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Dire New Fiscal Reality Stuns Residents In Affluent Long Island School District

Half Hollow Hills Parents Left With Impossible Choices Due To Big Budget Gap
Half Hollow Hills East High School (Photo: CBS 2)

Half Hollow Hills East High School (Photo: CBS 2)

MELVILLE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Parents in one Long Island school district are furious. They’re suddenly being told they have to make a terrible choice: pay drastically higher taxes, or possibly see some schools shut down.

What was received in the mail by parents in the Half Hollow Hills School District was nothing short of a shock.

“I think the size of it came from left field for sure. We weren’t expecting it to be that size,” Melville resident Kenneth Peskin told CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff on Wednesday.

“It” is the district’s budget gap, a whopping $9.5 million and the notice spells out the painful options:

* Reducing kindergarten to half-day

* Cutting elementary band chorus and orchestra

* Eliminating all middle school athletic teams

* Closing schools — an elementary, middle school or one of two high schools

Parents said the last option hurts the most.

“If my children go to a different elementary school than the kids across the street, that hurts the most,” resident Kim Kesselman said.

“I don’t care if it’s elementary school, middle school or high school. To go to a new environment without their friends, it’s frightening,” Dana Feinstein added.

District officials said nothing is etched in stone, but “with declining enrollment and increased fiscal pressures, it is an option that the district has to consider.”

The school board president said this “is a harbinger of things to come for all Long Island school districts.”

There is no disagreement from the organization representing all 112 school boards.

“They will be seeing and having to vote upon severe cuts,” said Lorraine Deller of the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association.

State pension costs are in part to blame as they are up more than 38 percent at Half Hollow Hills, while state funding has declined. That has left district, some affluent, high ranking and with a history of fiscal responsibility, now facing doomsday choices.

“I think maybe foolishly we felt that with approved budgets and the type of community we live in this couldn’t happen here,” said Melville resident Nancy Disman.

Some parents have suggested waiting on a decision to close schools until they can renegotiate teacher contracts next year, but the whopping budget hole is this year’s problem, so either taxes will go up — or cuts — will be dramatic.

If no cuts are made, taxes in the Half Hollow Hills School District could go up 8.5 percent.

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