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Half Hollow district to keep all schools open

Half Hollow Hills High School West, 375 Wolf

Half Hollow Hills High School West, 375 Wolf Hill Rd., Dix Hills, is known for its mascot, the Colt. (Jan. 25, 2012) Credit: Alessandra Malito

Half Hollow Hills district officials have decided they won't close any school next year, after they announced about a month ago that the closings was a possibility to save money.

This is just one decision the district's board of education announced this week, as it works to craft a budget for next year.

Board of education president James Ptucha said no schools with children in them will be closed next year. Officials had named Chestnut Hill Elementary School, Candlewood Middle School and High School West as those on the chopping block. Ptucha said they have also decided to keep full-day kindergarten, the elementary music program and the high school's academic research program and its nine-period schedule. He said elementary health will be eliminated, the two middle schools will go from a nine-period to eight-period day and students will have to pay for driver's education next year.

Ptucha said Wednesday in an email district officials now face a budget gap of more than $2 million to meet the tax levy cap, after factoring in these decisions, the retirement incentive and declining enrollment.

Officials also announced their projected tax cap levy for next year has increased from about 2.8 percent to the low 3 percent. This equates to about a $600,000 increase in the tax levy cap, officials said. But this isn't finalized yet. "Even if the tax levy cap is higher than expected, more than $9 million dollars will still have to be reduced from the budget," Ptucha said.

Officials have said the 2013-14 budget would need to increase by an estimated 7.1 percent, requiring an 8.5 percent hike in the property tax levy. This year's budget is about $222 million.

The potential school closures catalyzed the loudest public outcry, with many coming out to board meetings to express their concerns. Several say now they are relieved that the schools will remain open, but are wary about the future.

"I think at this point they made the right decision and looking forward it's inevitable a building will have to be closed," said Wendy Natalone, 47, who has three children in the district -- two at High School East and one at West Hollow Middle School. "I know they didn't want to make any rash decisions," said Natalone, the Parent Teacher Association Council vice president.

Rich Greene, who has two children at Chestnut Hill, said he is "elated." Greene, 42, said he moved to Dix Hills from Queens about three years ago and the school district "was a huge part of it."

"We picked our neighborhood because of Chestnut Hill," he said.

District officials will continue working on next year's budget on Friday at a 5 p.m. workshop at the Fran Greenspan Administration Center. The first budget presentation is March 4 at Otsego Elementary School.

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