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Residents Divided Over School Closing Options, Program Cuts

Parents concerned that dramatic changes could hurt quality of school district.

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.

Johnh January 13, 2013 at 07:13 AM
SHUTING DOWN WEST AND CANDLEWOOD WILL ONLY BENEFIT TAX PAYERS AND THE BUDGET FOR HHH .... WEST IS A WASTE !!! TRANSPORTATION WOULDNT BE AN ISSUE BECAUSE EAST IS NO MORE THANT 3 BlOCKS AWAY AND ENOUGH SPACE !!!
Johnh January 13, 2013 at 07:14 AM
FACE THE FACTS PARENTS ! MY CHILD WILL NOT BE AFFECTED NEITHER WILL OUR WALLETS !!!
Sam January 13, 2013 at 02:57 PM
the pool is used by a private elite swim team. 60% of the swimmers are not from the HHH community Close it or make it more of a HHH used pool
me January 13, 2013 at 03:31 PM
Sam - There are many residents of the HHH district who DO use the pool and hope that it can remain open. Why is it such a problem for you if people from outside the district help pay for it?
Sam January 13, 2013 at 03:46 PM
dear me, The swim team (Team Suffolk) pays $700 per month of the $325,000 year expenses. The two head coaches conduct private lessons and put cash in their pockets as if it was their pool. Why should HHH taxes support a regional swim team were the majority of swimmers come from outside the HHH community? If you look at other HHH team programs (i.e. Dix Hills Basketball, Hills Football, Hill Lacrosse and Dix Hills Soccer. These team are made up of 90 plus percent HHH residents. Team Suffolk does not care about HHH, only getting swimmers they see fit regardless of our HHH community.
newdawn January 13, 2013 at 03:55 PM
I urge you all to write the board of education and administration and demand better fiscal responsibility. They keep on claiming that the "administrators have taken a salary freeze for 3 years" but there are 50 highly paid administrators in this district, many of whom earn more than $200,000. per year. They want us to believe that the teachers took a 0% raise one year, but they still got an annual STEP increase of around 3%, and in subsequent years are getting a 3% SALARY increase and a STEP increase of around 3% for a TOTAL annual raise of around 6%. This is in addition to salary increases for "continuing education." This is unreasonable in this economy. Of course we parents are being told to "stay calm." They would rather cut programs for our kids, close schools and scare us with other draconian cuts and a massive tax increase than agree to a more reasonable annual COMBINED STEP AND SALARY raise, which will save MILLIONS of dollars a year. The goal of the governor's 2% tax cap is to force better fiscal management and efficiencies, which is sorely lacking in this district. Enrollment is down and taxes are already high in HHH ( average increase $800. last year in my area). It's time for this administration to address the bloated administrative costs and the continuing outrageous annual teacher raises which are breaking the back of this community.
Arlene Kreisberg January 13, 2013 at 06:29 PM
I so agree with you. Teachers want to be considered professionals. Most professionals I know are required to take continuing ed courses at their own expense and for which they receive no additional salary compensation. STEP increases should be done away with. I don't know of too many people gfetting raises these past years. Teachers get paid a great amount for only 180 days work! Something should also be done about pensions. Ours took significant hits but we have to make huge payments through taxes to keep theirs fully funded instead of trying to recoup some of our lost retirement savings. Public workers should be treated the same as nonpublic workers, at least deal with some of the losses we incurred. Isn't it also time for retired teachers paid NYStae income taxes? Why should they be exempt. Bet that would help our economy.
Magdaline Martakis January 13, 2013 at 07:16 PM
Education should always come first! This community was built around the quality of the school distict . The real problem is that the federal government is reducing their money contributions to teachers benefits every year and laying the burden on the tax payers.This is along with the 2% cap that we voted for last year is giving the district the power to take our programs away, close our schools and threaten our livelihood!! Yes our enrollment is lower 9889 students than 6 years ago at a little over 10,000 but i looked at the records and in this district 20 years ago their were 7300 students enrolled and we still had all of our current buldings. The fact that their is a decrease in enrollement should mean that we should have more money in reserve because the number of household contribution has not changed. Right? So i decided to research and compare our school district to a district comprable in size, Great Neck School District. They have 2 HS, 2 MS and 6 elementary schools. They have a staff of 1200 and a revenue of $190,000,000 in comparison to our $222,000,000. Great Neck School district is also a far superior district than HHH. So i ask you are we just suppose to sit back and allow them to slap the hand that feeds them by threatening our childrens futures? What can we do to stop this if we don't pierce the cap and pay an increase they will shut down schools & take away programs . Is this formula going to become a trend in this economy?
