Letter: Town Council Vote Also ‘Disheartening’ for Our Democracy


The Town Council’s vote is disheartening, not just for healthy start times but for our town’s democracy. 

Assuming everything in this article is correct, which I have no reason to doubt, the Town Council made a decision against the choice taxpayers have overwhelmingly expressed and against the best interests of children in our town, in the latter case by flouting clear supporting scientific evidence.

And questioning whether to consider the support expressed through a letter-writing campaign? What leads you to such an outrageous comment? Letter-writing campaigns are a time-honored and constructive method of effecting change. 

Councilman Tom Butterworth’s articulate letter in this newsletter on April 2 identified all of the reasons why this vote should have passed—despite the fact that the Town Council had hoped it would not be left to them. And the message that you simply vote on the budget and not how it is spent is not only vacuous but dismisses the hard work done by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi and the many others who devoted time, intelligence and pragmatism to design a sensible plan to address a real health issue. 

If the budget had been sliced substantially due to the current crisis, one could understand that. But the description of how this debate unfolded, the shirking of responsibility and the undermining of opinions expressed through letters, all while increasing the budget, is shameful.

22 thoughts on “Letter: Town Council Vote Also ‘Disheartening’ for Our Democracy

  1. Covid19 cannot be isolated from the budget and kudos to the TC for thinking about the broader ramifications of a budget increase. NCPS is already one of the top public schools in CT, so the marginal benefits of later start times should be superceded by the overall economic health of our town.

    • I disagree strongly describing the health of children in our town as a “marginal benefit.” We have gladly prioritized the health of a segment of our community over the past few weeks – at a steep economic cost – so it is especially disheartening to hear that description used dismissing the CDC recommendation for teens and the recommendations of the pediatricians in our town.

      My 11 year old daughter will no longer be able to get adequate sleep next year along with 2000 other children in our town. Our family is deeply saddened by that – we do not view her health or that of others in our community as a “nice to have.” And although there are some parents who do not accept Dr. Luizzi’s expertise and sound judgement that the proposal is good for all students – I join the overwhelming majority of residents that addressed the TC during the budget cycle via email (10-1 emails in favor) and public comments (43-5 in favor) in strong support of funding the change.

      We are all entitled to differing views on the importance of sleep – but ours is that the health of children in our community should not be dismissed as a “marginal” benefit that New Canaan cannot afford.

      We do not share the view that the BOE should just *find* the money – we have studied the budget also and attended numerous meetings and do not believe that $1.14 million can be *found* without cutting administrators, staff or programs that my family believes all play a very valuable role in our school system. We did not choose New Canaan for test scores – we live here because of the breadth of incredible programs within NCPS that provide an incredible educational opportunity to students at all academic levels. We also believe that it is important to allow for and fund new and innovative programs without having to sacrifice other important programs to do so as we believe that is the best for our kids, attracts the best teachers/administrators and benefits all residents to invest in our schools.

      Lastly, we join the BOF in applauding the numerous efficiencies and savings our district has realized just in the last five years while funding salary increases for our excellent staff, necessary campus security and many other mandated programs. The work to realize significant savings in healthcare will go into taxpayer pockets as will the savings from closing schools.

      • “No longer be able to get adequate sleep?” After decades of successful graduates, current parents might consider stepping up with earlier bedtimes if/as needed and not attempt to spend money belonging to taxpayers. The TC did a great job! Thank you, TC!

        • That’s the million dollar question that none of the “experts ” have answered. How have past NCHS students succeeded at such a high level on less sleep? How do teens in farming communities ever succeed when they are required to get up at 5 am and milk cows before school? Thankfully they do because our nations food supply has remained stable throughout this CV-19 outbreak…… no doubt because of the hard work for farm families.

        • I agree! Parents need to review how children are utilizing their after school time so that they can get adequate sleep according to their needs.

  2. While understanding the need to be fiscally conservative, the public health implications of later start times CANNOT be ignored. At a minimum, we now know that immune systems are greatly benefited by correct rest, as are learning and academic achievement. What is more chilling though, is the elected body who specifically and deliberately ignored input from their constituents, even going so far as to allege that there was something negative about a group organizing to promote a broadly held point of view which they shared. That is anti-democratic behavior. Let’s not forget this next Election Day.

