Packed crowd at Half Hollow Hills over cuts

A boisterous crowd of more than 1,000 packed A boisterous crowd of more than 1,000 packed a Half Hollow Hills High School East auditorium in search of answers Monday night after district officials said all options are being considered to save money -- including closing schools and slashing student services.(Jan. 7, 2013) Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

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A boisterous crowd of more than 1,000 packed a Half Hollow Hills High School East auditorium in search of answers Monday night after district officials said all options are being considered to save money -- including closing schools and slashing student services.

School district officials have said in order to keep current programs and services, the 2013-2014 budget would need to increase by an estimated 7.1 percent. This year the budget is about $222 million. The increase equates to about an 8.5 percent hike in the property tax levy, well above the state 2 percent tax levy cap.

District officials said if they stay within the cap they will need to cut $9.5 million from the next budget. Monday night they discussed some possible cuts.

People who attended the Dix Hills meeting, a mix of parents and other residents, expressed concern about how potential cuts would affect them.

"They need an audit," said Stephanie Marshall, 46, of Dix Hills, who has three children in the district. "They tell us enrollment is down but they need an 8.5 percent increase."

Others said they were frustrated by administrators not taking direct questions during the meeting but instead having queries written down on note cards. Some were answered at the meeting and the remaining questions would have answers posted online in the next several days, district officials said.

"I don't like this at all," said Antoinette Tufano, 53, of Dix Hills, who has one child in the district, referring to the questioning format.

Tufano said she wanted the opportunity to stand up and ask "where's the money?"

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

Half Hollow Hills High School West is one of three sites 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.

District officials said they already have moved to curb costs. They froze administrative salaries and eliminated 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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