ANDOVER — Seventeen months after the formation of the Save Our School Committee, the public informational meeting to explain an upcoming vote to try to keep the tiny Andover Elementary School open was held Tuesday night in the historic Town Hall.
More than 75 residents, as well as a few people from neighboring Dixfield who are exploring options to try to pull out of RSU 10, attended.
From the Save Our Schools Committee came the On Our Own subcommittee, headed by Mark Shraiberg, a SAD 44 board member,
Voters will decide on Sept. 18 whether they want to move ahead to try to become their own school district, and to spend up to $24,000 to begin negotiations for pulling out of SAD 44.
Voting takes place at the Town Hall from noon to 8 p.m.
Most agreed that pulling out could be a good thing for the children, the town and local businesses.
Brenda Rowe, a member of the On Our Own subcommittee, said conversations with other small towns that have lost their schools showed that taxes went up, housing values decreased, and businesses suffered.
She said initial options were to try to join another district, stay with SAD 44, or work toward establishing their own school district.
“We need town support to go on our own, or our school will be closed forever,” Rowe said.
Susan Merrow, an Andover selectman, said a “yes” vote on Sept. 18 will allow a Withdrawal Committee to be formed, and a lawyer or some other expert in dealing with school districts, to negotiate for the building, buses and perhaps an agreement not to close the Andover school for a specified number of years.
“We've been in this district for 40 years. We need negotiations to be very strong,” she said.
Resident Dick Merrill favored raising the $24,000 and beginning withdrawal negotiations.
“We used to be the golden egg for SAD 44 (with the Telstar satellite station). Now it's Newry (with Sunday River Ski Resort),” he said, adding that because Newry pays such a significant portion of the SAD 44 budget, the remaining towns in the district would see their school taxes rise if Newry left the district.
A very preliminary budget, for the second year, was presented that shows an almost even balance of income and expenses if Andover should stand on its own. However, many unknown numbers have yet to be plugged in.
Sidney Pew, a longtime Andover representative to the SAD 44 board, said costs to operate alone would be very high. He said also that the student numbers included on a fact sheet were incorrect, particularly as it relates to the number of sixth- through 12th-graders who would have to be tuitioned out to Telstar, Gould Academy or Mountain Valley.
“We're better off staying with SAD 44 and negotiating (staying open) on a year-to-year basis,” he said.
“It's stressful for students, teachers and parents to negotiate every year,” Merrow said.
The town paid an additional $214,000 to keep the school open two years ago after the board voted to close it. The town also paid an extra $68,000 for this year to keep the school open.
Although the preliminary budget showed a near balance of expenses and revenue, the first year would have much higher expenses.
Keith Farrington, an Andover selectman, said because state subsidies wouldn't kick in until the second year of a stand-alone school system, the town would likely have to float a bond to cover costs.
The Sept. 18 vote would only set up a Withdrawal Committee. A final vote would likely take place many months later after negotiations and unknown figures are plugged into the preliminary second year budget. A two-thirds majority must vote to pull out of SAD 44.
The On Our Own subcommittee meets at the Town Hall each Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. Anyone with ideas, comments or interest is welcome to attend.