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Butterfield decision leaves Orange with mixed emotions

ORANGE — The day after the Orange Elementary School Committee voted to close Butterfield School next school year, Superintendent Tari Thomas sent a letter regarding the decision out to parents.

“For Orange Elementary Schools, the last three years have been filled with both great successes and extremely difficult challenges,” the letter began.

Thomas talked about the closing of Butterfield and consolidation of the three elementary schools into two as the result of a recommendation from the Selectboard during the review process of the proposed Orange elementary school budget. Thomas referred to declining enrollment of nearly 200 students in the last five years and said that the consolidation would reduce the budget while keeping the robust program the district has been working towards as well as retaining teachers.

The current sixth grade will move on to Mahar Regional School in the fall and the fifth grade will be returning to Dexter Park as sixth-graders in August, said the letter.

Thomas told parents to watch for regular updates on the new website orange-elem.org and the Dexter Park Facebook page.

Since the decision, the community has expressed mixed feelings about it. A debate was brought up on the Orange Community Development Facebook page where several comments regarding the quick time frame of the decision and whether taxpayers had enough input were posted. The secretary at Butterfield School indicated that she hadn’t received any phone calls from parents regarding the consolidation and that it seemed the community was taking the news well.

The proposed elementary school budget of $5,893,285 had been trimmed once already before being presented to the Selectboard members. Their recommended appropriation for the annual meeting will be $5,600,000, leaving a $293,285 difference. The consolidation approved at the School Committee meeting will cut $236,400 from the budget, according to a data sheet provided by Thomas. The remaining $56,885 will be proposed to be trimmed elsewhere in the budget, according to Selectwoman Kathy Reinig at a board meeting Wednesday.

Consolidation was really a choice of lesser evils among three options Thomas laid out for the School Committee. One was leaving the proposed budget as it was and seeing what voters do at the annual town meeting today . Option two was the consolidation and three was cutting non-core enrichment programs. The consolidation plan preserves enrichment programs the district has worked hard to gain back after a round of cuts that happened in 2010.

Concerns brought up by the teachers at Butterfield regarding space availability, air quality and available lavatories were addressed at the meeting as well. School Committee member Dianne Salcedo discussed the air quality concerns on a report to which the Butterfield teachers referred, saying everything on the report has been addressed at this point. Committee member Christine Mullens spoke to the space concerns, not denying that it could be tight, but ensuring that there is space at Dexter Park to house Butterfield. Mullens did a walk-through of the building.

The motion made and approved by the School Committee was to go from three schools down to two, Dexter Park and Fisher Hill, for a maximum period of two years, pending the acceptance of the Massachusetts School Building Authority to move forward in working with the town to build a new elementary school that would replace all three current schools. The district is working with the MSBA to do so.

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