ANDOVER — Several residents are circulating a petition to ask the town’s school board to close Andover Elementary School because of escalating costs.

“The discussion has to be had,” said Jack Miserocchi, one of the petitioners.

Andover withdrew from SAD 44 in 2015, and the town has operated the K-5 school since then. Older students are tuitioned to Telstar and other schools.

But the price of withdrawal has been high. The last full calendar year Andover was a member of SAD 44 (2014), the town paid a total of $691,342 as its share (including $180,000 to keep Andover Elementary open), according to Town Office records. This year’s Andover school budget is $1.4 million, according to School Board Chairman Paula Lee. That is down $108,000 from last year because of fewer students and thus lower tuition payments for older students.

Andover Elementary has consistently had between 25 and 30 students, while the overall number of students from Andover K-12 has dropped this year to about 81 from last year’s 90, she said.

After Andover withdrew, it did not start paying the higher costs all at once, because the town’s fiscal year was six months off from the school district’s. The initial hike was spread over two years.

The two-year step-up in taxes was explained in a public hearing that preceded Andover’s vote to withdraw. At the hearing, the ballpark estimate for a school budget based on costs of the 2014-15 fiscal year was given as $1.2 million, with just over $1 million of that being paid locally.

After the town withdrew, there was an initial increase in the mill rate from $15.06 to $19.06 per $1,000 of property value. The rate went up again this year to $24.65, according to Selectman Jane Rich.

Andover is separately paying on a $200,000 bond borrowed for startup costs for the town’s new school department, according to town officials.

When 2016 tax bills went out in late August, Rich said, the town started hearing from people.

“There were lots of complaints about the taxes,” she said.

Miserocchi said last week the effort to collect signatures on a petition began a couple of weeks ago.

“The reason we feel the school must close is because it just costs way more than we thought it would,” he said. “Therefore, we feel that by closing the school and tuitioning the students, the town would save a considerable amount of money. Many of us truly regret losing the school, but we feel that we simply cannot afford it, especially in view of the fact the town has no money for repairs that are long overdue.”

He said “a lot” of people are signing the petition, although with several people circulating it, he did not have a current number of signatures gathered.

Most people approached by the petition group have signed, he said.

But, Miserocchi said, “there’s no big hurry here,” because the plan is to get at least 200 signatures before presenting the petition to the school board.

Lee said that according to the law, the decision to close rests with the school board. If there were a vote to close Andover Elementary, townspeople would have a right to petition for a town vote to keep it open, but there is no similar provision in the law if the board declined to close it.

The current members of the Andover School Board are Lee, Vice Chairman Lindsay Sharkey, Tim Akers, Pete Coolidge and Betty Davis, Lee said.

She said Andover residents should remember that the cost of keeping the school open is just a portion of the total education costs. In addition to tuition, there are other costs for running an independent school department.

She estimated that if all Andover students were to be tuitioned out of town, with an average rate of $10,000 per student, the cost would be about $800,000. On top of that would be transportation costs ($157,000 this year), special education costs ($170,000 last year), superintendent costs ($36,000 this year) and other costs, Lee said.

She added that the school has become a community center, noting that one evening last year the school board, the PTA, the town Recreation Committee and a walking group were all using it.

The school board is working with Superintendent Jack Turcotte on a school budget for next year, Lee said, under the assumption the school will be open.

As for dealing generally with the school and its budget, Lee said of the board, “We are all taxpaying residents. We are looking for what is best for the whole community.”

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