NewCanaanite.com recently received the following letters to the editor.
In response to those petitioning for a referendum to cut next year’s school budget as a last ditch effort to stop Dr. Luizzi’s implementation of the Healthy Start Time Initiative, I feel compelled to speak up to support our Superintendent and our Board of Education.
For the past five years our school leaders diligently researched the complexities behind changing school start times in our town. Backed by their research, Dr. Luizzi and the BOE presented a plan that they believe will make NCPS schedules healthier for all our students. Our school leaders requested and were unanimously granted funding in the school budget to implement this much needed change.
Unfortunately, opponents to this change refuse to accept the evidence that Dr. Luizzi presented—evidence as to why the new schedule is in the best interest of all students, including elementary age students.
Opponents claim that they have not “been heard” and there just “has to be a better schedule” than the one Dr. Luizzi will pursue. In an effort to “be heard,” opponents are seeking to reduce the town’s education budget through a town wide referendum—one which will cost taxpayers at least $15,000. Not only is a referendum an expensive approach to voice displeasure with a school schedule change, this entire referendum effort is based on a false premise. The truth of the matter is that folks on both sides of this issue have been heard over and over again and there is no magical solution to make everyone happy. Dr. Luizzi and the BOE studied data from multiple sources including transportation consultants and independent consulting firms. Parents, students, and community members have written and spoken on multiple occasions on both sides of this issue. Parent opinion is simply one aspect of Dr. Luizzi’s thoughtful and deliberate decision making process.
As part of this referendum effort, opponents are now reaching out to preschool parents to persuade them that Dr. Luizzi’s proposal will harm their children when they reach elementary school. They claim to have “science” to support this assertion but in fact, they are basing this claim on a non-peer reviewed Kentucky school study that can easily be distinguished from our school system.
The assertion that Dr. Luizzi has willfully chosen a plan that harms elementary students is intellectually insulting. The assertion that opponents “know a better plan exists but Dr. Luizzi just hasn’t thought of it” is equally absurd. Five years of research have gone into studying the various complexities of NCPS that opponents either refuse to acknowledge or simply choose to ignore.
For clarity, Dr. Luizzi’s healthy start time initiative:
1 will not ever pick up or drop off any student in the dark
2 will result in all 3 elementary schools finally having aligned schedules
3 will better meet students’ circadian rhythm sleep cycles by age group
4 will include after school care options for working families
5 includes elementary start times that are in line with many top performing school districts
It’s time we come together as a community to support our school leaders the same way they have supported us throughout the current pandemic. A referendum demanding a cut to the school budget achieves the opposite; it says we do not trust our school leaders to make informed decisions, especially when those decisions differ from our personal views.
Our Superintendent is a highly credentialed thoughtful individual who is deliberate in his decision making in all aspects of student health and wellness. His judgement and actions which kept our kids safe and in school this year should serve as a reminder of his commitment to our entire community. This was no small feat.
Regarding changing school start times, Dr. Luizzi has reminded us many times that the districts that have successfully made the change have done so by thoroughly researching exactly how the change would affect each segment of their educational ecosystem. Dr. Luizzi understands the nuances of implementing this change for NCPS. It was a massive undertaking and one that he did not take lightly.
A backward looking referendum to cut the school budget sends a terrible message of distrust in a time when our Superintendent has done everything right.
The undersigned have watched with interest the debate over the preservation of the 1913 shell of The New Canaan Library. Both of us grew up in the Children’s Room of The New Canaan Library and are sympathetic to those who have such lasting memories of their first positive library experience associated with the Children’s Room and the ongoing commitment to the Library. As a former President of the Library for four years and on its building committee for over fifteen years in addition to having served as a selectman, 12 years on the Town Council, Chairman of the Town Garage Building Committee, the Police EMS Study Committee of 2003-2004, the Town Hall Building Committee of 2004-2005 and a former member of the New Canaan Historical Society. Mr. Stewart has served on literally every board in New Canaan, including the Library, Chairman of the Fire Commission, Member and President of the Chamber of Commerce, President of the Historical Society and numerous other appointments. Both of us are graduates of the New Canaan public school system and New Canaan High School.
The debate over the preservation of the shell is fraught with emotion but factually is quite distinct. The building itself with its foundation, roof, asbestos and internal structure, is simply not worth preserving. While the façade may engender emotion, the internal organ of the building is a 100-years old and in no fashion to be updated without an enormous cost. People have forgotten that the windows which now seem so sentimental were boarded up during one renovation and opened up when the Salant Room became the Salant Room after being utilized as the Director’s Office. The current gallery was a portion of the Children’s Room and in the course of that renovation, asbestos was uncovered and had to be abated at a considerable cost.
