BETHEL — A proposal presented to the SAD 44 board this week calls for the Andover Elementary School to be turned over to the town and leased back to the district, thereby keeping Andover in the district.

At the same time, a group calling itself On Our Own said it will have a question on the March 18 town meeting ballot asking residents to approve a renewed effort to leave the five-town district.

SAD 44 Superintendent David Murphy said the proposal presented by board members Marcel Polak of Woodstock and Carol Everett of Bethel calls for the district to provide routine maintenance and the town to be responsible for capital improvements.

Andover would pay its annual assessment, which was about $490,000 last year, plus an additional $140,000, based on a school enrollment of about 30 students.

Murphy said if the number of elementary students increases, that figure would be reduced. If it declines, it would be increased.

The presentation was made after a meeting of an Andover subcommittee and the SAD 44 subcommittee.

Andover Selectman Keith Farrington said the Board of Selectmen plans to appoint a committee this week to discuss the proposal.

“We want to understand it and see which way to go from there,” he said Wednesday afternoon.

If the district’s proposal is given the go-ahead, it could appear on the March 18 ballot, he said.

Farrington said it’s possible that two referendum questions would be on that ballot.

“The proposal is creative. It has its advantages and disadvantages,” he said. “Costs would shift to Andover if the number of pupils declines and it would relieve the district of capital improvements. It’s kind of an extension of paying extra.”

The town has paid a total of $422,000 the past three years to keep the nearly 100-year-old school open. That amount is on top of its approximately $450,000 annual assessment.

The SAD 44 board voted three years ago to close the school to save money. About 30 students in grades kindergarten to five attend the school.

Murphy said the subcommittee’s proposal is unusual, but reflects the different issues that have come up.

“Through the whole withdrawal process, we never wanted Andover to leave the district,” Murphy said. “It’s worth pursuing. I think the support the voters have shown over the years speaks well of the support for the school.”

A town vote to withdraw from SAD 44 failed to get the two-thirds majority necessary for passage earlier this month. The unofficial vote was 238 for and 131 against. The measure required 246 votes to pass.

The balloting topped a hard-fought, two-year effort to leave the district, which also includes Bethel, Greenwood, Newry and Woodstock.

Jarrod Dumas of Andover is leading the renewed effort to withdraw from SAD 44. He said in an email that On Our Own is meeting weekly and expects to show that although costs may be higher during the first few years of an Andover school district, in the long run they will decline.

He said he expects the district’s costs to rise if the town stays in SAD 44.

He also said that On Our Own plans to seek services from neighboring districts that could reduce the estimated $1.2 million needed to operate a town school district.

“We will be able to show Andover residents in the next few weeks that going out on our own is the best option in terms of costs, in terms of control over hiring and programming, and in terms of avoiding future debt service,” he wrote.


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