Before a packed house at High School East, Half Hollow Hills school district officials formally discussed various combinations of possible school closures and potential program cuts to close a $6.86 million budget gap for 2013-14 school year.
In the coming weeks, the Board of Education will need to cut about $9.5 million from next school years' budget or put a budget with an 8.5 percent tax levy increase to maintain existing programs before voters, said Anne Marie Marrone Caliendo, the district’s assistant superintendent of finances and facilities.
“We know those two numbers are not palatable, so we have to do more,” she said.
Due to declining enrollment in elementary schools, school officials are anticipating reducing staff for 2013-14 resulting in $2.1 million in savings. Preliminary budget discussions call for the elimination of elementary summer school ($250,000), summer school ($90,000) and elementary health teachers ($200,000).
Even with these cuts school officials and the community will need to determine how to close the $6.86 million budget gap.
Initially, school officials have proposed closing three buildings within the district: Chestnut Hill Elementary School, Candlewood Middle School or Half Hollow Hills High School West.
“Some of the considerations we have to look at are emotional in nature. Nothing is more emotional than the thought of closing a school,” said Mary Rettaliata, the assistant superintendent of elementary education.
District officials say closing Chestnut Hill Elementary School would relocate approximately 437 students, saving $1 million for 2013-14 school year. It would also cause a redistricting of which schools feed the middle schools.
“We are looking to achieve enrollment balance and have to consider the location of the schools. The option to close Chestnut Hill on the South Service Road of the LIE does provide the potential for leasing it,” Rettaliata said.
This option would keep the district’s average class sizes at 22.5 students per classroom, Rettaliata said, noting that it would also balance enrollment among the six remaining elementary schools.
School officials have also proposed closing Candlewood Middle School in 2013-14 school year.
“It is an option because we are losing 120 students each year for the next four years and this trend continues for the foreseeable future,” said John O`Farrell, assistant superintendent of secondary education.
The middle school’s closure could save the district approximately $3 million, and would result in a new district configuration with students enrolled in Kindergarten to sixth grade in elementary schools, averaging 587 students per school; and place seventh and eighth-student students in middle school, which will total 1,607 in 2013-14.
As an alternative measure, O`Farrell proposed changing the middle school day from a 9-period to 8-period day, an idea that garnered a round of applause from the audience.
This change would result in the elimination of several courses: computers in sixth grade, seminar in seventh grade, and seminar in math in eighth grade. Changes would include music and art classes being opposite physical education in sixth grade and a health course in sixth grade.
A third idea floated Monday night is closing High School West, which would save approximately $5 million. The building would then be repurposed as a middle school for students in grades 7 to 9.
To obtain resident input on the proposals, parents and district taxpayers are asked to complete an online survey, being run by K-12 Instinct, with multiple questions and open comments on the proposed school closures and cuts versus the possibility of piercing the state tax levy, limited to 2.8 percent.
The survey will be open through Jan. 18 at 5 p.m. The Board of Education and district officials will then go through results, with a district presentation scheduled for Jan. 28.