The varied functions of a new modern facility have been articulated by the current staff far better than we can reiterate. What is most important is that the project which is so forward thinking and would result in a building looking ahead for another 100-years use far outweighs the sentimentality about where we first read a book that intrigued us. The current plan calling for the removal of the 1913 shell presents the opportunity to make a architectural, educational and societal commitment to the Town of New Canaan, which few private projects have ever engendered.
The ability for the Library to continue to raise the amount of money necessary to make the project viable would be compromised in the extreme by having a memorandum of understanding which allowed for two years to pass before a third-party group might be able to raise sufficient funds to resurrect the 100-year-old building.
Further, the Library is under no legal compulsion to give the building to anyone. The Library is a private 501c(3) library and until the present has never received capital dollars from the Town of New Canaan for its building or improvements. The civil importance of a new library enhancing the Town’s effort to increase civic knowledge, be available for civic interaction and education is a goal that should not be thwarted by clinging to a unrealistic plan to reuse a 100-year-old building, which is in terrible mechanical condition.
For all these reasons, we support the Library’s plan and urge the Planning and Zoning Commission not to incorporate any decision in their zoning decisions which mandates the use or non-use of private property, which is not within its statutory authority.
Sperry A. DeCew
Thanks to all who registered to learn about the “three E’s” of housing–equity, economics, and the environment–at our last New Canaan Talks Housing conversation on Thursday, April 15th. While our three panelists represent different interests and most likely differ in their politics, when it comes to housing they speak with one voice: CT’s current zoning is leaving all of us behind.
By contextualizing the housing challenges in our state (including New Canaan), these experts shed light on such questions as, Why are housing options for the middle class dwindling? Where can people reasonably park in more dense town centers? Should home ownership be prioritized? Is affordable housing the same as housing affordability? How do we break free from dueling extremes, so the rest of us can find common ground and craft constructive policies?
Whatever best practices are advanced at the State level, local towns must apply those tools in ways that make the most sense for them. This is good news for New Canaan, where we’re fortunate to have capable leadership on this front. Having diversified our housing more than most, this is all the more reason to continue our learning and progress. If you missed this informative panel discussion and would like to view the recording, click this link: New Canaan Talks Housing — FCCHO.
Beth Jones and Miki Porta
I am reminded everyday about how lucky we are to live in the great community that is New Canaan – with our beautiful parks, vibrant downtown, excellent schools, resourceful and well-managed library, superb health and human resources, top-rated financial management, historic charm and heritage, and the highest quality in public infrastructure and safety.
Above all else, it is the community of good people that serve on our public and non-profit boards and commissions and the governing processes that cultivate and collaborate to ensure the sustainability and growth in all that we hold dear.
The future of the New Canaan Library is indeed one in which the vast majority of New Canaanites support with respect to the innovative design and concept developed by good people over many years of vision and cultivation.
At the same time, many good people who support the new library also hope to honor our Town’s history and to see the heritage of the original library be preserved perhaps as a gallery or a space that provides purpose and value to the library and its patrons. Concurrently, many other good people have voiced their support for the full library plan which calls for demolition of the 1913 library in favor of a lovely green. And finally, perhaps most good people in our community would simply like to see a new library built no matter what the final path forward may be.
I commend all great ideas from the governing bodies and individuals in our community. I have consistently stated my personal support of the new library and my hope that common ground can be found in progress and preservation. Furthermore, I fully respect the next steps in the process and decisions that are before the Planning & Zoning Commission and Town Council, regardless of the outcome.
As a community, we have a lot to be thankful for. In the spirit of thanksgiving, let us find the best in all of us to set aside divisiveness, respect one another and support the process. I know that the individuals who serve have the best interests of the community in the forefront of their decision making and that ultimately, we all will be able to enjoy a great new library.
Kathleen A. Corbet
Selectman, Town of New Canaan
I am part of a growing group of concerned parents in New Canaan, opposed to sending our children to school at 7:45am, who have spent countless hours advocating for our children and our families. We have researched the issue, studied the science, attended, and combed through Board of Education (BOE) and Town Council meetings, written letters and emails, publicly spoken, submitted editorials, asked for meetings and anything else you can think of that a person can possibly do to implore the BOE to come up with a better, healthier and more equitable plan. Most recently, left with no further recourse, we have been pounding the pavement collecting signatures for a referendum on the initial $463,337 down payment to the $1 million plan. Believe me when I say that with small children, we all have better things to do. We all wish there were another way to get any type of response. It should not have come to this and yet here we are.
Our job has only been made more difficult by the marked lack of communication from the administration and BOE. A plan that gives our elementary schools the earliest start time in Connecticut and forces initial bus pick-ups near 7:00AM is a drastic change. As NCPS parents, we receive emails from the administration or our respective schools weekly and yet there has been little or no mention of this schedule change since January 2020. Parents who have attempted to inform each other of the change have been told that they cannot use their children’s class lists or any other school email list to discuss the schedule change. So, it appears that not only will the schedule change not be communicated by the administration, but parents are not allowed to speak to each other about it. This runs counter to a healthy, free, and democratic society.
The administration contends that parents of elementary students have been engaged throughout and that they are working with the community on after school care. A simple canvasing of the community draws this claim into question. As we approach parents, churches, preschools, and other businesses we are increasingly shocked by how few people know about the planned change. Preschool parents, in particular, have been blindsided by this proposed change.
Instead, the approach is to silence or simply ignore those demanding a better plan. The BOE has completely fallen off the radar and vocal advocates of the new start times are attempting to paint those opposed as unsupportive of the administration and the BOE. This is patently false. Most of us think they have done an exceptionally good job with COVID and in general have our full support. One can respect and applaud our educational leaders and challenge their decisions. Proponents of the new plan challenged our current schedule at the start of their campaign and were heralded as champions of teen health. They were given a seat at the table. Similarly, we believe the new plan will be unhealthy for our young children and our families, and we are speaking out, but our concerns are falling on deaf ears. Why should the wants of the few outweigh the needs of the many?
We hope that it is abundantly clear to all that we are fighting to give our young children what we feel is a fair start to their school experience. We are fighting for their health and the health of our families. Our efforts and concerns warrant acknowledgment and meaningful engagement by the BOE and the administration. And for those thwarting our efforts, realize that you would likely be doing the exact same for your child if you had no other alternative. Let’s work towards a plan that honors the needs of ALL of our children.
Those wanting to sign the petition for a referendum to hold off the midyear winter implementation of this plan until we see its impact on our children and community can email firstname.lastname@example.org or they can find out more information on www.ncstarttimeequity.org.
As a New Canaan business owner and a proud resident, I voice my support for the New Canaan Library’s planned renovation. It is clear that the new library as planned will be an amazing draw for our community for years to come. It truly is a game changer.
To further delay the incredible efforts of the New Canaan Library, their board, and their volunteers to build the world-class facility New Canaan deserves would be a real disservice to the town. This is a once in a generation opportunity.
There has been considerable debate and that is healthy. Though I do feel that the louder dissenting opinions offer a false promise of a compromise of keeping the 1913 building (and apparently the 1930 addition, since it is the load-bearing section) on premises and renovating the library. I understand the original building has historic charm. But this building has unfortunately served its practical utility and useful life. To make it safe and bring it up to modern building code would be cost prohibitive. The building sits on library land and it is not part of the library’s well-thought-out and beautiful design.
Would the 1913 building and its 1930 addition serve as a museum? If it no longer serves the library and the community then what is its purpose? As one resident so aptly explained during Thursday night’s P&Z hearing, New Canaan is a special community and “a community is not a façade of a building.”
We should be fully supportive of this plan for the brand-new New Canaan Library and Green as well as proud of this first-rate organization and its volunteers for their years of dedication and forward-thinking. As a friend articulated it so clearly “the library is New Canaan and New Canaan is the library.”
There has been a groundswell of support in town for the new library. The business community supports it and our Chamber of Commerce has formally endorsed the plan. The town supports the new library renovation as planned through their pledge of $10 million, the parking agreement in the under-utilized center school lot, and the contribution of approximately $450k in 2016 to purchase the adjacent South avenue property for the library. Let’s not stand in the way by putting up obstacles and insisting on prohibitive conditions.
We should marvel at the $16.5 million raised on the strength and vision of their carefully considered and executed plan. The town and our residents will benefit for years from this world-class library. The plan also offers an excellent value proposition for the town – a $40 million library for a $10 million investment.
This is a gift to New Canaan! Let’s not squander this opportunity.
I am heartened that the BOE is working to make sure that kids don’t start school at 7:30.
Considering this, it is unclear why the BOE believes the right solution for New Canaan is to start 1,500 Elementary School kids at 7:45. There is no science that says that kids between 4 and 10 learn best at that time, no local, state, national or international data that makes this a ‘normal’ start for such aged kids, and the leading national sleep later advocacy group specifically says no child of any age should be required to be in school earlier than 8am.
Critically for New Canaan, the BOE proposal does not fit in with the existing childcare infrastructure of town (most PreK programs – including the one run by the NCPS – start at 9am or later). Oddly Saxe 5-6 would start 90 minutes after the Elementary schools. The icing on the cake is a mid-year implementation, at a half year cost of close to $500,000. Simultaneously the BOE is not sure that we will have full 5 days per week of in person schooling next year.
The NCPS employs around 1,000 people and has around 4,200 students. When you add (non-enrolled) siblings and parents to this list, you can see that the NCPS has a profound impact on a large percentage of the residents of New Canaan. It is important that any change is for the better for the town in total – not just swapping one bad situation for another.