Magdaline Martakis January 13, 2013 at 07:19 PM
(continuation )We are a ver affluent community and i say if they close the 2 schools we fight back and reform the closed schools to a Charter schools. Charter schools are still funded the same way that our public schools are however they come with the freedom of choice as far as the educational curriculum and in addition another wonderful perk is that we have tge freedom to restaff certified teachers and are not mandated to pay pensions. Charter schools simply offer 401k like the rest of the real world;)
ADA January 13, 2013 at 08:34 PM
I am late commenting on cutting gym but so many of our children are overweight and don't get a lot of exercise for many reasons. A bigger load of homework. video games and just a general family unawareness. It all starts at home but I think combining gym with a little health teaching which includes teaching good eating habits and some general good sportsmanship lessons is a valuable lessons for all kids.
Dedicate January 13, 2013 at 09:57 PM
The out of towners that use the pool pay good money. If you pay you should be able to use the pool. The idea that only HHH can use the pool is a very selfish idea. One elementary should be leased or sold as it would do a lot more good. And to say the team uses it 95 percent of the time is wrong. Plus the resisidents that want to use it cant if it is closed down as it is the ONLY POOL IN HHH and the swimming for youngsters will be taken away. That is a safety problem if they dont learn how to swim. KEEP THE POOL.
Sam January 13, 2013 at 10:32 PM
$700 per month is not "good" money. This private elite team uses our HHH pool from 5-9:30 Monday -Friday, Saturday 6-8 and 3-6, Sunday 6:15-11:00 with private lessons when ever the coaches want. They have keys and come and go as the wish. We are giving our pool away. Let them have a true HHH team like all the other Hills programs. 60% non-residents. Why is it that 60% are non-residents? Why do they compete as "Team Suffolk". Because they come from all over Suffolk ... As well as Nassau.
Ryan January 13, 2013 at 10:33 PM
Sam! Your tone sounds like an ignorant parent of team Suffolk, that doesn't see the positives from that swim team. I have a swimmer on that team and the fact is that all those kids some type of money for college. Sam? Really? What is your issue with that team!
Sam January 13, 2013 at 10:57 PM
For reference the auditorium at Hills East is $5000 per day when used for non-resident functions. The pool cost much more to run and insure. The low rate HHH charges was assuming the pool was being used for HHH community not as a regional swimming pool
Lawrence DeMarco January 13, 2013 at 11:24 PM
Hello M.Sch. after reading your comments I cannot help but wonder how long you have lived in this district. When I was attending school in this district I lived in what you call a feeder community just as I still do now. The district is called Half Hollow Hills, not Dix Hills, School district and it was formed by combining 3 school districts not by adding on to a Dix Hills School District. Oh, and by the way, when I attended school here a large part of your fancy Dix Hills neighborhoods were still farms, empty fields and woods so maybe I should complain about snobs like you who moved into the district and screwed up what was already a great district. As a parting word I would say that if you look into it I bet you will find that most of what you refer to as feeder communities were part of this district long before your home was built. I am tired of people like you who evidently feel they are better than others, maybe if we cut people like you instead this district would go back to being the great district it was in the past and yet still be far more affordable.
Dedicate January 13, 2013 at 11:26 PM
It is also used by the hills varsity and saint anthonys varsity and many other swim programs all im saying is that closing the pool will do nothing to help the budget the pool is the onlypool in HHH and the pool is so little of the taxes we pay there are bigger issues. Also I would like alink to were you get the figures to how much they pay a month. To me citizen of HHH or not does not matter lets not be selfish plus i would be proud to have a swim team like Teamsuffolk. A top 50 swim team in the nation
Sam January 14, 2013 at 12:30 AM
Hills Varsity swimming is fine. Saint Anthony's pays $50 per hours to use pool, Very cheap. HHH does not need to support this Private team. Let them find a pool at market price. You are not addressing the fact that team Suffolk is running private lessons at $80 and not compensating HHH.
Dedicate January 14, 2013 at 12:45 AM
Saint anthonys uses it ftom 6-7 in the morning twice a week I think that is fine because who else will use it that early its extra money. The private lessons I think that they should compensate the district. But the team itself excluding all that private lesson stuff is fine by me because it teaches kids hard work and strong ethics. But the saint anthonys team is reasonable because of the hours. But can i see were you got the 700 a month I cant find it
Sam January 14, 2013 at 01:13 AM
It's supposed to be a HHH community pool. HHH Kids are kicked off this team to make room for swimmers from other districts who do not pay taxes to support the pool.
