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Chestnut Hill, Forest Park Closing 

The Half Hollow Hills Board of Education unanimously voted Monday night to close Chestnut Hill and Forest Park Elementary Schools next year.

Chestnut Hill and Forest Park elementary schools will close next year, the Half Hollow Hills school board announced on Monday.

After sealing the fate of the two schools at the Oct. 28 school board meeting, the board asked a room of more than 300 parents for their cooperation going forward with plans for a complete elementary redistricting.

The decision to close two schools, which board members said became likely in 2011, will save the district roughly $3 million and help guide the 2014-2015 budget planning process.

Elementary enrollment in the district is expected to decline by 13 percent over the next four years, according to statistics offered by the district’s Facilities Steering Committee, commissioned in June to make recommendations to the board on potential closures.

A portion of students from all seven presently open elementary schools will also be affected by the closures, as elementary school feeding patterns will change and outlier communities will be connected with larger regions of the district. However, the board said high school feeding patterns will remain the same.

Board President James Ptucha stressed that the trustees and Superintendent Kelly Fallon exercised due diligence in the decision making process, placing the safety and security of the children as a top priority.

Ptucha, amid scattered cries of protest from the audience, told community members the board’s next priority will be realigning elementary school feeding patterns.

“Everyone has an emotional attachment [to their school]… This is not easy for any of us; we feel your pain,” Ptucha said.

While many parents who attended the Oct. 28 meeting received the answers they were looking for, the board’s announcement of which schools will close addresses just the tip of the iceberg. The board, which has held at least two public work sessions during which guiding factors were discussed, did not offer a concrete explanation behind their decision.

Parents who spoke formally at the meeting—and those who interjected less formally—demanded to know the logic behind the board’s decision, but were met with resistance.

“I have an 8-year-old and a 10-year-old at home tonight who are going to ask, ‘Where am I going?’—don’t make me go home with no answer,” parent Ryan Glassberg said to the board.

Keeping communities together through the redistricting process will be a top priority, Ptucha said, as well as maintaining “excellence in education,” secondary high school feeding patterns, and balancing enrollment at the five remaining elementary schools.

“Unfortunately there’s been a divisiveness, but our goal is to bring us back together again. [We’ve] pitted against each other, and we need to do this together; let’s keep that in mind,” Ptucha pleaded with audience members, who responded with protest.

“They’re our children and we want to know what will happen to them,” one parent cried.

“We’re doing this best we can; but I’m going to have to shut this conversation down,” the board president replied.

At the Oct. 21 work session, Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Facilities Anne Marie Marrone Calidendo outlined the projected staff cuts that would result from closing two elementary schools, some of which include: reductions of two clerks, nurses and librarians; and removing a number of paraprofessionals, custodians, security guards, physical education and music staff, and psychologists, totaling a savings of $1.5 million in salaries.

Board members promised that security staff would continue to monitor the grounds of closed schools to prevent vandalism and crime on district property.

Carolyn Cipriano, a parent in the district who sat on the Facilities Steering Committee, said that in her personal opinion the board made the best decision they could with the information at their disposal.

“It’s something that had to get done… It was a tough decision – there’s no right or wrong answer,” Cipriano said. “The children will probably survive it faster and easier than the parents.”

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