School withdrawal worries in Andover
The freedom to choose where Andover students attend upper grades.
The bottom line cost of a new, independent Andover school system.
The pace of negotiations with SAD 44.
Those were among the concerns of about 30 people who attended an informational meeting Tuesday in Andover about the town’s school withdrawal process.
In negotiations with SAD 44, the Andover Withdrawal Committee is standing firm on keeping the right to choose where its sixth-through-twelfth-graders attend school, should the town withdraw from the district.
Committee members told those at the meeting that the committee this week sent a counterproposal withdrawal agreement with that stipulation to SAD 44.
Member John Percival said the counterproposal states that SAD 44’s position that older Andover students must be tuitioned exclusively to the district for at least 10 years after withdrawal, or for any period of time, is “unacceptable.”
The committee wants Andover students and their parents to be free to choose where students are tuitioned once they leave fifth grade at the Andover Elementary School.
The issue, said Percival, is the primary sticking point in the negotiations.
Another option for the older students would be Mountain Valley in RSU 10. Percival said RSU 10 has assured the town it will accept tuition students.
He said Andover might be able to negotiate a transportation agreement providing for a bus from Andover to transport students to the Rumford town line, where they could then be transferred to busses from SAD 44 and RSU 10 for the remainder of the trip to school.
Sid Pew, former SAD 44 school director and board chairman, asked about the status of the preparation of a budget for the potential new Andover school unit.
“I just want to make sure we have some numbers before we vote,” he said.
“We are working on a preliminary budget,” said Tim Akers, a committee member who is also a SAD 44 director.
Brian Mills said he had favored preparing a withdrawal plan, but whether he ultimately votes for it depends on the costs.
“The numbers are going to be a huge factor,” he said.
Mills also urged selectmen to prepare a figure for townspeople to vote on at town meeting next month that would pay to keep AES open another year, should the town vote down withdrawal.
For the past two years, Andover has approved funds over and above its regular share of the SAD 44 budget to keep the school open, when the School Board would otherwise have closed it. Last year they approvd $68,000 for that purpose.
Dick Merrill looked around the meeting room and wondered why more parents of school-age children weren’t present. One parent at the meeting said there were a total of four.
“There should be a lot more,” said Merrill.
He said he wanted to see AES kept open under a new school unit if it could be done with a minimal increase in taxes, but he expressed concern that fixed-income residents would not be able to afford a significant tax hike.
A large increase, he said, would make the vote on the issue difficult for him, but the numbers would ultimately guide his decision.
And regarding the current format for appropriating extra funds to keep the school open, said Merrill, “I can’t see leaving it open to negotiations every year. If it has to close, it has to close.”
Percival said the committee agreed with Merrill that the withdrawal decision will come down to numbers.
Several people expressed frustration with the pace at which negotiations are proceeding and blamed SAD 44.
Percival said the School Board took more than a month to respond to Andover’s first draft of a withdrawal agreement. “It could have been done more expeditiously,” he said.
Merrow said a big fear of the committee is that the School Board might procrastinate on the process and then vote to close the school while the two parties are in the middle of negotiating the agreement.
She suggested Andover residents contact school directors from other towns and tell them it is in the best interest of SAD 44 to move the process along, so the district can prepare its own budget.
“I’m concerned that the School Board doesn’t know how serious this is. I don’t know if they’re getting information. They don’t seem to be in a hurry,” she said.
District directors last month authorized Supt. Dave Murphy and SAD 44 legal consultant Bill Stockmeyer to negotiate for them, but also named a subcommittee of directors to monitor and guide the two on negotiations.
Tuesday’s informational meeting concluded after an hour and a half. Merrill praised the committee’s efforts, to applause.
Andover withdrawal background at a glance
Andover and SAD 44 are formally negotiating a withdrawal agreement for the town to potentially leave the district, an agreement that would have to be approved by the state commissioner of education and voted upon by town residents in the spring. If approved by a 2/3 majority vote, the withdrawal would take effect June 30 of this year.
In addition to providing for the education of students, the withdrawal plan must address the town’s share of responsibility for the district’s outstanding debt. Andover has been a member of SAD 44 since the district’s formation in 1965.
The proposal calls for the town to form its own new School Administrative Unit, and to continue to provide education for its K-5 students at the Andover Elementary School, which would be conveyed to the town by SAD 44.
During the first year after withdrawal Andover students could continue attending the SAD 44 schools they would have attended if Andover had not withdrawn.
On other key points Andover and SAD 44 have differed, including:
SAD 44 has claimed the withdrawal process would need to be completed by April 1 in order to allow time to put together an FY’14 budget without Andover as a member. The district proposes waiting another year for the withdrawal to take place. Andover has a deadline of April 20 to submit a withdrawal plan to the state.
SAD 44 says the plan should provide for a 10-year exclusive tuition arrangement with SAD 44 for Andover’s Grade 6-12 students, rather than allowing students to elect to enroll, as proposed by Andover. SAD 44 says it will lose a significant source of funding otherwise.
The district says SAD 44 should not agree to pay special education costs for Andover students enrolled in SAD 44, as proposed by the town.
SAD 44 says Andover should pay a share of school building debt that was incurred during its district membership, rather than be released from any obligation as initially requested.