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West Springfield elementary school to stay open — for now

The Mittineague Elementary School in West Springfield, Massachusetts, is the oldest of the town's school buildings.
Town of West Springfield
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West Springfield Public Schools
The Mittineague Elementary School in West Springfield, Mass., is the oldest of the towns school buildings.

Toward the end of Tuesday night's school committee meeting in West Springfield, Massachusetts, a controversial decision to close the town's Mittineague Elementary School in June — then reopen it in September 2024 as a preschool — was put on hold for now.

In January, school committee members voted to relocate Mittineague students, in part addressing a need for more preschool classrooms.

Mayor Will Reichelt, who chairs the committee, said Tuesday the reversal is not because of a swell of pushback from residents. It's because of timing, he said, largely deadlines around next year's school budget, and the likely need to respond to a public petition at the next school committee meeting at the end of February.

"Our budget hearing is in the beginning of March on what [the district] will look like next year," Reichelt said. "So we're planning for [Mittineague] to remain open next year."

More than 2,700 West Springfield residents, including the entire Town Council, recently signed a petition calling for the School Committee to reconsider the closure.

If the signatures are verified by the West Springfield town clerk, as the School Committee expects, the multi-step process of pushing for a revote on the Mittineague decision could turn the issue into a ballot question. That's what many are hoping for, said parent Allison LaPierre Houle, vice president of the Mittineague Parent-Teacher Organization.

Residents are pushing back on the school committee for several reasons, she said, and the situation is about more than losing a beloved neighborhood school.

"It started as Mittineague being the focus," LaPierre Houle said, "but long term it will change a lot of other things about elementary education in this town."

Restructuring the district is something that shouldn't be decided by the school committee alone, she said.

"We very much want to have the universal pre-K in town," LaPierre Houle said. "It would benefit a lot of families who don't have access to preschool, because preschool is expensive if you have to do private preschool. We just think that they shouldn't be pushing out one population of students just to put a different population into the building."

The town of West Springfield has been considering closing the Mittineague Elementary School for years, and — in time — building a new school.

"But it's never been in the works that there was actually this entire plan lined up basically to repurpose the school," LaPierre Houle said. "It feels like they're just going to squeeze everybody into the other elementary schools — even though if [the district does] get the funds approved to build a new school, it's eight to 10 years before that school is even open."

Jill Kaufman has been a reporter and host at NEPM since 2005. Before that she spent 10 years at WBUR in Boston, producing "The Connection" with Christopher Lydon and on "Morning Edition" reporting and hosting. She's also hosted NHPR's daily talk show "The Exhange" and was an editor at PRX's "The World."