Andover forms committee to keep town school open

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ANDOVER — Following a two-hour community meeting on Saturday morning to consider options for keeping Andover Elementary School open, upset residents formed an advocacy committee.

The group will work to keep the school open, and organize and start a telephone contact campaign aimed at the 13 SAD 44 School Board members who voted on Monday night to close the school at the end of the current school year.

Ideally, they want to force the board to re-vote the issue, if that’s even possible.

The school has 31 pupils in grades kindergarten to five. Student enrollment has been shrinking for years, from a high of more than 100.

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The decline reflects the loss of population — 950 in 2005 to 821 in 2010 — and the loss of several industries.

Selectmen convened the meeting to field questions, present options and galvanize a rally to keep the school open.

“The purpose of this meeting is to make sure the community understands what the options are and what the next steps are, and then the community as a whole and people in the community together are going to have to rally together if they want to take steps against closing the school,” Selectmen Chairman Susan Merrow said.

“We really need to talk about solutions and to make sure that people have the information they need about how we are all going to move forward.”

Selectman Trudy Akers said Andover can keep the school open if voters agree at a referendum in mid-June to pay the district an extra $214,600.

That would buy the school a year, but doesn’t guarantee that the school board wouldn’t vote again next year to close the school, Selectman Keith Farrington said.

The town currently pays $480,507 to fund the district.

Other options presented by selectmen included withdrawing from SAD 44 and either joining neighboring RSU 10 or tuitioning students there, or trying to independently operate the school as its own district.

Selectmen didn’t yet have any hard numbers about the impacts to taxpayers should referendum voters agree to pay the extra money or not.

However, they said Andover’s taxes would not decrease significantly as rumored about town if SAD 44 gets what it wants to satisfy a budget crunch and the school closes for good.

Selectmen brought in Rep. Matt Peterson, D-Rumford, for legislative assistance and to advocate on their behalf with the Maine Department of Education. Peterson said he will support the town’s decision and do what he must.

Most of the crowd of about 40 people sought clarification about what was actually happening, like whether the town still had options.

“Is this thing a done deal?” resident Rick Mills asked.

He suggested starting a campaign to get SAD 44 voters in other towns to kill the district’s proposed $9.6 million budget and make them start over, with the Andover school included.

“For lack of a better term, we’ve been the bastard child of that district forever,” Mills said.

“We must have assets in there because we’ve been throwing them money since the ’60s.”

“I’m just throwing this out there but I wonder if it’s worthwhile to own our own school, run our own school, hire our own teachers up to the fifth grade, and then tuition our kids out to whether they want to go to Rumford, Gould Academy, Hebron or Telstar or wherever,” he said.

Merrow wondered that as well.

“Is it a crazy idea or is it a feasible idea?” she asked.

“It won’t be any cheaper,” Akers said. “It will probably cost us more.”

“That’s one of the options that’s out there,” Farrington said.

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

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