Proposed ‘Alternative High School’ Program Built into Superintendent’s $90.7 Million Spending Plan

The superintendent of schools on Monday night proposed an approximately $90.7 million budget for New Canaan Public Schools next year, a 3.5 percent increase over current spending.

Of the approximately $3 million increase in spending over this fiscal year, about $2 million is due to salary increases, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi told members of the Board of Education during their regular meeting. And of that $2 million, $1.3 million is due to contracted wage increases, while $203,000 is from salary adjustments from units in negotiations and $186,000 represents anticipated raises for teachers at they progress in their careers, for example, after earning advanced degrees.

Another approximately $827,000 of the overall increase comes from spending on benefits, Luizzi said at the meeting, held in the Wagner Room at New Canaan High School.

His proposed budget is the first step for the Board of Ed toward developing its full spending plan for review and final approval (in April) by town funding bodies. The school budget in New Canaan typically accounts for about 60 percent of the town’s overall spending.

Luizzi’s budget anticipates savings of $100,00 through staff turnover and calls for a reduction of three full-time positions—two for the fifth grade at Saxe Middle School, which is projected to decline by about 35 students next year, and one full-time position in the elementary schools. (Those specific educators affected likely will be reassigned elsewhere within the district to meet rising enrollment-driven needs in other grades.)

The proposed budget also calls for some additional staffing—primarily for what would be a new “alternative school” program that’s expected to emerge as one focal point for town funding officials as the district’s spending plan moves through the municipal budget process.

The program would serve an estimated six to 12 New Canaan students facing specific health challenges—as detailed in a budget workshop document presented last month—such as anxiety, depression, mood disorders including bipolar illness, PTSD, medical issues that affect mental health or which make a full-day typical school setting difficult, eating disorders or substance abuse. Currently, the students are served—or under-served—in various ways, such as through an afternoon instructional program for upperclassmen only that lacks a significant therapeutic component, by attending the general program at NCHS despite their needs, or by getting specialized attention out-of-district at a substantial cost to the town.

Thanks largely to the work of the Town Building Evaluation & Use Committee, a separate conversation already is underway in New Canaan about just where the new alternative school program would be located, with the former Outback Teen Center emerging as a contender. A subcommittee of the Town Council is scheduled to take up the question of location at a meeting on Wednesday night.

If adopted by the town, the alternative school program immediately would save about $123,000 by swallowing the existing afternoon program, according to Luizzi. That effectively would offset most of the costs required to run it—$185,000 for certified teaching staff (a general education teacher, special ed teacher and social worker) as well as one non-certified position at $29,000 (a teaching assistant).

“We have been developing a team, working for the last year and a half or so, in researching best practices, visiting other alternative programs, learning about our students in a different way and understanding what our student needs are,” Luizzi said. “And we do believe—and I believe strongly—that this is program that is appropriate for us and will help us deliver a program to our students here in New Canaan that’s the right one, that they deserve to have.”

He added: “The program really is developed to meet the needs of students who are really struggling in the traditional academic program.”

Luizzi noted that the existing afternoon instructional program or ‘AIP’ has served the district well, but rising demand is outpacing its capacity to serve the students enrolled in it.

With the educators needed for the proposed alternative school program, as well as an additional .6 full-time equivalent in the NCHS World Language Program—a position needed as an increasing number of students have opted into world languages, pushing class sizes past district guidelines—the total new staffing costs in Luizzi’s budget come to about $152,000.

His full proposed budget for the 2018-19 academic year is posted here (it’s 109 pages long).

Board of Ed Vice Chair Penny Rashin asked whether Luizzi had projected costs for the alternative school program in future years.

“Do we have projects looking two, three, four years ahead?” she asked.

Luizzi responded that the tuition costs alone for placing a single student out-of-district who otherwise could avail himself or herself of the alternative school program is $60,000. The figure does not include transportation costs, he said.

“As this program builds and develops a reputation, I believe you would have more people coming in,” Luizzi said, because New Canaan educates its students well.

He added: “So financially, we believe it is a very strong model. But the drive is equally or more about providing that education in New Canaan for students who need it.”

Board of Ed member Maria Naughton asked for a fuller picture of just what the program would look like, and also asked whether it was possible to gauge more specifically how many New Canaan families would avail themselves of an alternative high school program by pulling their kids out of NCHS to go there.

“Is there any way to poll parents to find out, if this were offered, would you choose this over that?” she said.

Luizzi responded that those conversations already are well underway, overseen largely by Assistant Superintendent of Pupil and Family Services Darlene Pianka, and that there is both a need and demand for the program in town.

“It’s not something you necessarily broadcast because it is really for a small group of students,” he said. Just what the program looks like in terms of staffing and time is being worked on now, he said.

“I have experience directly with an alternative school program,” Luizzi said. “I began my career working in one and it was a program of choice, and for the 18 students who chose to be there it was the right place for them to be and they received an outstanding education as a result. So the program of choice’ component is an important component in this, because you are really looking for commitments.”

Luizzi during his presentation thanked Board of Ed and faculty members for help in putting his budget together, spotlighted some of the accomplishments of the district in academics, athletics and the arts and reviewed the primary themes of the spending plan, such as responding to shifts in enrollment, supporting high-quality instruction and focusing on safety.

Here’s a look at per-student net expenditure for New Canaan and nearby school districts, sorted by spending in the academic year that ended in 2017:

Current Net Expenditures Per Pupil

Town2015-162016-17$ Diference% Difference
New Canaan$19,576$20,162$5873%
*Source: New Canaan Public Schools



A $141,000 increase is expected in contracted services, due in part to an increase in an intern program district-wide and with a corresponding reduction in a substitute account, whlie spending reductions of about $101,000 are anticipated in purchased services, due in part to students aging out of NCPS’s out-of-district program and one student returning to attend the proposed alternative program.

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