ANDOVER, Maine — Voters in this western Maine town stood behind their beloved elementary school, voting Saturday morning to keep it open another year.
Now the future of Andover Elementary is up to the SAD 44 board of directors. It is expected to vote Monday, April 22, on whether to accept the $140,000 it asked Andover to raise on top of its SAD 44 assessment.
Andover’s regular school assessment is between $400,000 and $450,000 per year.
Andover Elementary educates about 30 children in kindergarten through grade five. Another 70 or so Andover children attend other schools in SAD 44.
After much discussion Saturday of the $140,000 labeled by many as “extortion money,” residents voted 127-43 to raise and appropriate up to $72,000. That supplements the $68,000 raised at the March 16 annual town meeting to keep the school open in 2013-14.
The article was successfully amended to take $40,000 of the $72,000 from surplus and to raise the remaining $32,000 through taxation.
Resident Scott Owens clarified earlier statements during discussion about the hit to taxpayers.
“This article is written for [$72,000] because we’re adding to the [$68,000] that was already appropriated at town meeting, so your taxes aren’t going up based on $72,000; they’re going up based on $140,000, total,” Owens said. “That’s over and above what we’ve already paid in to SAD 44 to remain in the district.”
Resident Wendy Hutchins accused the district of extorting money from Andover as the town pursues withdrawal.
“The committee to withdraw has worked two years to get us to this point and SAD 44, unlike RSU 10 and some of the other districts around, isn’t willing to even meet us partway,” Hutchins said. “They’re holding us [hostage] up here and this is a ransom payment, as far as I’m concerned.”
Hutchins said that to move forward and continue with the withdrawal process, “and to be independent and go on our own and get out of the debt SAD 44 wants us to incur, I think we need to come up with this money today to keep that process moving forward.”
Resident Rodney Fuller said he didn’t like “SAD 44 putting a gun to our heads,” and urged townspeople to continue the withdrawal process with open minds.
Another resident said she knows four Andover camp owners on Upton Road who will be selling their properties because of increasing taxes.
“So we’re not bringing people into Andover,” she said. “We’re driving some of them out because our taxes are so high.”
“That’s an excellent point,” resident Kevin Scott said, “because the way that the school payments work out, if you’re part of the SAD, the formulas and equations are going to change, based on the needs of the SAD.”
“If we continue on our own path and we lose camps and we lose kids, our costs go down, because when you have your own SAD, you’re paying per student, so you can’t lose on a situation where you keep your school open and you’re independent,” he said. “It gives you the opportunity to, as your population decreases, control the costs, and as it increases, you can control the costs.”