$68,000 not enough to keep Andover Elementary School open
On Tuesday Andover offered to pay SAD 44 $68,000 next year to keep the Andover Elementary School open, in the event the town stays in the district.
The School Board said “no,” and instead asked for $140,000 by April 22.
Now Andover selectmen are working to call a special town meeting to ask for more money.
Without the money Andover could eventually face a bill of approximately $200,000 to keep the school open, should SAD 44 vote formally later this spring to close the school.
Andover voters had approved the $68,000 offer at their town meeting March 16. Last year SAD 44 accepted that figure for the same purpose.
But this year, said some directors in debate before Tuesday’s board vote, the district faces a greater financial challenge.
Supt. Dave Murphy provided estimates showing SAD 44 could be $300,000 in the hole compared to last year, as a result of losses in state funds.
Director Marcel Polak of Woodstock said he wished there had been dialogue between the town and the board prior to the vote regarding what might be an acceptable figure.
He said he preferred keeping AES open, "but I don’t feel this is enough. I have to be responsible for all the taxpayers, and ultimately it is the other taxpayers and the other students, as a result, that are going to have to pay in some other fashion to subsidize and keep Andover open,” he said.
Several other directorsechoed his sentiments, including Lynn Arizzi, Lainey Cross and Roberta Taylor of Bethel.
In arguing to accept the $68,000, Andover Director Keith Smith cited his town’s continuing process of negotiating to withdraw from SAD 44. He said Andover had offered the $68,000 “to put their best foot forward to keep the school open, and try to continue to work through the [withdrawal] process... The town voted that that’s what they’re presenting. That’s the best they can do.”
He said Andover would be put “in a very, very tough spot” without an agreement on the funds.
Kate Botka of Bethel wondered about Smith’s role as chairman of the board’s Finance Committee. The committee discussed the $68,000 figure before the board meeting, but did not make a recommendation.
“It feels odd to have someone from Andover be the head of Finance and then be negotiating this whole budget and how much they’re going to pay,” she said. “If you don’t have the loyalty to stay with SAD 44, why should we have the loyalty to make sure you don’t have to pay extra? I feel like that statement was ‘We’re in the process of dropping you,’ so that makes me bristle, and why would I want to accept the $68,000 if you’re just going to drop us? Why should we put all of that tax burden on all of the people we represent just to try to keep Andover happy?”
Smith responded, “I think it’s absolutely my responsibility to voice my opinion, particularly from the town that I’m from.”
Ignoring the ramifications of not accepting the $68,000 would be “irresponsible to that process,” he said.
The board voted down the $68,000 11-4, with Smith, Akers and Tammy Goodwin and Stacey Sandvoss of Greenwood voting yes. (Andover Director Mark Shraiberg did not attend the meeting.)
After more discussion Cross, the board chair, moved to up the amount to $140,000.
Bethel Director Tim Carter said that figure would meet Andover halfway between the $68,000 and $214,600 that Andover paid two years ago to keep AES open, after the board had voted formally to close the school.
The $214,600 was the result of a state formula that kicked in as part of the school closing process. Murphy said it is unknown what the figure would be this year, but the same number was “fair” to hold discussions around.
The $140,000 was approved 9-6, with Akers, Smith, Goodwin, Arizzi, Deb Webster of Newry and Sheryl Morgan of Woodstock voting against it.
Andover selectmen and about 15 people from the town attended the board meeting. After the vote, Murphy asked Selectboard Chair Susan Merrow if the town would have enough time for a process to raise the remaining funds.
She said she was not sure. Murphy said the board could possibly adjust the deadline when it meets again April 8.
Andover and SAD 44 have also been negotiating as the town pursues possible withdrawal.
There has been a proposal from Andover and a counterproposal from SAD 44, but beginning in late February communications became confused regarding whether Andover has offered another formal counterproposal.
Murphy said Tuesday he had received three e-mails from Andover’s attorney since late February, but still no counterproposal, other than to say “the item we had submitted was not acceptable.”
Emotions came to a head briefly when Akers said he had seen e-mails showing the attorneys for the town and the district had been communicating.
“I don’t know what’s going on, but our lawyer has indicated and I have seen documentation that there are ongoing discussions between the Andover Withdrawal Committee lawyer and the district’s lawyer,” Akers said.
Murphy took his comments as an accusation, and reiterated he had received e-mails three times. “If there are others, [district lawyer] Bill Stockmeyer has not seen them and I have not seen them,” he said. He asked Akers to forward any to him.
After the short exchange both men agreed the parties needed to move forward.
Merrow also emphasized the need to move forward in comments she made at the beginning of the board meeting. She said there has been a lot of misinformation about the process. “We are working hard and we all want to get through this process as quickly as possible, because I know there are a lot of things hinging on it,” she said.
Polak asked that both parties keep each other better informed.
After the meeting Merrow said of the vote, “I am saddened that the SAD 44 board continues to operate in a silo. The health of any community doesn’t come from one factor, both business and education are needed. As the total SAD 44 student population declines, it is within the board members’ power to foster community growth, by ensuring education is there for businesses and families. When Ethan Allen in Andover layoff the remaining 65 workers in 2009, only 16 were from Andover. That was a regional hit and impacted SAD 44.
“Andover residents will continue to fight to maintain a healthy business climate which benefits the entire region.”