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Survey results released as Half Hollow Hills considers budget

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

More than 60 percent of those residents who responded to a Half Hollow Hills school district survey were in favor of closing Chestnut Hill elementary school to save money, according to survey results released Monday night.

The survey results were reviewed in a public presentation Monday night, as district officials seek community input in making difficult budget decisions for next year, including whether to close schools, make program cuts or raise taxes.

"This isn't a vote on anything," said Frank Grimaldi, board of education vice president. "We want to be transparent, we want to have input from the community."

School closures and slashing programs and services, some of the options on the table, were included in the survey, filled out by more than 5,400 people.

Officials have discussed the closure of three schools: Chestnut Hill Elementary School, Candlewood Middle School and High School West -- proposals that have brought many to meetings, frustrated and angry. The district has schools in Babylon and Huntingtown towns.

The school district hired K12 Insight, a Virginia private company, to create and manage the survey. Stephan Knobloch, the company's vice president of research and advisory services, presented the findings Monday at High School East to a crowd of about 150.

The meeting came three weeks after more than 1,000 people packed the same high school auditorium. District administrators, that night, outlined the tax levy cap hike needed to keep the status quo, compared to reductions needed if they stayed within the state's 2 percent tax levy cap.

Survey results in Knobloch's presentation included the following findings:

63 percent supported closing Chestnut Hill, a savings of about $ 1 million; 36 percent supported not closing the school.

58 percent didn't support closing Candlewood, which would save about $2.5 million; 42 percent supported the closure.

58 percent supported moving the sixth grade to the elementary buildings (savings, $1 million) and closing Candlewood in 2014-2015; 42 percent said didn't support this.

74 percent did not support closing High School West, with a savings of about $5 million; 26 percent supported the closure.

Some of the survey's other highlights:

52 percent supported piercing the tax levy cap; 48 percent didn't (To pierce the cap, it must be approved by a supermajority of at least 60 percent of the district residents).

20 percent supported eliminating busing for after-school activities and field trips, for a savings of about $200,000; 40 percent didn't support this, 39 percent supported reducing busing for these activities.

63 percent did not support keeping the pool open, which would save about $325,000 annually; 37 percent wanted to keep the pool open at this cost.

About 5,457 people, the majority of whom are parents of children in the district, completed the survey. There are about 15,500 households in the district, Knobloch said.

Officials said, to keep the 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.

The next meeting is a budget workshop Friday (Feb. 1) at 7 a.m. at the Fran Greenspan Administration Center.

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