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2 Half Hollow Hills schools to close because of declining district enrollment

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) Credit: Alessandra Malito

Two of Half Hollow Hills' seven elementary schools will close at the end of this school year due to declining enrollment districtwide -- a cost-cutting move that drew both anger and sadness from parents Tuesday.

The school board voted unanimously Monday night to shutter the Chestnut Hill and Forest Park schools in Dix Hills, officials said.

Board members followed last month's recommendation by the district's facilities committee to close two elementaries: Vanderbilt or Forest Park; and Chestnut Hill or Signal Hill, according to board president James Ptucha.

While no layoffs have been announced, Ptucha said the closures are expected to save the district about $3 million next year -- most of that coming from staffing cuts.

Superintendent Kelly Fallon said there are currently 80 empty classrooms in the district, which has a $228 million budget.

"In being responsible to the community during difficult budget times, the board of education has a responsibility to address the declining enrollment," she said.

Forest Park and Chestnut Hill had a total of 1,352 students in kindergarten through fifth grade in 2000-01, state records show. Even with prekindergarten classes added, the schools' combined enrollment this year dipped to 932, the district said.

Total elementary enrollment has declined from 4,614 in 2007-08 to 3,475 this year, or about 25 percent, according to district records. Projections call for the number of students to plunge to 2,774 by 2017-18.

Forest Park parent Beth Glaser said she understands the rationale behind the closures, but found the announcement "shocking" anyway.

"I wouldn't think a Blue Ribbon school would be closed," said Glaser, who has a child at the school now and another who graduated last year.

Forest Park was recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School for academic achievement in 2011.

Chestnut Hill parent Aisha Khan, who lives minutes from her son's school, said it's an integral part of the community.

"I don't feel it should be closed," she said. "It's sad and it's very disappointing."

School officials wouldn't elaborate Tuesday about why the two schools were selected.

"It is too emotional . . . too sensitive," Ptucha said. "We struggled with this tremendously. Everyone wanted to do the right thing."

Ptucha said officials considered various criteria, including minimizing student change, safety and security of students, maintaining the middle school feeder patterns and balancing enrollment at elementaries. The district plans to adopt a new plan to decide which schools students attend in a few weeks, he said.

Fallon said the district hasn't made any decisions about potential teacher and staff layoffs tied to the closures.

Forest Park and Chestnut Hill each had 36 teachers in 2011-12, according to state reports.

The district does not intend to sell the schools, but they could be rented out to produce needed revenue. "To date there hasn't been a signed lease," Fallon said Tuesday.

Monday's decision comes amid declining public school enrollment across Long Island. More than 70 percent of districts have experienced drops in elementary enrollment in recent years, state records show.

Half Hollow Hills' facilities committee -- made up mostly of residents -- noted in its report that while all schools were examined, it "became apparent that the issue centered on elementary enrollment."

In making its recommendation, the committee considered demographic information and met with Michael Murphy, vice president of Douglas Elliman Real Estate, to discuss the feasibility of leasing or selling buildings.

Officials decided to keep all schools open this year, but said in April that at least two schools would likely be closed next year.

With Joie Tyrrell

and John Hildebrand

Latest Long Island News