Andover has fallen short of leaving SAD 44 by eight votes.

In Tuesday’s referendum, a majority of residents voted in favor of withdrawal – 238 to 131 – but a two-thirds majority (246) was needed for it to happen. The percent in favor was 64.5.

The process leading up to the vote had been going on informally and then formally for a total of three years, triggered by a SAD 44 plan in 2011 to close the Andover Elementary School.

Since then the town has paid extra money each school year to keep the school open. But the uncertainty about that arrangement concerned some residents enough to pursue possible withdrawal.

On Wednesday Susan Merrow, chair of the Andover Board of Selectmen and a member of the Andover Withdrawal Committee, said there was an immediate effect of falling short.

“Unfortunately, two people lost contracts on selling their homes last night, so it can’t be denied that knowing we will have a school in this community is important,” she said.

Advocates of withdrawal had made the argument that having a school in town is important to its economic vitality.

Asked about the possibility now of negotiating an informal, multi-year agreement with SAD 44 to keep AES open (a long-term formal agreement is not legally possible), which some withdrawal opponents had proposed, Merrow said, “I truly hope those who advocated for a multi-year agreement were genuine and step up to make that happen.”

She praised the efforts of the town’s Withdrawal Committee. “It was inspiring to work with the Withdrawal Committee members, Paula Lee, David Percival, Tim Akers and unofficial members Steve Hudspeth, David Belanger, Leon Akers, Dan Wells, plus all the many citizens who helped along the way. So, it is obviously hard in any situation when a minority rules a majority.”

Added Merrow, “Some people came out saying they care about their taxes, so it appears we will need to put more chairs up at the annual Town Meeting, which is Saturday, March 15.”

On the Withdrawal Committee’s Facebook page Tuesday night, some withdrawal supporters mulled the potential for mounting another withdrawal effort because the vote was so close.

A draft budget (estimate of expenditures) for an independent Andover school system that was prepared by the Andover Withdrawal Committee’s consultant had showed that for the 2014-2015 school year the total budget would have been $1,237,123. A total of $1,033,737 would have needed to be raised locally.

Another $235,400 would have been needed for startup costs for the new school system.

As a member of SAD 44, Andover this year is paying $634,601 (including $140,000 to keep the town’s elementary school open for the year).

Murphy comment

SAD 44 Supt. Dave Murphy said Wednesday, “The process that we have all been going through for the past year and a half has been an interesting and challenging one. I think it is probably safe to say that people on both sides of the withdrawal issue have learned a lot through this effort.

“It will now be important to see if we can blend that knowledge and determine if there might be some other options that might be able to be considered for the future. Yesterday’s vote showed a continued and impressive commitment on the part of Andover residents to maintain their community school. The process that the Andover group went through also helped to determine what the projected cost of running their own school system would be.

“(Board Chair Lainey) Cross and I have added a discussion item to Monday night’s School Board meeting to try to determine other steps that might be able to be taken to allow this conversation to move forward in a positive way, building on some of the knowledge that has been gained throughout this process.”

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