District Officials Present School Closure Options

Local residents get first look at options to close $6.86 million budget gap.

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. 

Howard January 11, 2013 at 03:26 PM
I'd like to share an email that I sent to the district administration a few days ago.I had questions and copied each superintendent. The email is long so hopefully I have enough space or I'll have to copy and paste it in multiple posts. To my surprise, Anne Marie Caliendo who's the Finance Super actually responded and answered all of my questions.This post is not to say everything they are doing is right as surely mistakes have been made.And my personal opinion through my research of their public audits (Google HHH audits and it's all available) is that there is likely no negligence here.I obviously can't be sure about that but it's just my gut from communicating with the admin and reading through the independent audit.And surely right now we have more questions than answers and it frustrates everyone. Anyone with a child in the district, be it Chestnut Hill, Candlewood or wherever is effected and deeply concerned as well we all should be. Personally I am not a fan of hearing people say "what do they do?". Whether it's an administrator or a teacher. I think you greatly underestimate what it takes to run a school district of our size and depth. I think if we eliminated some of the superintendents there would be large holes in running the district which actually could lead to fraud and negligence. Please don't purport to know what someone does and trust me, they don't just sit at a desk all day". Well now I'm out of room of course! I'll paste the email in the next post.
Howard January 11, 2013 at 03:34 PM
Hmm on second thought the email was 9000 chrctrs past the limit!Guess I'll have to paste it in very small increments! Good afternoon.I trust that this is one of several hundred or more emails you are receiving today and I hope that at the very least you are doing your best to get people as many reasonable responses as possible.I’d like to start off by saying that I appreciate the time everyone took last night to hold that meeting.I realize that it is not easy to put yourself front and center and take the inevitable attacks thrown your way due to the budget dilemma.I also recognize that many people are frustrated that everything from the quality of their child’s education to their property values are going to drop dramatically which causes a very intense emotion.I think the meeting went as well as could be expected and while everyone might have done it differently,the format was the best possible short of opening the floor to everyone which would have been catastrophic. With that said, I’d like be allowed to make a suggestion and ask a few questions and hopefully this finds its way to the right person who can give me some accurate feedback. While I realize time is short, I think one downside to last night is that the only questions that we could ask were ones that came into our heads prior or during the meeting.What it didn’t allow for were the inevitable questions that came up after the meeting in talking to our friends, our peers, our parents, our co-workers etc.
Howard January 11, 2013 at 03:34 PM
Roughly 9 months ago, my company announced they were opening a second headquarters in Charlotte, NC. I’m sure you can appreciate the angst many people felt when hearing their company was moving. Instead of being bombarded with hundreds or thousands of emails, they set up a website, extremely quickly, that allowed the current employees to send in their questions. Those questions were all answered and posted on the website as soon as was feasibly possible. This allowed for ease in asking the questions, it allowed complete transparency and it ciphened off the many duplicate questions that were likely to occur by posting the answers. As I said, I realize time is short but given the fact that my morning has been spent receiving and sending dozens of emails and texts regarding this topic and asking questions we simply don’t have the answers to this seems like a good way to get the HHH residents the answers to their many questions. Being that this method does not currently exist, I am forced to send you my questions and hopefully the answers will help me to accurately fill out the survey and make some very tough decisions. Please note that none of my questions will specifically talk about any of the schools or program reductions. I trust certainly that the numbers you gave are accurate and the savings are necessary.
