Andover withdrawal date expected to be postponed
Andover residents will vote Saturday whether or not to raise an additional $72,000 – as requested by the SAD 44 School Board - to go with the $68,000 approved at last month’s Andover town meeting to keep the Andover Elementary School open another year.
Without the funds, the School Board could vote formally to close the school. Andover would then face a higher cost to keep it open, as the town simultaneously negotiates to possibly withdrawing from SAD 44.
Residents will also have two new developments to consider Saturday as they make their decision.
At a public informational meeting in Andover last week, Withdrawal Committee members said the town’s consultants now believe the town should postpone the date of potential withdrawal from July 1 of this year to July 1, 2014.
In addition, the committee members said Saturday’s warrant includes a second article that asks whether, should the $72,000 be approved, voters wish to reconsider their March town meeting approval of a 10-year, $320,000 road bond to fix the Farmer’s Hill Road.
More time needed
With time growing short, the Andover committee members said their consultants are advising the town to change the effective date of withdrawal, should voters approve the move. Rather than rushing to put together a budget for AES for the coming school year, they said, waiting until 2014 would allow more time to do a thorough job.
In addition, the town has been negotiating a withdrawal agreement with SAD 44, to be approved by the Department of Education and voted upon by the town. Andover has been aiming for a July 1, 2013 date while SAD 44 has been advocating for 2014.
(Susan Merrow, selectboard chair and a member of the Withdrawal Committee, said after the meeting that the DOE “will be helping to determine a 2014 versus a 2013 start date when they receive the final agreement.”)
Merrow told residents at the informational meeting that drawing up a proposed Andover school budget, to be available ahead of the town withdrawal vote, has been delayed until the withdrawal agreement is completed.
She said steady progress is being made, but sticking points such as debt service, assets and the tuition rate to be paid to SAD 44 for older Andover students are holding up crunching the numbers for a stand-alone Andover school unit.
“This makes a huge difference in what the budget is,” she said. “These things could make or break whether we think it’s affordable to go out on our own or not.”
Regarding the road bond, Selectman Keith Farrington said there had been a citizen request to possibly reconsider the $320,000 bond to fix a one-mile stretch of the Farmer’s Hill Road.
Farrington said reversing the decision to approve the bond would not help the town’s financial picture for this year, because the first payment would not be due until next year. He said the benefit would be over time, “because whatever happens with the school, it’s going to be a long-term issue.”
The annual payment on that bond would be $38,964, according to Merrow.
Farrington said the $72,000 would add about 1 mil to the mil rate.
AWC member Paula Lee pleaded with residents to vote the additional funds on Saturday.
“If we raise the other $72,000, we can finish the withdrawal agreement, and we can get the numbers,” she said. “And we as a town can sit down at our public hearings with our agreed-upon withdrawal plan and our own budget, and we can decide, not [SAD 44], whether we can afford it, or not. And we will say whether it stays open or it closes.”
Those at the meeting, which lasted a little more than an hour, asked questions and offered some opinions on issues related to the withdrawal.
Dick Merrill was critical of SAD 44’s spending priorities. He cited a tentative plan to bus up to a dozen Telstar seniors to Central Maine Community College next year so they can earn first-year college credits, “but they [SAD 44] still want to close our school.”
He also cited $150,000 in federal funds accumulated in an ERATE technology fund, some of which will be used next year to buy iPads for kindergarteners.
Lindsay Sharkey, who has pre-school children, praised the community atmosphere of Andover and said she wants her children to stay in town to experience it.
“I do not want my children’s first memory of elementary school to be riding a bus for an hour and a half [to go to Bethel],” she said.
Merrow, as she has throughout the process, noted the importance of a school to the economic health of a community.
She said, for example, a Bethel realtor had told her it has been more difficult to sell homes in Andover in recent years, due to uncertainty about the future of the school.
Saturday’s special town meeting begins at 10 a.m. at the Town Hall.