Is $68,000 enough to keep Andover Elementary School doors open?
Andover’s effort to keep its elementary school open is now proceeding on two tracks, following a town meeting vote to raise $68,000.
After appropriating those funds to negotiate with SAD 44 to keep AES operating next school year, Andover will now see if the figure is enough to satisfy the district’s School Board.
Meanwhile, separate negotiations are still ongoing for Andover to possibly withdraw from SAD 44 July 1.
$68,000 vs. $100,000
In 2012 school directors voted 10-5 to accept $68,000 extra from Andover to keep the school open this school year.
This year Andover selectmen recommended raising $100,000 to negotiate for the same purpose. But on Saturday, an amendment was made to reduce it to $68,000.
Former School Board Chairman Sid Pew, who represented Andover, said he was skeptical that $68,000 paid up front would be enough this year.
He said he has talked to other school directors from other towns.
“They’re not overly enthused about keeping the school open,” he said. “The cost will be a lot higher if they vote to close it.”
(If directors vote to close the school, Andover could then face a bill of more than $200,000 to keep AES open – the result of a state calculation that comes into play after a formal vote to close a school. Two years ago Andover paid $214,600 to keep the school open after the School Board voted to close it.)
Pew also worried about another scenario. If Andover does not reach a payment agreement with SAD 44 soon and directors vote for closure before the withdrawal issue is settled – and then Andover votes to withdraw – the town could have trouble reopening the school without significant upgrades, he said.
“We won’t be grandfathered and we will have some serious issues with that building,” said Pew.
He said an Andover vote on the withdrawal question would likely not take place until June, based on the steps still remaining in the process.
But Pew’s successor on the SAD 44 board, Mark Shraiberg, felt differently.
“I think it’s very important that we maintain the status quo for this next year, at $68,000,” he said. “We are in negotiations now to withdraw. As wenegotiate, maintaining the status quo is holding a position. And as long as we hold that position, it’s my opinion that it’s the board’s duty to nego- tiate in good faith. And if they’re going to negotiate in good faith, that would mean they have to maintain the Andover Elementary School open for another year, while we negotiate to withdraw from the district.”
He said the board knows a key reason Andover is looking at withdrawal is to keep the school open.
“If they decide to close the school as we negotiate, then in my opinion they’re not negotiating in good faith,” he said.
Shraiberg also wanted to amend the article so any agreement reached with the $68,000 would be contingent on placing a teaching principal at AES, “not a teaching principal that’s not there every day,” he said. “We need to have a teaching principal in that school, and they need to accept the $68,000 to maintain the status quo until negotiations are finished. That’s my opinion.”
But moderator David Duguay told him he could only amend the dollar amount, and the principal idea was dropped.
Cards on the table
Dick Merrill of the Andover Budget Committee opposed raising any funds now.
“I think offering money up front is a bad sign,” he said. “If anybody reads on the School Board that we’ve already appropriated $100,000, guess what the figure’s going to be.”
He said there would be more special town meetings about the school issue, and there would be another opportunity to appropriate more money.
Selectman Keith Farrington acknowledged that “we’re playing poker with the cards on the table,” but he still felt raising the $100,000 was the best overall choice.
Resident Scott Owings didn’t want to raise any money because of the effect on taxes.
“Whether we raise $100,000 or $68,000, I cannot afford my taxes to go up any more,” he said, even though he said he wanted to see AES stay open.
His comments were met with some applause.
After a 45-minute discussion, the voters approved the $68,000.
In other big-ticket item votes at Saturday’s meeting, residents rejected an article to raise $100,000 to buy a used, 1995 ladder truck to replace the Fire Department’s 1975 vehicle. Fire Chief Rob Dixon said the current truck is operable and certified, but the used truck presented a good “opportunity” for the future. Voters did not want to spend the money, however.
They were more sympathetic to a proposal to take out a $320,000 bond to fix a one-mile stretch of the Farmer’s Hill Road, a proposal that was rejected last year. They approved it this year.
Other articles were approved with some relatively minor alterations.
On Tuesday Merrow said the municipal appropriation totals $659,869 (including the $68,000) as a result of the meeting votes.
Last year the total municipal appropriation was $758,042, again including the $68,000.
In elections held Tuesday, inculmbent Selectman Keith Farrington won 38-28 over write-in candidate Susan Ross, Merrow said.
School Board write-in candidate Esau Cooper won unopposed with 45 votes.
Seventy-two voters turned out at the polls.