Howard January 11, 2013 at 03:35 PM
1. If I read and heard correctly, in the past 2 years we’ve used $3.75M per year of our reserve fund to offset budget shortfalls. I don’t however see anything about any plans to use any reserve dollars for the 2013-2014 budget. This dramatically impacts each voter’s decision to potentially close a school. Right now, inclusive of teacher reductions and other already implemented program reductions, the shortfall is $6.8M. If we were to use the same amount as the past 2 years of $3.75M, that number drops to $3.05M at which point I would be inclined to simply reduce the class schedules in the Middle Schools and High Schools to 8 period days to save the money. If we could use $2M perhaps I vote to close Chestnut Hill. I understand that continuing to use the reserve could impact our ability to borrow money effectively which is why I am asking how much we are able to use this coming year without that being an impact. THE SCENARIO PRESENTED ON MONDAY NIGHT ASSUMES THE SAME USE OF RESERVES AND FUND BALANCE AS IS IN PLACE FOR THE CURRENT YEAR. STATED DIFFERENTLY, WE ARE ASSUMING ALMOST $10 MILLION IN THE USE OF FUND BALANCE AND RESERVES WHEN ASSUMING THE APPROXIMATE $9.5 MILLION OF BUDGET REDUCTIONS NEEDED FOR 2013-14. 2. Does the current budget allow for any replenishment of those reserves? NO, UNLESS THE PROJECTIONS WE USED END UP BEING A LITTLE MORE CONSERVATIVE THAN WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS.
Howard January 11, 2013 at 03:36 PM
3. In the potential closing of Chestnut Hill, it was said that the building would be retained and leased out. Are the lease dollars considered revenue neutral or will they actually add revenue to the district? I understand that the $1M of savings will come from teacher reductions, custodial staff, nurses etc. But the building would still need to be maintained, utilities, taxes etc. Would the lease simply cover those costs or would we be able to offset any of the budget gap with the lease of the building? NO DECISION HAS BEEN MADE ABOUT CLOSING ANY BUILDING. THEREFORE, WHILE WE ARE ENGAGING IN CONVERSATIONS WITH VARIOUS ORGANIZATIONS ABOUT THE POTENTIAL TO LEASE AN ENTIRE FACILITY OR PART OF A FACILITY IN THE NEW SCHOOL YEAR, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING IS TO A POINT WHERE WE WOULD INCLUDE ANY LEASE REVENUE PROJECTIONS IN THE SCENARIOS WE PRESENTED. STATED DIFFERENTLY, NONE OF OUR SCENARIOS INCLUDE ANY OFFSETTING REVENUE. SHOULD AN ARRANGEMENT BE MADE WHEN/IF A DECISION IS MADE TO CLOSE A BUILDING, IT WOULD UNDOUBTEDLY BE AFTER THE MAY BUDGET VOTE AND THEREFORE WE WOULD NOT HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO INCLUDE THAT INFORMATION IN THE LEVEL OF REDUCTIONS WHICH WOULD BE NECESSARY.
Howard January 11, 2013 at 03:36 PM
4. I read maybe a year ago we had been approached by the Elwood School District about potentially taking some of their students as their enrollment was dangerously low and they were looking to close the district entirely. With our enrollment down substantially, wouldn’t this have given us a new revenue stream with these families to offset budget shortfalls? Why was this dismissed and has it been revisited? THERE ARE CURRENTLY NO DISCUSSIONS WITH THE ELWOOD SCHOOL DISTRICT REGARDING TAKING ON SOME OF THEIR STUDENTS ON A TUITION BASIS. 5. I understand that a large portion of our budget shortfall is being caused by increased to the teacher’s salaries, pension increases as well as health insurance increases. With my wife being a teacher in Great Neck, I can surely understand these issues and also realize that contractual obligations make it impossible to change that until after the 2014 school year. However, my understanding of the pension program is that we would stand to alleviate some of the current burden in the coming years. Is this not so?
