ANDOVER — Officials from SAD 44 and the Andover Withdrawal Committee said Wednesday they are unsure what their next step will be for the Andover Elementary School, after a town referendum to leave SAD 44 failed Tuesday.

“We were disappointed to lose by such a close vote,” said Tim Akers, a member of the committee and the SAD 44 board. “We did all we could to get people out to vote,” said the father of a first-grader.

The unofficial tally to withdraw was 238 in favor and 131 against, but a two-thirds majority of 246 was required for passage.

Committee Chairman Susan Merrow, who is a selectmen, said Wednesday that she will not spearhead another attempt.

“Three years is enough,” she said, to form an educational plan and bring the effort to a vote. “I would support whomever might take up the battle again.”

Paula Lee, a local business owner and member of the Stand On Our Own committee, which became the Andover Withdrawal Committee, said advocates for leaving SAD 44 don’t have to wait the state-mandated three years before trying again, because at least 60 percent of voters supported withdrawal.

“It’s been a long road and this has monopolized my life,” she said. “But if people really want it, someone will start the petition process again.”

Retaining a school in town is vital to the economy and future of the town, she and Merrow said.

SAD 44 Superintendent David Murphy said the voting results will be on Monday’s school board agenda.

“We’ll discuss and debrief the vote,” he said. “This has been an interesting and challenging process and everyone has learned a little bit. We’ll bring it all together and discuss other options or ways to address this.”

The board, which also represents Bethel, Newry, Greenwood and Woodstock, will meet at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 13, at Telstar Regional Middle/High School in Bethel.

The board voted in 2011 to close the school, citing the extra expense to maintain the old building and a declining student enrollment. There are about 35 students in grades kindergarten to five who attend the school.

Since then, Andover residents have paid the district a total of $422,000 — $214,000 for 2011-12, $68,000 for 2012-13 and $140,000 for 2013-14 — to keep it open. That amount is on top of its approximate $450,000 annual assessment.

Akers believes one option may be to continue those extra payments.

“I am determined to keep the school open,” he said, but he wants to see what happens before any decisions are made.

Murphy said Tuesday’s vote demonstrated the town’s commitment to keep their school, he said.

Merrow believes that perhaps a multi-year agreement could be worked out with SAD 44 to keep the school open.

Andover joined the district in the late 1960s, along with Bethel, Newry, Greenwood and Woodstock.

The elementary school was originally the town high school, which was built in 1916 on Back Street, according to the website andovermaine.com/schools. The one-story, wood-framed building has three classrooms, a music and art room, special education room, library, a gym that also serves as a cafeteria and auditorium, offices and bathrooms.


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