Andover School Board says ‘no’ to town vote on school closing

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The Andover School Board Feb. 8 voted unanimously against closing its elementary school, despite a 200+ signature petition requesting it.

At the beginning of the regular meeting, several residents asked the board members to vote for closure, if only to provide a path for residents to take part in a townwide vote on the issue.

A vote to close allows for a 30-day period to petition for a town vote. But a board vote against closure provides no path to bring the question to the whole town. There would be an option of eventually electing new board members who favor closure.

Sid Pew, a former SAD 44 School Board chairman and chairman of the district’s Finance Committee when Andover was a SAD 44 town, read a letter to the Andover board that said in part, “Andover voters should have the choice to determine their future, and not be captive only by the desires of the School Board directors.”

Former Selectman Keith Farrington agreed, noting that when Andover was considering withdrawing from SAD 44, the point was made that townspeople would have the power to choose to close the school, rather than have it be decided by the school district.

The town withdrew from the district in 2015.

Andover Supt. Jack Turcotte said the board “needs to make a statement” on the school. “It’s hard to do long term planning when you don’t know what the future of the school is going to be,” he said.

He said in his past experience, “I have always been reluctant to close a school. I have done it, and I have seen the results.”

The current school budget is about $1.5 million, and many residents have said the taxes are too high. The Andover board has done a theoretical budget to estimate the cost of education if the school were to be closed and all students tuitioned to other schools. They came up with a figure showing savings of about $85,000 (1 Andover mil generates about $67,226), noting that such expenses as administration and student transportation would remain.

Director Pete Coolidge made a motion to close the school. Director Tim Akers said he felt now is not the time to close it, but added he could change his mind down the road. He also said voting to close would be “abdicating responsibility – our first duty is to educate the students.”

Coolidge said he has talked to an approximately equal number of people for and against closure. He also said he has talked with other towns that have withdrawn and was told that the first three or four years are “the worst.” He said that voting to close AES now would be “premature.”

Turcotte said he worried somewhat that “every time there’s a groundswell of discontent” the school could become a “political football.”

“It’s early – we’re a year and a half into it,” he added.

Turcotte also noted that the test scores of AES students have improved since withdrawal. “We raised the bar. That’s a celebration in itself. But success costs money,” he said.

The board then took its unanimous vote. Other members are Chairman Paula Lee, Vice Chairman Lindsay Sharkey, and Betty Davis.

The panel is working on a draft of an informational publication to send out to residents addressing questions and issues about the school budget and possible AES closure.

Andover currently receives about $200,000 in state aid a year, which could increase by $75,000 to $90,000, depending on developments in the upcoming state budget, according to the board.

After the meeting, Pew provided a chart prepared by the “Committee to Close the School,” with figures they have calculated that show savings from closing AES would be closer to $200,000. Pew said his group believes there can be significant financial reductions in student and staff support, system administration and facilities management.

He said savings could total the equivalent of about 4 mils. Among the committee members are Jack Miserocchi, Betty Miserocchi, Leon Lewis, Eileen Pew, Brian Mills, Wayne Delano, Lucian Camire, Anna Camire and Farrington, he said.

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