Dedicate January 14, 2013 at 01:24 AM
The pool is part of the high school you pay taxes for the high school the members of the team pay the team. Which then pay the school.The team is fine. Correct me if I am wrong but I think you were either once on this team or had a child once on this team. There is no restriction on who can be on a team it is not allowed. For example liac is based in garden city it is not just garden city swimmers. Bethpage is placed in bethpage not just bethpage swimmers. It is not a community pool btw it is and high school pool big difference. The idea that only people in who live in a town can go to that pool is very selfish to me. If there is no pool in a town then nobody can swim in that town then. Keep the pool
Bobbloggerstein January 14, 2013 at 01:39 AM
I'm astonished to see so many comments about the pool. While I would like to sell the pool too, there are more ways to cut the budget. The State needs to raise the property tax cap to 3% or eliminate and/or modify mandates.
Dedicate January 14, 2013 at 01:45 AM
You can go over with out changing the state regulations. I dont see why every body wants to close the pool it will do no help to your money situation and it is a very useful resource and I do not know of any body willing to buy it. You dont realize how many kids dreams your crushing. Plus the high school swim team is the best varsity team
Sam January 14, 2013 at 01:51 AM
This is a Half Hollow Hills Pool. I see you do not pay taxes in HHH or reside in HHH. If you would like to go to HHH schools or use our HHH pool please move to HHH and pay HHH taxes. Team Suffolk swimming pays $700 per month for to use the HHH pool that cost HHH residents about $27,000 per mount to keep running. LIAC is a county pool ie: reginal swimming pool. As for restrictions: a 11 year HHH child wanted to join Team Suffolk and they just sain "no.... That's to old". Are you kidding me? I am sorry if you feel this is selfish, let me know when you fund a pool for your community and open it everyone in a 30 miles radias for pennies in the $100.
Patrick Cunningham January 14, 2013 at 03:42 PM
I agree with Mrs Taff on renegotation of the teachers contract. It includes to many expensive perks we can no longer afford. The 25 Step Increase should be reduced to five and be based upon teachers accepting additional responsiblity that would lower administrative costs in the district. The Horizontal Educational increases should be tied to increases in responsibility and geared to career paths. Sick days should be granted but if not used should be Forfeited and not paid out. Unused Sick Day Payouts are budgeted for $1,000,000 per year. Protecting the teachers should be our first priority. I think that the School Closure can not be avoided. Reducing an elementary or middle school would be foolish. By moving the grades the usage of the schools can be managed. Keeping two High Schools will only lead to reduced class availability, less club availablity, and limited rosters for the sports teams. Closing the High School will allow for a reduction of 4 administrative positions and more than 50 paid stipend positions while not reducing one teacher. By changing longevity steps and horizontal to increased responsibility steps additional Elementary, Middle school and administrative positions can be eliminated. This will also allow for in house personnel to be elibilble for administrative positions when available. The district should pursue contracts similiar to Drivers Ed for, Library Services, Family Consumer Science, and Industrial arts.
Stay Calm January 15, 2013 at 11:31 AM
Correct me if I am wrong, but wouldn't your idea of only five step increases mean teachers only got a raise every 5-6 years given they must work a 30 year career? Also, when they talk about closing a high school at a savings of $5 million, most of that money is in the form of teacher salaries. There would be massive cuts in positions over the next several years and greatly increased class sizes for years as well. Finally, the district does buy out sick days at retirement, but only 1/3 of your days apply and you have to wait 30 years for that pay out. That plan is designed as an incentive for teachers to not miss days and to keep highly qualified personnel in the classrooms at all times.
Bella January 16, 2013 at 02:44 PM
You should double check the team's practice schedule. Their use of the pool is substantially less than 95%. Generally speaking the pool is used 27 hours a week and during some of that time it is open to community swim. Are you aware that the pool is available for the teachers and administration to use in the morning? They do not all reside in the district so should they be restricted as well? Please post specifically where it is stated in the use of facilities document that Team Suffolk pays $700 a month? I read it to say the fees are based on the needs of the organization using it. Thanks!
Joeysmom January 18, 2013 at 12:27 AM
Interesting read: http://www.hhhta.com/
HDC January 18, 2013 at 01:07 AM
do you need "swimmies" to swim at the HHH pool, I think "swimmies" will make you swim faster!
Stay Calm January 19, 2013 at 05:01 PM
Please get the facts. http://www.hhhta.com/
Stay Calm January 25, 2013 at 10:44 PM
I'm not exactly sure why you think Great Neck is "far superior". They graduated a slightly smaller percent of their students and had more students fail the ELA and Math assessments according to published scores. Great Neck's budget this year was $199 mil to our $221 mil. HHH has a much more diverse population and many more special education students, which requires more expenses per student (free/reduced price lunch, classroom paras, Spec, Ed. teachers, etc.). HHH ranks first in New York State amongst district with similar diversity. Further, Great Neck pays more in taxes and receives less money from the state than does HHH ($6.7 mil to our $21).

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