Brendan Hayes

Recent Articles

‘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. Continue Reading →

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‘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. Continue Reading →

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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. Continue Reading →

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‘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.” (more…) Continue Reading →

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Despite Court’s Decisions, Lawsuits Tie Up Restoration of Ponus Ridge Chapel

Though a judge this month found that town zoning officials acted properly in granting a variance designed to allow for the restoration of a long-neglected chapel on Ponus Ridge, the historic structure’s fate is unclear, as it remains tied up in multiple lawsuits brought by a New Canaan woman. In a decision issued April 11, Superior Court Judge Charles Lee affirmed the New Canaan Zoning Board of Appeals’ unanimous vote three years ago to allow for the rehabilitation of the legally nonconforming, 1911-built Ponus Ridge Chapel (see Lee’s full decision at the end of this article). Plans call for the conversion of the dilapidating structure into a guesthouse by its neighbors to the south, the Hayeses, with an easement to the chapel property at 424 Ponus Ridge for a parking space and septic system (at .14 acres, the chapel’s lot is itself too small). The president of the association that owns the building, now deceased, in 2012 had entered into an agreement with the Hayeses whereby the property would be transferred to them, in a complicated arrangement also involving New Canaan Library, following the organization’s dissolution. However, another member of the Ponus Ridge Chapel and Community Association—a group that hasn’t met in decades (the chapel itself hasn’t been used in 40-plus years)—neighbor Elizabeth Weed of 434 Ponus Ridge, filed two lawsuits designed to halt the proposed transaction. Continue Reading →

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