Home School News Budget Battle: Hills West Not Closing, but Changes are Ahead

Budget Battle: Hills West Not Closing, but Changes are Ahead

Budget Battle
Illustration by Lexi Weber
Budget Battle by Lexi Webber
Illustration by Lexi Weber

The Half Hollow Hills School District is currently facing a massive budget gap caused by a projected 15 percent decline in enrollment over two years, and a tax cap, both resulting in less money for specific programs, schools and salaries. Though all cuts have not been determined, the Board of Education has made definite reductions based on surveys and budget meetings.

These factors have created a whirlwind of speculation as to the future of the Half Hollow Hills Central School District. Rumors have been circulating of the possible closing of Chestnut Hill Elementary School, Candlewood Middle School, and even High School West. Many parents and students were naturally concerned when letters confirming these possibilities were sent out to homes during December Break. The letters listed out proposed cuts for the 2013-2014 school year, cuts that would affect a majority of the student body.

First off, many are wondering why the school district is proposing massive budget cuts. In addition to a tough economy and declining enrollment, the cuts stem from a new state implemented school district budget formula, known as the “2% Property Tax Levy Cap.”  The formula requires that the Half Hollow Hills Central School District makes an estimated 9.5 million dollars of budget reductions for the 2013-2014 school year. To make these necessary reductions, the Board of Education considered closing schools.  Closing Hills West would have largely closed the impending budget gap, saving 5 million dollars a year, while shutting down Candlewood Middle School or Chestnut Hill Elementary School would have saved 2.5 million and 1 million dollars, respectively.

On January 7th, many concerned parents packed the district wide meeting at Hills East to speak their minds. Parents asked a variety of questions, ranging from the budget gaps effect on class sizes to the amount of income brought in by the district’s swimming pool. A full list of the questions submitted at the meeting can be found online at the following link, along with other community budget resources: http://www.halfhollowhills.k12.ny.us/page.cfm?p=977748.

Among the other resources found at this link are the results of a budget survey created by the District, in which 5,457 community members participated. This survey showed that a mere 25 percent of parents, staff, and community members were in favor of closing Hills West, while 42 percent supported closing Candlewood and 64 percent supported shutting down Chestnut Hill. With the parents comments and the results of the Districtwide budget survey in mind, the Half Hollow Hills Central School District Board of Education has begun to make cuts to next year’s budget.

“It is important to make sure there is a balance within the entire district and establish a long term plan,” explained Board of Education Trustee Betty DeSabato, “A steering committee will be established to review the demographers report and look at the number of new developments and feeding patterns. This committee will make a recommendation to the Board of Education on how they should move forward.” DeSabato stated that the district has been “working with the Superintendent and the District Administrative team” to ensure fair reductions in the budget. Also, the budget process will be the same for 2014-15 unless the Governor repeals the 2% Tax Cap Legislation, implying that there may be a similar series of budget reductions coming.

The district has thus decided to make numerous smaller cuts to close the budget gap instead of closing entire schools. What are the definite changes made? At both West Hollow and Candlewood, there will be eight period days implemented, saving $3,738,424.  At both high schools, students are going to have to pay approximately 500 dollars for drivers education classes, reducing spending by $317,237. On the elementary school level, all health teachers will be let go, saving another $218,584. Also, the district will be cutting assistant sport coaches. These changes, along with the money saved through declining enrollment, have so far reduced the overall gap of 9.5 million dollars to just over 2 milion dollars. The District is likely to announce more cuts at future budget meetings, a schedule of which can be found on the Half Hollow Hills website.

Many students at Hills West expressed animosity towards these proposed cuts. “It’s terrible,” commented freshman Max Austin, “The school should not make the students pay for educational classes. I think it makes more sense for the district to close the planetarium.”

“I think it’s ridiculous, but since it’s necessary there aren’t really any other options I guess. It’s kinda sad though because it’s a shame to see people get fired and lose jobs,” added junior Doug Notti.

On the other hand, teachers offered a different perspective. “Drivers education is a privilege that many schools do not offer to their students. We should be grateful that we have such a wonderful school where we can take these classes,” stated English teacher Mrs. Benson.

What does all this mean for Hills West students?  Well, concerned students and faculty can breathe a sigh of relief that High School West will live to see another school year. Unfortunately, in these hard economic times, the Half Hollow Hills community will have to make sacrifices to ensure the success of all students in the district. It is currently still unclear as to the extent of the budget cuts for our school, or if things will ever return back to normal in Half Hollow Hills. However, it is important for students to keep in mind the great opportunities that are still available.