Andover stands strong behind AES; postpones road rebuild
“Will I be going to the same school?” AES kindergartener Wyatt Cole asked his mom, Heidi, as Saturday’s special town meeting in Andover concluded.
“Yes,” she told him.
A huge turnout of voters overwhelmingly approved an amended article to raise an additional $72,000 (over $68,000 already approved) to ensure the Andover Elementary School will stay open at least another year, as the town prepares a plan to possibly withdraw from SAD 44.
The 127-43 vote followed a 74-65 approval of an amendment by Wayne Delano, and headed off a potential vote Monday by the School Board to close AES.
Delano said he favored preserving the school, but knowing “there’s a lot of people in town concerned about taxes, I think this article would be more palatable if we take $40,000 from Surplus to go toward it,” he said. “Surplus was increased at town meeting unnecessarily. Surplus is for emergencies. We don’t need $140,000 in there, we never have.”
Selectman Keith Farrington disagreed.
“I think that is an extremely short-sighted thing to do,” he said. “We’ve been trying to build Surplus up intentionally because it was cut back to $80,000, and now we keep having to borrow and scramble. Surplus is used for cash flow for the town to operate on between December and the time we start getting taxes in, which isn’t until August, so we don’t have a lot of money to work on. We have $113,000 in payments before we pay any salaries, and that doesn’t include the $68,000 or the $72,000. It’s my opinion if you want to do this article you should pay for it.”
But Delano countered that he would rather pay $400 in interest to borrow $40,000 for three months than raise the $40,000 toward AES.
“We always have to take out a tax anticipation note anyway,” he said.
The amendment was approved in a close vote.
When discussion turned to the amended article, several people expressed frustration with SAD 44 for asking for additional funds over the $68,000 initially approved last month to pay to keep AES open.
“Extortion,” “ransom,” “holding us hostage” and “holding a gun to our heads,” were some of the terms offered.
One resident asked if Andover paid the same or more per student as its regular share of the SAD 44 budget.
Brad Thibodeau, a former SAD 44 director, said the share depends on the town’s valuation, not on its overall or student population. For that reason, he said, “Newry pays a gazillion more per student than we do.”
Dick Merrill said Andover should raise the $72,000 to keep the school open so the withdrawal study process can also continue.
“To keep this process going, I think we have to raise the money,” he said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen down the road. There’s several circumstances that could happen that would increase our taxes to this amount or more for every year as long as we’re in the district.”
He used the example of Newry possibly withdrawing from SAD 44 and taking its large valuation and share of the school budget with it.
Others agreed that it would be important to know the cost of the town’s educational options, and that keeping the school open so the withdrawal process can continue would put Andover in charge of the school’s ultimate fate.
They also cited the difficulty in reopening the school should it close because of the cost to upgrade it to state standards. Currently, AES is grandfathered.
Road project defeated
After the funds were approved, residents revisited a vote taken at the March annual town meeting to approve a 10-year road bond to rebuild a mile of the Farmer’s Hill Road. The $320,000 bond would have annual payments of approximately $38,000, beginning next year.
Delano said he usually feels that articles at an annual town meeting should not be revoted, “unless there are extenuating circumstances.”
The situation with the school qualified as that, he said. At the March meeting, said Delano, voters did not know there would be a request from SAD 44 for another $72,000.
And with general uncertainty regarding education in Andover, he said, “I would like to see [the road project] turned down at least until the school is settled.”
Road Commissioner Marshall Meisner said the Farmer’s Hill Road needs fixing. But, he said, “I would like to think it will last another year or two until we get the school thing settled one way or the other. My personal opinion, as a taxpayer, I would vote this down. As the road commissioner, it needs to be done.”
Others said the school and the town’s children are a higher priority than roads.
The article was easily defeated.