  3. I also agree with the writer, the health of our children getting adequate sleep is hardly a marginal benefit, based on the research that was done.

  4. Folks if you believe that changing school start times is this critical – please work with the Board of Education to find space in $90m or so budget to make it happen. Let the town know which programs or jobs you would like to cut to prioritize this. Remember it is changed start times that this $1m is going to be used for – not later start for all kids as the proposal swapped elementary first instead of high school.

    • Dr. Luizzi proposed a solution after years of careful evaluation that was best for our district and aligned with optimal learning times for all levels. Some seem to disagree with his sound judgment, expertise or years of consultation with numerous other experts or districts across the country that have made a similar change. Certainly some will feel their families are negatively impacted by the start times that were proposed – but I disagree with the sentiment that our Administrators do not have the expertise, skill or the best interests of students when proposing changes.

      Please see my other comment for thoughts as a parent who has been involved in our school system for years on our view of cutting programs/staff/salary increases to fund this change for student health.

      • Anne my guess is we will not agree on this issue, but let me leave you with my perspective on this:
        Financial: A million dollars in local tax revenue is equal to around the total property tax income of 50 ‘average’ houses in New Canaan and would pay for around 40-45 kids education if I got my math right. We as a community can use this money to swap school start times, or we can use this to continue to fund the programs we have. You know my vote on that trade.
        Personal: We have 3 boys (6, 4 and 2) and both my wife and I work. Since school and daycare are closed, one of us has to take care of the kids (remember with this virus grandparents are out of the question). We don’t get paid when we don’t work – it is that simple. Trust me I have absolutely no problem prioritizing our kids, but this societal closure is not increasing our family income. If schools are closed until August 31st (as very well may be the case) you can do that math in terms of percentage of annual income we will see reduced. I expect we are not alone on this challenge – considering what is going on all around us.
        So lets either take a pause on this discussion (my preferred solution) or I suggest you work with the BOE to prioritize swapped school start times for cutting some existing programs or jobs. $90m is still a lot of money to work with.

        • Well said, Giacomo.

          This is such a tough time for so many reasons, not least of which is the long tail of uncertainty we all face. It’s more important than ever for our local leaders to be agile in their management of town budgets and policies; we simply can’t afford to carry on business as usual.

          Ideally, we could use this period of disruption and isolation to marshal our creative energy and find better solutions to problems large and small that life before COVID tended to either rush through or back-burner. Newton invented calculus while holed up during an outbreak of the plague…working out an equitable start time schedule may not be the intellectual equivalent of inventing a major branch of mathematics, but I’d be happy to take it as a win.

  5. I think it is about time we all agree to disagree on the proposed scenario. The Town Council acted on much input to both sides and considered a difficult financial position. What is apparent is that there is much support for healthy start times and that there is incredible support for our school administration and teachers. What isn’t agreed up on is a particular scenario that does not serve well just about 50% of our school children at a high cost. If we are to spend then let’s spend really well! It has been voiced in 2 surveys, one petition, many many many letters, and through majority of speakers at a public session on January 13th. So to say from the one meeting in which comments were perhaps not as much to one side as to the other a true “vote” can not possibly be accurate. If we wanted to bring it to a true (democratic) count a referendum on the proposal would have been put forth – but that is not possible in this climate, also would not have been timely.

    At the end of the day progress will only work if we stop fighting and work together as a community, bringing the best scenario (which was not agreed on regardless of all the research to date) and do it in a timely basis.

    So thank you again to a Town Council for making a very hard call – for potentially taking a side that is less popular with more vocal members of the community. In the end – we should wind up with a better scenario and perhaps a higher budget to get it done but then money well spent – serving the overwhelming majority of students. And perhaps working together we can all find some nuggets of more opportunity when there is more time allowed based on priorities within the current budget.

  6. I realize that there is displeasure from some at the Town Council vote on the BOE budget. However, the fact is that High School start times would be moved almost entirely at the expense of Elementary School start times in the proposed plan. And sleep for elementary school children is at least as important as sleep is for adolescents.

