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Board votes 10-6 to close Andover school
ANDOVER — On Monday, May 16, the SAD 44 Board of Directors, by a 10 – 6 margin, refused to overturn its earlier vote to close Andover Elementary School (AES).
After receiving a petition signed by 222 residents of Andover asking the board to reconsider its decision, the matter was put to a vote. Despite impassioned pleas by many people, including State Representative Matt Peterson and County Commissioner Dave Dugay, 10 directors voted not to rescind the prior vote.
The three Andover representatives on the board were joined by two from Woodstock and one from Bethel in their dissenting vote.
Jim Coolidge, of Andover, was one of many who spoke up in the time allotted for citizen comments. He reminded the board that "our kids are getting the best education in Andover, excelling above the district average."
"We will help you pass the budget; if you doubt us, give us one year," pleaded Mark Scraberg, one of several who asked the board for help.
"It is absolutely a myth that Andover is a dying town," said Tina Farrington, "there are six new businesses employing 40 people. We are all working hard. Closing the school would pull the rug out from under our efforts."
Bob Dixon warned the board that "this vote is dividing. Bethel is becoming the golden egg. This is becoming not a district, but a single town."
Wayne Delano, a former Andover selectman, commented that "safety and money are reasons to change. Will this decision do more harm than good?" He compared the lower number of students at AES to the town library, "used by only 10 per cent of the town, but we don't close it. Not how we should run a state; besides, you're not saving money, you're just shuffling it around."
Delano went on to say "This [vote] is the first stage of dismantling the district. This vote should be easy." His remarks were punctuated with a round of applause from the more than 100 people in attendance.
County Commissioner Dave Dugay discussed the closing of the Virginia School, during the Mountain Valley consolidation. "It was thought out over some years and the decision was not well-liked."
After the citizen comments and other board business were over, Andover board member Keith Smith, who was absent during the previous vote to close the school, motioned to rescind the vote to close AES. The motion was seconded and the board discussed the matter.
Superintendent Murphy reminded the board that should they vote not to rescind, "If the town decides not to open, this board is the only entity that can keep the school open."
Some board members spoke in favor of closing the school.
Newry representative Deb Webster, who home-schools her children and is opening a private school, denied that the Finance Committee "talked of a dying town. There are good things about large schools."
Bethel Board Member Pat Nasta said "The vote is not just about money, but the educational impact on our kids. If I thought the vote would diminish this, I wouldn't vote. I feel the kids would thrive at Crescent Park.
Other board members disagreed.
In response Woodstock representative Marcel Polak said "Elementary education is critical. AES students have done so well in the past. I will not vote to close a school."
Keith Smart reiterated "The budget is the same whether the school is open or closed."
Sheryl Morgan, from Woodstock agreed. "I voted to close the school to save some money. The money is still in the budget. Keep it open."
Board Chairman Sidney Pew said "We owe it to the group to give them a year, keep it open. Sitting that long on a bus, some will do well, some will not."
Attempting to clarify the rationale for not cutting the budget by $214,000 Deb Webster said they "did not reduce the impact on the taxpayers because they wanted to keep some positions and for contingencies."
She cited the upcoming 24-student, fourth and fifth grade at Woodstock Elementary School (WES) as a possible contingency. In the January meeting at which the board first voted not to close AES, they also voted to cut the WES budget by $120,000, resulting in the loss of a teacher, the school librarian and other positions.
Voting to close the school were: Lynn Arizzi (Bethel), Lainey Cross (Bethel), Julie Davis (Woodstock), Carol Everett (Bethel), Bonnie Largess (Newry), Richard Melville (Greenwood), Pat Nasta (Bethel), Stacey Sandvoss (Greenwood), Roberta Taylor (Bethel) and Deb Webster (Newry).
Voting to keep it open were: Tim Akers (Andover), Kristen Drew (Bethel), Sheryl Morgan (Woodstock), Sid Pew (Andover), Marcel Polak (Woodstock), and Keith Smith (Andover).
As things stand now, there will be a meeting in Andover on May 25 to discuss options, including whether to seek to raise the extra monies needed to keep AES open. Then there will be a town-wide vote on June 16.
The district-wide referendum on the school budget is set for June 28, the latest ever.