responsibility. Using this power to direct a narrative, especially in such critical matters as budgeting, can lead to a skewed referendum process. This isn’t just about a singular event; it’s about upholding the integrity of our democratic processes. Each community member should feel empowered to make an informed decision based on unbiased, objective information.

In light of these revelations, I advocate for the following:

1. Immediate investigation: Any allegations of impropriety, especially from those in positions of power, should be immediately and thoroughly investigated. The community deserves clarity and assurance that their voices aren’t being stifled.


2. Clear communication guidelines: It’s essential that school administrators, including superintendents, have strict guidelines governing their communications related to referendums and budgets. These should underscore impartiality, avoiding any undue influence.

3. Sustainable budgeting: We must revisit our budgeting process to ensure it’s both ambitious for our students and sustainable for our taxpayers.

Lastly, community members must remain vigilant. Stay informed, engage in discussions, question when necessary, and hold our institutions accountable. It’s through our collective efforts that we can ensure a balanced and fair system that truly benefits our children.

In conclusion, while I believe in the passion and commitment of our school officials, it’s essential to ensure that this passion is channeled appropriately and ethically. Let’s prioritize transparency and fairness, ensuring our decisions today create a better tomorrow for all.

Benjamin E. Hartwell is an attorney and former member of the Gorham Town Council. 

Comments are not available on this story.