A mom friend in town asked me recently why New Canaan should build onto Saxe. “Why not build another elementary school instead and make them K through five? Then the middle school would really be a middle school.”
I told her the story of Center School, New Canaan’s fourth elementary school, now the farmer’s market parking lot next to the public library. My friend had no idea that New Canaan used to have a fourth elementary school.
In 1983, the economy was what it was, enrollment was not as robust as it is now or will be, and the town went back and forth between closing Center School or South School. They went with Center. According to newspaper articles about the matter published in the ’80s, it was estimated then by the powers that were that the Board of Ed could save $250,000 a year by closing one of the schools. Those are 1983 dollars. In today’s dollars, that’s about the salary and benefits of two seasoned teachers. Maybe three.
So for those of you new to New Canaan, or not even new but not here in 1983, please know that we are yet again feeling the ripple effect of that decision to close Center School three decades ago.Anyone who tells you that the decision to close Center School was a great idea is incorrect. If Center were still standing, the elementary schools would not have to be grades K-4. Fifth grade could still be in the elementary schools. Construction at Saxe in the 1990s could have possibly been avoided. We have the opportunity to make up for the lack of vision in 1983. Using rough and round numbers here, keeping in mind that I am no math teacher, has New Canaan saved $250,000 each year for 30 years? Have we saved the $7.5 million that the town thought we would? Or have we overpaid for that mistake?
The Board of Ed of 2015 has done its homework. Please check the NCPS site and be informed about the proposals. Proposal 3A includes the addition of 12 classrooms to Saxe, and this is not a wish list item. It is a necessity. It is proven that smaller class sizes enhance learning and instruction, and this addition of twelve classrooms could very well improve the student to teacher ratio. Proposal 3A doesn’t even include absolutely everything, but it is pretty great. The $17 million price tag does not cover the bells and whistles of a state of the art sound system in the new Saxe auditorium. Those “extras” will be funded privately, so please don’t think that Proposal 3A includes anything extraneous.
Our school system is fantastic. And that’s with large classes. Just imagine how much more we can achieve with the right amount of space and budget to do it right.
The proposals in front of us taxpayers, those elected to the Town Council, and those appointed to the Board of Finance beg the question: How much is the right amount to spend on the project? Not $13.1 million. Given some of this year’s haggling over the Board of Ed budget, it is unclear just whose interests are being represented by our elected and appointed town officials, whose families may or may not be impacted directly by improvements to Saxe.
Make it right, New Canaan. Check out those enrollment projections on the NCPS website. Construction isn’t going to get less expensive. Go for the $17 million.
Darcy Pennoyer Smith
Center School, Class of 1982
Saxe Junior High School, Class of 1984
New Canaan High School, Class of 1988
Teacher at New Canaan High School, 2000-2014
Current West School and Saxe Middle School Parent