Half Hollow Hills parents and residents leaving the district's Jan. 7 presentation were torn over what combination of school closings or program cuts should be considered to make the $9.5 million in cuts district officials say are necessary for 2013-14.
"I feel that I came here with my children because of the school district. If we start cutting out things we will be losing our standing as the great school district we are known for," said Kenneth Greene, Hills resident and local real estate agent.
Before a packed house at High School East, Half Hollow Hills School District officials discussed three school closures options and potential program cuts for 2013-14 school year. The three schools being considered for potential closure are Chestnut Hill Elementary, Candlewood Middle School and High School West.
Residents have been asked to complete an online survey to share their thoughts and opinions on the options by Jan. 18.
Hills resident Nancy Zornberg said she fears that the closure of Candlewood Middle School could already be a done deal, saving the district approximately $3 million.
"I think they are going to take our opinions, but they are going to ignore them. I think they've already made up their minds with what they are doing to do," Zornberg said. "I think they will close Chestnut Hill Elementary schoool and close the middle school - Chestnut Hill this fall, then the middle school next year."
Alissa Sue Taff, a former educator and president of the Sweet Hollow Civic Association, said the answer to the district's budgetary problems is not closing a school but re-negotiating the teachers' contract.
"We can keep our AAA program if for one year the teachers gave up their salary increase and their step increases, and we cut the 9-period day at the middle school," Taff said.
The civic association president said with school closures and planned staffing reductions due to enrollment, she estimates the school district would be looking at laying off approximately 50 teachers. She fears many of these teachers would have a hard time finding work in other districts.
"If we start eliminating some massive increases in the teachers' contract we can be whole," Taff said.
Maryann, a district resident who declined to give her last name, shared a popular sentiment that school officials should be looking to cut the administrative salaries first.
"They should cut the administrative salaries. It won't solve everything but it's a start. It shows they are putting their money where their mouth is," she said. "It's a small drop in the bucket but it gives confidence to the people they are going to stand with us."
Her comment received cheers from parents who overheard it in High School East's hallway on Monday night.
Patrick Harrigan, assistant superintendent for district-wide administration, said the district's administrative salaries have been reduced by $382,000 since the 2009-2010 school year. The district has eliminated three positions of assistant superintendent for special services, chief information officer and assistant superintendent of family and consumer science since 2009-2010, and has eliminated eight administrative support positions in central ofices in the last 12 months.
The administrative staff has also agreed to a hard zero percent pay freeze, which remains in the effect until June 2014.
Residents can submit their personal input to Hills Board of Education by participating through the online survey, 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.