Howard January 11, 2013 at 03:37 PM
a. My understanding is that the New York State constitution guarantees the teachers (and other state workers for that matter) a certain rate of return on their pensions. In the years 2000-20007 the stock market did very well and the districts had to pay very little into the system as those rates of return were covered by the market appreciation. In many districts cases (I don’t know if this is the case in HHH), instead of putting money away for the years of inevitable market decline, the money was spent on additional programs. In 2008, when the market all but crashed the districts had to make up that shortfall and in most cases did not have the reserves to do it so they had to make up the shortfalls themselves with their budgets. Because doing so would have added significant tax increases the legislature allowed the districts to pay the money over 5 years. The 5 year period ends in 2013. Since 2008, the market has recovered all of its losses. b. Therefore is it not reasonable that in 2014 HHH should be paying a lot less into the pension funds than they are now?
Howard January 11, 2013 at 03:37 PM
Howard January 11, 2013 at 03:37 PM
6. Additionally, wasn’t there a fairly recent change to the pension plan in terms of teacher pay in? I believe that the newest tier (Tier 6) forces the teachers to pay in 4.85% for 26 years or basically the majority of their teaching careers. In the past, Tier 1 and 2 were fully funded by the taxpayers and were phased out in the 1970s. Those teachers are now all retired. Tiers 3 and 4 paid in 3% for 10 years. Tier 5 existed for only 1 year before the Governor moved everyone to Tier 6. So any new teacher over the past year or two would be in Tier 6. That means if I am correct that over the next 10 years, the pension pay in by HHH will decrease as teachers retire and are replaced. I realize of course that this will take time but in theory, each year teachers retire and while not replaced on a 1:1 basis they are replaced and those new teachers will be paying in to their own pension plans vs. the retired teachers who did not. YOU ARE CORRECT THAT TWO NEW TIERS WERE INTRODUCED WHICH HAVE THE POTENTIAL TO HELP MANAGE THE EMPLOYER EXPENSES. UNFORTUNATELY, THESE NEW TIERS ARE ONLY APPLICABLE FOR EMPLOYEES NEW TO THE RETIREMENT SYSTEM. SINCE WE HAVE NOT, AND ARE NOT PLANNING TO, HIRE NEW STAFF FOR MANY YEARS, THESE NEW TIERS WILL NOT IN ANY WAY HELP SAVE THE DISTRICT ANY MONEY. WHEN THE STATE INTRODUCED THESE NEW TIERS UNDER THE GUISE OF “MANDATE RELIEF” UNFORTUNATLEY THERE WAS NO SUBSTANCE TO THEIR STATEMENTS.
Howard January 11, 2013 at 03:38 PM
ANY CHANGES WHICH ARE MADE WITH THE INTRODUCTION OF NEW PENSION TIERS ARE ONLY APPLICABLE TO THE PEOPLE IN THOSE TIERS. THOSE WHO ARE IN THE OTHER TIERS ARE NOT IMPACTED BY THE RULES IMPOSED ON THE NEW TIERS. 7. If indeed school closures are necessary that means that teachers excesses are necessary and ultimately teacher lay-offs. As it was explained last night, the layoffs will occur on a district basis based on seniority. Has the district contemplated implementing a retirement incentive to incentivize the higher wage earners who are near the end of their careers to retire early to avoid having to lay off young, eager and most importantly lower earning teachers? WE ARE WORKING ON INCENTING SOME OF OUR MORE VETERAN STAFF TO CONSIDER RETIREMENT IN A DISTRICT EFFORT TO SAVE SOME OF THE LOWER SENIORITY TEACHERS. I appreciate everything that the board and the district administration is doing and hopefully getting answers to these questions will allow myself and many others to make informed and educated decisions about the future of our district. THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR YOUR WELL THOUGHT OUT EMAIL AND QUESTIONS. It goes without saying her responses are the one's in caps.
Howard January 11, 2013 at 03:43 PM
I think the major problem here is that we have only what, 14 people making the decision for thousands of children and tens of thousands of residents. In a normal year this is fine but not when there are millions of budget dollars to be cut. It's likely too late for this of course but these problems are not going away any time soon. I think the best move would be to form a committee of residents, with representatives from the 11 schools in the district to work with the administration and school board to come up with solutions that are sensible, maybe out of the box and hopefully satisfies everyone's desire to be represented. I'm not saying that closing a school is right or wrong but I'd feel better about it if someone I trusted was in on the conversations and came back to me saying it's our only lever to pull right now. Just my two cents is all.
Steve January 11, 2013 at 05:21 PM
Eitan, I am sure many of the same comments can be said about the people posting here who make 200k+ a year in other types of jobs. I don't begrudge anyone for making a good salary. What do you want? Cheaper salaries and less experienced people running our schools, taking care of our children, looking out for their safety, and teaching them? Not me. Going after the administrators and teachers salary is not the right thing here. If you look at salaries in other districts they are pretty much on par with what is around us. Jericho super makes 288k. Commack Super makes 273k HHH Super makes 245k Plainview Super makes 242k Sachem super makes 220k You can do your research here: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/mgtserv/admincomp/docs/2012-13admincomp.xls What we need to do is find budget items that we can save money on rather than going on a witch hunt. Examine energy costs, renegotiate contracts, pause construction until more cash flow is available, and reexamine our bussing.
tim January 11, 2013 at 11:38 PM
You've got it all backwards!! You've eliminated educational programs in order to save a school that shouldn't be saved. Enrollment is declining. Enrollment is declining...hello??? There's no need for 7 elementary schools anymore.
Donna January 11, 2013 at 11:55 PM
Keith- 1st of all you have been commenting for days on the teachers side do you work for us. Ok, We do have great teachers with great benefits already we already are paying them well but every year they want more and more. Did you know just before the freeze on salary the raised their salaries ( see what I mean) . You are just the kind of guy who would give away the farm. We don't have the students and therefor do not need all of the teachers. They could all come and live with you. You seem to have a endless amount of money hahaha. God Bless HHH and the whole community and all of our wonderful teachers and Admin. and faculity we all do love them we just can't afford all of them and the perks, period!
Donna January 12, 2013 at 12:22 AM
Howard, ganging up on people saying the truth is not helping at all. You honesty has lapsed. We simply can't afford all the goodies for Admin. and teachers and faculity period. Funny how you have no trouble making the children move and redistrict and making them take the hit.
tim January 12, 2013 at 01:00 AM
tim 7:59 pm on Friday, January 11, 2013 Why don't YOU wake up. Of 300 intel finalists 53 are on Long Island. Let's see 300 million Americans....3 million Long Islanders. That means 1% of all Americans live on Long Island. But 15% of Intel finalists (highly achieved science students) live on Long Island. GUESS WHY YOU PAY HIGHER TAXES? My daddy always said, "You get what you pay for." See, a little research, a little recontextualization, and your statement becomes the lip-service of an idiot.
Donna January 12, 2013 at 01:12 AM
Attention Tiny Tim, I am well aware of the stats furthermore, for less money and higher enrollment we have always done very well maybe you just arrived here planet earth but some of us have lived here a while. Name Calling so little of you I understand your frustration and pain though double taxes for Tiny Tim that could help! hahaha In all good humor I do wish you the best of luck neighbor!
tim January 12, 2013 at 01:13 AM
When you say: "(changing from 9 to 8 periods) are actually much more devastating to our kids and the value of our homes than even closing a school! Wrong! I grew up with an 8 period day. There were 8 period days here till just a few years ago, and no devestation. But you're right...administrators, administrators, administrators.
tim January 12, 2013 at 01:15 AM
Donna January 12, 2013 at 01:17 AM
Dear Tim, I have never said change the class schedule, never someone else said that. I have always said make HSW the middle school make HSE and West Hollow the High Schools, close Admin. building and moving some after cuts to staff to HSW (middle school) close Chestnut Hill and lease both of them out to 5 town college. Sorry you confused me with someone else.
Donna January 12, 2013 at 01:20 AM
Tim that was ConcernDixhillian said those things. Don't think I will get an apology though hahaha. Stay Cool Headed and check your aiming (at the right person)
tim January 12, 2013 at 01:21 AM
You shouldn't be so critical of teachers Donna. When you write a sentence like this: "Name Calling so little of you I understand your frustration and pain though double taxes for Tiny Tim that could help! " You should thank God for the teachers here...especially the English ones. and kiss their proverbial B__T
Donna January 12, 2013 at 01:46 AM
Tim, I have always said our teachers are great! We have a problem (financially) and everyone needs to adjust their own interests to solve that problem. According to the survey the children seems to be taking most of the burden.
Donna January 12, 2013 at 01:49 AM
I am not at all persuaded that you have any solutions other than mouthing off about a typo. It's been a long day for me too! Retract your claws, please!
tim January 12, 2013 at 02:15 AM
tim January 12, 2013 at 02:50 AM
9:34 pm on Friday, January 11, 2013 Sorry if I've offended you. Too many shortsighted statements here Donna. Too Many ill-informed statements. Long Island has schools that rival the best in the country. Think on this a while Donna. There are 15,555 High Schools in the USA, which yielded 300 Intel semi-finalists in 2013. 6 of those semi-finalists are from HHH High School East! Of the 15,555 HS in the USA, 2% of Intel semi-finalists are IN ONE SCHOOL. Here, in YOUR community. Coincidence Donna? Newsday: "The Half Hollow Hills school district was the biggest winner in the Nassau-Suffolk region this year with six semifinalists, followed by Jericho with.." ironic, that Newsday should post the accolades Some of the scum posting above (not you) should consider some of this YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR. Later.
Stay Calm January 12, 2013 at 04:40 PM
Patrick, if you are talking about the administrative freeze they did not get steps or even a cost of living increase. They agreed to get paid the exact same amount for three years. No 10% increase. Not for teachers or administrators. If teachers want to move up more than the 3% in the contract they have to take additional graduate course and/or training to make them more qualified teachers. Each step they move up represents an extra 225 hours of work. For one of our teachers to work completely through the pay scale they would have to put in an additional 1,350 hours of work in their spare time. Even all of that work does not work out to be 10% a year.
Jacqueline Brown Mastrokyriakos January 14, 2013 at 02:30 PM
Could not agree more. Also, if these Teachers and Administrators don't address the extreme burden they put on taxpayers, enrollment will continue to decline as young families will not be able to afford moving into the district. One that has had a proud academic history will be at risk. Sad ! Get serious BOARD OF ED!
Stay Calm January 20, 2013 at 07:51 PM
Besides the fact that some of your numbers seem to have no basis in fact ($100,000 difference in pay between teachers), there is a reason those steps exist. NY teachers in general, and Long Island teachers specifically, are some of the most highly qualified teachers with the most rigorous educational requirements in the nation. No school district could afford to pay them what they are worth from the beginning of their careers, so steps were put into place so teachers could eventually climb to a salary commensurate with their education and experience. Look at other fields. Where can you find someone with at least one Masters degree and 10+ years experience making as little as most teachers do (almost all are under that magic $100k mark), especially in HHH where you get schools in the top 11%, but pay in the bottom 22%. Yes, they can get additional pay from taking more classes and trainings (professional development), but then they earned the increase by being better qualified. They can also earn extra money by chaperoning (that $160 is only paid if they work two events back to back on the same day i.e. 5-6 hours of work on a Saturday), coaching, and running clubs, but shouldn't people get paid more for doing more work? I don't know where you got the 140 stipend positions. Virtually all stipend positions were eliminated. There are no SBAs or team liaisons. Even curriculum writing over the summer has become unpaid (teachers received a few hours of credits instead).
james February 05, 2013 at 01:31 AM
I think schools are very important to our children but if they close the Half hollow hills library than you save lot of money. we don't need library and we have melville branch and that one we can use. and other libraries we can use in suffolk county libraries James bond


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