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2 Half Hollow Hills schools may close in 2014-15 academic year

All Half Hollow Hills schools are slated to remain open next year, but the district's board president said officials will be looking at possible closures the following year amid declining enrollment and tight finances.

Board of education president James Ptucha said Tuesday that the $228,254,916 budget for the 2013-14 school year unanimously adopted Monday doesn't call for closures.

But the board has started the work of creating a committee of residents, and by November, it will recommend to officials which of as many as two of the district's 11 schools should be closed the following year, he said.

"We are looking for an independent body to help us make a decision," Ptucha said. "This way, folks can be equally represented."

Next year's budget also calls for a 2.97 percent increase in the tax levy, matching the district's state tax cap figure, Ptucha said Tuesday.

Mark Stone, 48, of Deer Park, has three children in the district. "I think it [the budget] is extremely reasonable given the current fiscal climate," he said.

Ptucha said the board also decided Monday to hire a consultant and demographer for $15,000 to $20,000, to help district officials with future school closures and a five-year plan. He said the district will soon reach out to residents about the committee and pick about 25 people.

In January, district officials announced that school closures next year were possible to save money, which catalyzed much discussion and debate from district residents, bringing hundreds out to board meetings.

The board of education decided in February not to close any schools and since then has worked to whittle next year's budget.

As adopted, the budget calls for $8,365,283 in cuts -- the biggest savings coming from eliminating a middle school period. It will save $3,693,410 and about 20 middle school positions will be eliminated, which is necessitated by the schedule change and declining enrollment, Ptucha said.

Next year's budget cuts also include eliminating elementary health, the director of world languages position, coordinator of public relations and the discovery center (a science lab at the administrative offices). There will also be cuts to the district's athletic programs, including reductions in assistant coaches, timers, officials fees and supplies.

About $2 million was saved from declining enrollment districtwide.

There will be a budget hearing meeting May 13 and district's residents will vote on the budget May 21.

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