    In the end many parents felt that the cost borne by young children in this scenario did not offset the gains achieved by High Schoolers. Now this decision obviously has some subjectivity, as family situations vary. For dual working families this might involve unmanageable increases in child care costs, for some city commuters it may mean never seeing their young children all week. If your elementary school child got up at 6:15 AM every morning by themselves I guess this would be the right option. However, please keep in mind that our concerns are genuine, as many of our own children will hopefully go through the schools, so we certainly are not looking to sabotage their futures.

    As for the claim that democracy was not being exercised in the town councils decision I note two items. 1) I am sure the Town Council read and considered the letters received. However, do we vote for leaders or referendums by email or by letter writing campaigns? What about the petition that was circulated which garnered 100’s of responses, regardless of how you want to cut the data. Should that be the final arbiter? I wouldn’t think so. 2) A while back some suggested a referendum on the issue by the town (a more Democratic solution), but no proponents of the plan supported it and some actually claimed outright that the town should NOT vote on the issue. Now you claim the process was not Democratic.

    Again, let’s please move forward and work together to find a solution that considers all students, based on research of ALL children. If you are genuine in your desire to find better school start times for the children of our town I am sure your knowledge, experience and passion would be invaluable in those efforts.

  7. Democracy idea: every year all town residents can vote on a budget of -3% to up 3% year over over for town departments and the BOE. If you want a more pure form of democracy there are ways we can achieve it. Our entire town used to vote on our budgets (I believe up until the 1970’s). If we want every voice to count and special interest voices to be minimized then design a system that will achieve that goal.

  8. Witnessed in these exchanges is the range of reactions to the Town Council vote last week. As reference was made to my comment about the power of organized letter writing campaigns, at the risk of further negative reaction, I feel it important to continue the comment being made and which, had I not been so loudly overspoken, would have completed the thought….. there is always a section of a community which is under-represented by virtue of their silence and needs to be equally considered. I’m totally supportive of active campaigns; have joined many, certainly have actively lead several, and sit actively on an state-wide organization which promotes personal expression.

    But it is important to keep in mind, there are many factors which get considered as the decision-makers attempt to strike a balance. In this case, which seems to be somewhat overlooked, is the respective responsibilities of the Town Council and school administration. Both Dr. Luizzi and the BOE know how highly I respect their professionalism and understand their charge to provide for the health and welfare of our children. I believe they also respect the TC’s responsibility — the health and welfare of ALL citizens and solvency of the Town’s finances, and it was precisely that responsibility which formed the foundation of my and the majority of the TC’s decision. Having read numerous reports ably prepared by the Town’s Finance Director as well as participated in hours and hours of discussions with Town leaders, it was abundantly underscored there would be impact on our Town’s finances by the pandemic. Just a month into this crisis, how extensive that would be certainly remains to be experienced in the coming months. Nonetheless, it would be irresponsible not to factor that dynamic into the TC’s decision. As the municipal side of the budget already reflected response to the BOF’s -2% guideline, many of us on the TC felt that was not the case on the BOE side, especially in light of the guidelines the TC has given last year of a not to exceed 2%+. We hear from taxpayers and need to be aware of concern about “how we spend our money and tax rate increases”, thus we are very sensitive to sustainable increases. I expect those thoughts are even more widely experienced now. The decision to hold the BOE increase was purely financial and was supported by the Audit Committee at last week’s meeting when they cautioned about critically analyzing current expenses, further rationalizing future expenditures and stating that this is not the time for “new projects”. So, for what’s it’s worth, I have not had time to clean out closets during this sheltered time, but have spent countless hours reading each email, attending briefings, digesting data, and am fully engaged in service to our community.

    I hope everyone can appreciate the level of concern each of us on the TC holds. We have some truly challenging waters to navigate; I encourage everyone to grab an oar and row together.

