Half Hollow Hills considers school closure, other cuts

Chestnut Hill Elementary School, at 600 South Service Chestnut Hill Elementary School, at 600 South Service Rd., Dix Hills, is in the Half Hollow Hills School District. (Jan. 25, 2012) Photo Credit: Alessandra Malito

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The Half Hollow Hills district is considering closing a school and cutting student services next year to save money, contending that the alternative could be a tax hike as high as 8.5 percent.

The district's High School West is one of three buildings listed for potential closure, though local authorities said that option is highly unlikely. Other listed schools are Chestnut Hill Elementary School and Candlewood Middle School.

The district scheduled a community meeting for 7 p.m. Monday at High School East, 50 Vanderbilt Pkwy., in Dix Hills. There, residents will be told how they can voice opinions on possible budget cuts and related issues through an online survey.

Kelly Fallon, the district's superintendent, said in a phone interview Thursday that the intent behind naming schools that could be closed is to clearly spell out options, not to alarm residents.

"Our community has asked for as much transparency as possible," said Fallon, a longtime local administrator now in her second year as chief executive. "So we are responding by providing the community with as much information as we possibly can."

Half Hollow Hills, with a current enrollment of more than 9,400 students, has long ranked academically as one of Long Island's top districts, with a wide range of advanced courses and other services. The announcement of potential cutbacks shocked many parents.

"People are outraged over this -- it's all they talk about," said Allison Brecher of Dix Hills, a lawyer and mother of two children enrolled at Chestnut Hill Elementary. She plans to attend Monday's meeting, and says many friends intend to as well.

A "Budget Survey Guide" recently posted on the district's website lists two dozen items under consideration for reduction or elimination. Among the largest: paring full-day kindergarten classes to half-day, reducing daily high-school schedules from nine periods to eight, or eliminating all elementary bands, choruses and orchestras.

District officials said they already have moved to curb costs -- for example, by freezing administrative salaries and eliminating 36 teacher positions this year and last. Officials added that they face substantial increases next year in such expenses as pensions, health benefits and teacher salaries.The website guide states that any school closed would likely be leased, in case it needed to be reopened in the future. The district reopened Sunquam Elementary School in 1999 after closing it in 1991.

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