Op-Ed: Our Schools Deserve a Thousand Thanks

The schools are open! New Canaan is now a major step closer to normal, COVID-19 be damned. 

In a few weeks, barring a significant increase in community transmission, all 4,100-plus students will be able to attend school in-person, five days a week. If there is an increase, the schools have effective plans for that, too. This “no matter what” capability has required an unprecedented effort by all school leaders, by teachers and all other staff members, by the Board of Education, by other government officials, by parent-volunteers, and by many others. A thousand thanks are in order. 

When asked about this fall’s reopening—temporarily in “hybrid” mode—parents’ eyes light up and their praise is effusive.

Op-Ed: School Start Times—a Decision We Didn’t Want To Make

Thursday’s Town Council vote on the school budget will determine whether school start times will change next year to improve student health. It’s a decision we never wanted to make. 

It was thought the controversy might be resolved before the Town Council got involved. 

Just maybe, we thought, the Board of Education would back down after being confronted by opponents and after learning how disruptive the change would be. But student health was the BOE’s first priority and they forged ahead. 

Just maybe, a group of dissenting elementary school parents would sour people on the proposal, as their schedules could be the most severely affected. But they endorsed an 8:00 am start time for elementary schools compared to 7:50 am in the BOE proposal—a mere 10-minute difference. Only a handful of dissidents spoke against the BOE budget at Tuesday night’s public hearing compared to 43 who spoke in favor.

Op-Ed: Budgets Should Reflect What People Want

The results of the 2020 Community Survey should cause officials to reconsider the town’s budget priorities. Many thought they had a mandate to cut the mill rate by reducing the growth in school spending, but now we know otherwise. 

The survey shows that the quality of New Canaan’s Public Schools is unambiguously our top priority, while concerns about local tax rates are barely a factor. 

The survey confirms that school quality is the primary reason why we move here and why we stay here. It’s the primary reason why 73% of us think New Canaan is a good value for the taxes we pay. Only 14% of us think we should spend less on our schools, while 27% think we should spend more. 

Only 14% of us mentioned property taxes when asked for one thing we would change about New Canaan. Only 17% mentioned lower taxes when asked how the town could attract new residents.

Op-Ed: Saving the ‘Landmark Library’

There are many ongoing conversations about the proposal to build a new New Canaan Library, which I strongly support. A key element in these discussions is what to do with the antique portion of the current library building. I am recommending that the Town Council should act soon to ensure ample time to create a plan of preservation that would address the design, funding and future use of a “Landmark Library” as a separate, free-standing building. There wouldn’t be sufficient time to create such a plan before the town approves a capital contribution for the new library, which may happen in the next few months. To buy time, I’m proposing that the library grant to the town a 12-month option to acquire the Landmark Library and some of the land surrounding it.

Op-Ed: The Character of New Canaan

At a standing-room only Planning & Zoning Commission hearing on October 29th, Waveny Life Care Network proposed building an independent living residence that would complete its plan to provide a continuing care retirement community (“CCRC”) in New Canaan. Almost everyone agrees with the concept, but over 1,000 residents have signed a petition opposing the proposed site on Oenoke Ridge. 

Opponents apparently assume that if they block the Oenoke Ridge site, the facility could simply be built somewhere else. For 30 years, Town leaders and developers have floated New Canaan locations for senior housing and each time have been told to “build somewhere else.” Each time, “somewhere else” has turned out to mean nowhere at all. 

If the Oenoke Ridge location is rejected, the message to developers will be that New Canaanites don’t want a CCRC in our Town. The opposition’s campaign tactics will become a template that other residents will use to resist proposals in other locations.