  9. I am going to drop the issue of how Ms. Young could possibly know what the “silent” people want. That was a spontaneous comment, not a well considered position. This statement is actually even more worrisome and reflects the Town Council’s misunderstanding of this issue: “I believe they also respect the TC’s responsibility — the health and welfare of ALL citizens and solvency of the Town’s finances, and it was precisely that responsibility which formed the foundation of my and the majority of the TC’s decision.” This statement starts out with health and welfare and ends with town finances, as if she puts the two on equal footing. Which makes sense because the town council clearly put finances above health in their decision. Start times is not an education issue. The goal is not higher test scores. The goal is healthier children. And in the midst of a health crisis (which is what is causing the financial crisis) we cut the one budget item that could actually improve our predicament. More sleep leads to more effective vaccines, for just one example. This is an issue that should concern the entire town. This is not an extra education “project”. It only falls into the education budget because only the schools can fix this. If every pediatrician in New Canaan plus the CDC, AAP and AMA told us we needed to remove the asbestos from the auditorium, we would get it done. We would not ask Dr. Luizzi to cut something else to do it. I hope the Town Council will look at it with that perspective when it comes back to them.

    • Karen, You know I have great respect for the work you have done and your passionate advocacy. However, I have stated in the past why I think your asbestos example, translated more accurately, only illustrates how many parents view the proposed change.

      Your proposal is not removing dangerous asbestos at all. It simply removes asbestos from the High School and puts it in the Elementary Schools. I am sure few people would agree that spending our taxes on something like that would be a good idea. Likewise, your proposal did not eliminate early start times at all. It simply moves them to elementary school children. Does the asbestos need to be removed? Yes. So let’s all work together to get it out of our schools responsibly.

      • Dr. Luizzi has repeatedly said that he believes the proposal that he has put forth is good for students and aligned with optimal learning times. Your statement above again seems to indicate that you do not trust his judgment or expertise or that of the many experts who have been consulted. Do you truly believe he lacks judgment and would propose a plan that is harmful to a group of students?

        Do you believe that private schools in our area that start at 8:00am and have students commuting in from other towns are misguided in their selection of the right time for elementary students to begin the day?

        I think it’s well understood that you do not like the proposal – and it will unfortunately have a negative impact on schedules for some families. But it is not a proposal from some parents who only care about older children; it’s a proposal developed by our very respected Superintendent and Administration after years of evaluation and feedback and one that they have repeatedly stated works well for all levels in our district.

        • Anne – I presume you have seen that around 17m Americans have filed for unemployment in the last three weeks, we are on day 20 of teaching kids at home and we have no visibility or defined criteria on when schools will reopen. I really think the BOE should be laser focussed on a plan for restarting schools and filling any gaps caused by elearning. Again if you and the BOE would like to see how to prioritize school start changes within the $90m budget go for it – right now I personally think we should be more focussed on other things.

      • It is irrelevant what town council (or you or me) thinks about the specific proposed schedule. As they repeatedly claimed, they aren’t making a decision about start times or trying to dictate policy – they were making a financial decision.

        And your asbestos analogy presumes a) a flipped schedule, which it is not and b) 7:50 start time is unhealthy for younger children, which it is not. Even if your oft-quoted study is completely accurate and what happens in KY would happen in CT – earlier start times for younger children result in negative school outcomes – there is a solution for that on the bedtime side of the equation. That annoying thing that uninformed people often say about this issue, like Robert Young writes above “current parents might consider stepping up with earlier bedtimes if/as needed and not attempt to spend money belonging to taxpayers.” – would actually be valid for my 8 year old. There is no such solution for the older kids. I understand the quality of life issues – the early bedtime when parents are getting home late, the potential need to end sports and other things earlier in the evening for young kids, the hour of childcare moved from the morning to the afternoon, for East & West families, etc. For some families, earlier is better and for some it is not. But it does not mean that any child has to lose sleep. And we are talking about 10 minutes. Unless money is in endless supply, it isn’t going to get any later than that.

  10. Let’s be sure respect generally accepted definitions and facts as we continue this healthy dialogue. Folks who take the time to attend hearings, study the issues, write letters, and speak publicly are active democratic participants, not ‘overspoken.’ Folks who are silent are just that. Silent. I would not pretend to understand the viewpoint of the Silent. Silent does not equate to ‘opposed.’ ‘Silent’ could have a cause championed if it were somehow communicated to TC Members. But in the sheer absence of that, is our TC charged with interpreting what silence means? Surely not.

    To ignore hundreds of active democratic participants who engaged in this process in favor of 50 actively opposed is to presumptively add those ‘silent’ to the 50. It invalidates the voice of the many, overstates the voice of the few, and somehow attributes a view to the silent. It presumes an awful lot.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *