Andover selectmen voted 2-1 Tuesday to remove a question from the March 18 ballot on approving an agreement with SAD 44 that would give the Andover Elementary School to the town.
A draft proposal from SAD 44, presented last week, would have also provided for leasing the school back to the district to operate (for a term of not more than three years, as written by selectmen for the ballot).
Selectboard Chair Susan Merrow said she was concerned that the time frame to finalize an agreement was too short and there was not enough opportunity to consult with legal counsel. She said the agreement would need to be ready 45 days before the vote, to allow town staff to prepare the information for absentee ballots, which are available 30 days before a vote.
About 75 people turned out for Tuesday’s meeting. Before the board determined that the absentee ballot scenario made the time frame unworkable, residents debated the proposal concept itself, which the selectboard had tentatively placed on the ballot last week.
Several advocated removing the question, saying the draft’s provisions were more favorable to the district than the town. (For the text of the draft agreement, go to www. bethelcitizen. com.) Rick Mills added that the question would confuse voters, who must also vote on March 18 on whether to re-start the withdrawal process from SAD 44.
That question was put on the ballot in response to a petition, which was circulated in the wake of last month’s vote in Andover on withdrawing from SAD 44, a vote that fell just short of the 2/3 majority needed.
But others Tuesday wanted voters to have another choice besides another withdrawal process. Wayne Delano, citing the $1.2 estimated budget for Andover to have an independent school system, said if there was an option available to keep AES open “and not cost a million dollars, I want to hear it.”
Former SAD 44 director Sid Pew agreed, noting the proposal could also save Andover money over what it has been paying annually in extra money to SAD 44 to keep the school open.
“We have a responsibility to everyone in town to see what can be worked out. If we don’t like it we can vote it down,” he said.
But Merrow then explained the absentee ballot requirement. Selectman Keith Farrington, who said he had thought the agreement itself could be negotiated until just before the vote, then joined Merrow in voting the article off the ballot. Selectman Judy Tabb voted to keep it on because she said she favored a choice for residents.
Selectmen last week had also formally appoint a committee (Farrington, Marshall Meisner and Paula Lee) to negotiate a final AES transfer/lease agreement with SAD 44. Merrow said she favored having the panel continue to talk to SAD 44 on the possibility an agreement might be drawn up for a future vote, should the withdrawal process fail.
SAD 44 had said if both the withdrawal re-start and the AES proposal were approved in the March 18 vote, the district could only honor the withdrawal process, in compliance with state law.