News-Herald Staff Writer

HOPEDALE – Fiscal troubles are sparking speculation of further consolidation within Harrison Hills City Schools and the public could know more this week.

The News-Herald was contacted by a concerned citizen regarding reported closures of schools and further changes. Unconfirmed reports are circulating that Harrison Lakeland and Jewett Elementary schools could close, while the junior and senior high would be combined.

Jewett Council members on Tuesday discussed a meeting with Superintendent George Ash and indicated the closure was likely amid financial woes. Village leaders commented it could hurt the town . District officials have not responded but a public meeting was scheduled for this week to give an explanation.

School board member Melvin Allen told the media Harrison Hills was facing a $1.2 million deficit this year and a drop in enrollment was costing the district a lot of money. Allen added that 225 students chose open enrollment and left the district, costing $6,000 thus far.

For the most part, district leaders have made little comment, but a special board work session was scheduled at 7 p.m. on Sunday followed by meetings with staff and residents on May 10. A press conference was set for Monday with a community meeting at 6 p.m. that evening in the Harrison Central High School auditorium. According to flyers circulated to parents, the gathering will include a question-and-answer session. In addition, the school board set a meeting for May 13 at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

“The Harrison Hills City School District is in the midst of reviewing findings from an assessment we requested by the state,” Superintendent George Ash said in a media statement. “We are not prepared to make a comment at this time. Further details will be presented to the public during the meeting on Monday.”

The assessment refers to a review leaders sought in February when officials were looking at losing millions of dollars over the next few years due to the elimination of tangible property taxes and other revenue, plus increased costs. The district had received a request for a written proposal from the state Office of School Funding and Fiscal Support Service and a strategy had to be submitted in January on how Harrison Hills would attack the funding issue. According to the latest five-year forecast approved at the April session, there is a fiscal deficit that will steadily climb in the next few years. If the forecast holds true, the district will face deficit of nearly $1.43 million in FY11 that would increase to more than $14.7 million in FY14.

Ash previously said the district could not implement a plan without having all options and facts available, and leaders sought assistance from the State Department of Education to collect data and recommendations on how to save money. The review involved four components: transportation, staffing, food and nutrition and a district performance audit.

Officials said transportation played a large role in the district since it covered 400 square miles, while a staffing analysis would determine the district’s needs. Another major area was food and nutrition to ensure proper meals for all students, most notably because that area was carrying a $200,000 deficit. Last year, expenses exceeded revenue by $1.6 million but were decreased to $900,000.