‘We Are Excited’: Long-Neglected Ponus Ridge Chapel To Be Restored

After years of disuse that dragged on due to bitter legal disputes, a neglected and deteriorating former chapel and community center on Ponus Ridge now is poised to be restored in a way that historic preservationists in New Canaan long have supported. The historic Ponus Ridge Chapel stands to be transferred from a dormant association to a neighboring property owner, clearing the way for its protection and eventual conversion into a privately owned structure that will be opened periodically to the wider community. “We are really happy about it,” said Brendan Hayes, next-door neighbor and soon-to-be owner of the Chapel property along with his wife, Ainsley, told NewCanaanite.com. “Restoring historic properties is one of the things we feel strongly about, so we are excited to be able to start this project—it is long overdue.” Once a community hub that functioned as gathering place for important community events—church services, Sunday School, group dinners, fairs, christenings, weddings, a funeral, dancing and art classes, holiday parties and meetings of the Ladies’ Aid Society, Farm Bureau and Fish and Game League—the Chapel hasn’t been used in some 50 years, according to town records. 

Since 1959, the ca.

‘The District Is Always Looking for Ways To Rationalize Costs’: Board of Ed Spotlights Money-Saving Efforts

Through contract negotiations, competitive bidding, new carrier agreements and shifting retirees to a state health plan, New Canaan Public Schools has saved nearly $1.6 million annually in the area of employee benefits, district officials said last week. About 80 percent of the district’s operating budget is devoted to staff salaries or benefits and that is an area “we can be creative in and have some good thoughtful conversations is around the type of health benefits that we offer our employees,” Dr. Jo-Ann Keating, NCPS director of finance and operations, told members of the Board of Education at their regular meeting May 21. Public schools officials looks especially at plan design changes, such as those in other districts, and cost-sharing options, Keating said at the meeting, held in the Wagner Room at New Canaan High School. Together those components “do generate quite a bit of savings for the school district.”

“And it is really the one thing that we are able to use to offset our salaries, because salaries grow at a much lower rate than health insurance does,” Keating said. “You have close to double-digit increases with trends in some years whereas salaries lower percentages.”

Specifically, she said, the district is saving $747,000 per year through contract negotiations (by replacing a PPO with a high-deductible plan for both certified and non-certified staff, and a 1 percent savings through cost-sharing), $326,000 through competitive bidding (stop loss insurance changes that significantly increased the threshold, creating risk, but saved money as fewer claims came in, and life and long-term disability), and $506,000 through carrier agreements such as pharmacy rebates and performance guarantees, as well as transitioning retirees from Cigna to the state Teachers’ Retirement Board or ‘TRB’ plan.

‘It Will Not Be Easy and It Will Not Be Pleasant’: Board of Finance Hears Passionate Calls for Fiscal Prudence, Full District Funding as Vote Nears

New Canaan must be careful as a community to have frank, detailed conversations about its financial situation and not “succumb to the tyranny of the parent,” a homeowner and mother of four children in public elementary and middle schools here told members of the Board of Finance on Tuesday. Everyone loves their kids and wants a good school district, yet this idea floating around New Canaan now that spending on the public schools somehow fuels property values is false, according to Rita Nagle. “That is simply not the economic relationship that exists,” Nagle said during a budget hearing held at Town Hall. “Property values fund taxes, which fund school spending. That is the way the relationship works.

Board of Ed Votes 8-1 in Favor of $90.7 Million Proposed Budget

Noting that all but about .6 percent of a proposed 3.5 percent spending increase for next year is related to contractual wage increases or healthcare costs, members of the Board of Education on Monday night voted 8-1 to back a $90.7 million budget for next fiscal year. In backing the very same proposed budget that Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi had presented to the school board two weeks ago, the spending plan is higher than what town finance officials had set and recently underscored as a “strong guideline” of 2 percent for municipal departments. Yet that “edict,” school board member Brendan Hayes said, represents “an arbitrary number.”

“It just doesn’t really factor in the realities of both macroeconomics or the financial realities of the New Canaan Public Schools budget,” Hayes said at the meeting, held in the Wagner Room at New Canaan High School. At about 1.9 percent year-over-year, wage increases in the district are far lower than national averages, Hayes said, and given that about 2.9 percent of the overall proposed increase is tied to the wages and healthcare of those who work for New Canaan Public Schools, a reduction to 2 percent would require cuts to programs, he said. “So I just personally don’t really understand that 2 percent because it’s not explained, whereas I look at this budget and the thought that has gone into it, which frankly is—beyond this year—it’s the culmination of a decade or more of work and programs in the schools,” he said.

‘I Think It Is Chilling’: Board of Ed Rejects Proposed Change to Bylaws Regarding Public Comments at Meetings

Saying they shouldn’t risk the perception that questions, suggestions or thoughts from the public are unwelcome, members of the school board this week rejected a proposal that would have limited the scope of comments from attendees at their meetings. The Board of Education also softened some new language regarding behavior at its meetings, changing two instances of the word ‘boisterous’ to ‘unruly’ in defining conduct that is not allowed, after school board member Penny Rashin flagged it. To the suggestion that a member of the public who wishes to address the board present his or her thoughts ahead of time for inclusion on the agenda, Rashin said, “I think it is chilling, actually, to require somebody in town to think they have to get a board member on the side in order to speak.”

“It is not obvious from the face of this that that’s the case,” Rashin said at Tuesday night’s regular Board of Ed meeting, held in the Wagner Room at New Canaan High School. “I think somebody could just read the policy and think, ‘Oh, I have no right to speak,’ even though procedurally they could get a board member to support it. We do have controls, the controls are two minutes to any speaker, I think sometimes you do have uncomfortable comments that you listen to as a Board of Ed member but we are elected representatives and I think that there is a real difference between email communication and face-to-face communication and it takes a lot of courage, actually, for a number of people to come to speak publicly to a board like this and I have always been proud that we have encouraged anyone that wanted to come, to come.