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WEST SPRINGFIELD — Mittineague School will stay open, for now, the School Committee recently confirmed in a largely symbolic vote.

But the committee also voted to start what could be a decade-long process of building a new elementary school in town, likely replacing Fausey School and John Ashley Kindergarten.

Responding to an unprecedented petition campaign that saw 2,546 signatures certified opposing the Jan. 9 vote to close the town’s smallest and oldest elementary school, the School Committee voted 6-0 on Feb. 27 to reverse its vote. Because of the citizen petition, if the committee had not rescinded its vote, the matter would have gone to a town-wide ballot vote. The School Department was already planning its 2024-25 budget to include Mittineague.

Either way, “Mittineague would still have to stay open for the next year,” Mayor William Reichelt observed.

School officials have been discussing the closure of Mittineague since 2005, and set up a subcommittee last spring to study “school population projections.” School Committee members did not host any public hearings about Mittineague’s future until December, however, and voted 5-2 to close Mittineague at their very next meeting.

Mittineague parents and alumni argued at the Dec. 12, 2023, meeting that their school has a vibrant and tight-knit community that can’t be replicated elsewhere. They also criticized the process, saying the subcommittee was poorly publicized, didn’t have enough Mittineague community representatives and met at inconvenient times, and that the School Committee was moving too quickly to implement a controversial recommendation.

School Committee member Kathy Alevras was not present for the Feb. 27 re-vote. On Jan. 9, she had been one of two committee members who voted against the Mittineague closure, along with Robert Mancini. Both said at the time that they agreed there hadn’t been enough public discussion of the change.

Shortly after the January vote, Mittineague parents organized a petition campaign to force town officials to reverse it. Petitioners had to collect at least 2,414 signatures — 12% of the registered voters in town — in two and a half weeks. Town Clerk Otto Frizzell said to his knowledge, this is the first successful petition of its kind since West Springfield adopted a city form of government in 2000.

If Mittineague had closed, its students would have moved to Coburn and Tatham schools, and the School Committee was also planning to redraw enrollment boundaries elsewhere in town to equalize class sizes. School officials say there is enough room at other schools to absorb the Mittineague students.

School Committee member Diana Coyne, before voting on the Mittineague closure, said she hoped it would help the town “heal,” restore faith in the School Committee and end the division among parents and taxpayers on this topic.

“Damage done to friendships can be repaired. Mittineague and Coburn families can realize the potential of creating bonds,” she said. “Our kiddos can focus on being kiddos and not bear the burden of adult conversations.”

New school

School Superintendent Stefania Raschilla also recommended closing John Ashley Kindergarten and moving all kindergarten classrooms to neighborhood schools, and building a new elementary school somewhere in town.

On Feb. 27, the School Committee voted to take the first step, submitting a statement of interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority, in building a new school. The statement describes John Ashley and Fausey as overcrowded and ill suited to modern education practices. It requires Town Council approval to be sent to the state. After the meeting, Reichelt said Fausey was chosen as the elementary school to be replaced, rather than Memorial or Tatham, which are about the same age, because it has 15.5 acres of town-owned land and could easily accommodate new construction.

mballway@thereminder.com | + posts