Op-Ed: The 36-Cent Solution

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In April the Town Council was asked to make a choice. Should we provide funding for start time changes to increase sleep for 2,700 students, thereby improving their health and safety? Or, should we reduce property taxes on median-value homes by about $11 a month—the equivalent of 36 cents a day? 

By an 8-4 vote, the Town Council chose the 36-cent solution. 

We believe when families move to New Canaan an implicit bargain is struck. The Board of Education agrees to provide great schools while taxpayers agree to provide sufficient funds to keep them great. The 36-cent solution prevented taxpayers from keeping that bargain. We hope examining the reasons for the Town Council vote will lead to better decisions in the future. 

After three years of study, the Board of Education decided to move start times at Saxe and the high school to 8:30 a.m. or later in response to recommendations from the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Similar changes had been made in Greenwich, Wilton, Norwalk and Westport. The benefits to students would have included: strengthened immune systems, improved emotional health and lower rates of depression, fewer injuries from car accidents, and greater mental acuity. Prominent local pediatrician Bill Flynn said, “No decision I am aware of . . . has ever had the power to improve the lives of almost all of the children in town as much as this decision on school start times.” The changes would have gone into effect in August. 

Some families would have been inconvenienced by the schedule changes, but most seemed to approve. Of 459 emails sent to the Town Council on the subject, only 62 said the changes were a bad idea. Critics said we can’t expect all 2,700 students to get more sleep, but even if only half do, the benefits would be well worth the cost. 

Members of the Town Council majority insisted their purpose was merely to cut $1,143,000 (in addition to a Board of Finance cut of $752,000) from the school budget in order to enforce a percentage cap on spending growth. School leaders warned that a cut of this magnitude would force them to cancel the start time initiative and cancel it they did. 

It is and should be a core purpose of the Town Council to review, critique and approve financial matters to ensure the Town and the Schools operate effectively and efficiently. It’s also true that New Canaan wants great schools and can afford to maintain them. While Town Council members no doubt were sincere in their attempt to balance these priorities, some may have been swayed by two popular myths. 

The first myth is school budget cuts help solve major financial problems facing the community at large. In fact, tax relief of 36 cents a day is nowhere near enough to alleviate economic hardships (from COVID-19 or otherwise), influence home values, or persuade older residents to remain in New Canaan. Nor do such small amounts provide a meaningful hedge against the risk that Hartford could transfer liabilities–such as teacher pensions–to New Canaan. School budget cuts do provide a modicum of tax relief to individuals, but that’s the only benefit against which we should weigh the downside. 

The second myth, exposed this year, is school leaders can find a way to absorb arbitrary spending caps of almost any magnitude without impacting their ability to maintain great schools. Critics often cite a history of “inexorable spending increases” to explain why they believe school spending is unnecessary. Let’s look at the facts. 

Cost increases in the school budget in recent years have been modest. But for the Town Council cut, the 5-year annual growth rate would have been 1.7%. Reflecting the cut, the 5-year growth rate will be 1.36%. 

New Canaan continues to spend less than comparable school districts, as shown here for the year ending June 30, 2020. 

Area District Per-Student Spending

School DistrictPer-Pupil Expenses
Weston$23,297
Greenwich$23,220
Westport$22,364
Wilton$21,751
Darien$21,444
New Canaan$21,127
Ridgefield$20,496
Source: Connecticut Department of Education

=

Our numbers relative to other towns will decline further due to the Town Council’s decision to cut school spending by 0.6%, the first year-over-year cut in memory. By comparison, Wilton and Greenwich are keeping their school budgets flat this year, while four other towns approved school budget increases: Ridgefield (+1.75%), Weston (+2.9%), Darien (+3.4%) and Westport (+3.4%). 

The majority of the Town Council seems to believe that the general public supports cutting the school budget, but we urge them to read the results of the 2020 Community Survey. Respondents said the town should increase (27%) or at least retain (56%) current levels of school spending. Only 13.7% want us to spend less. 

The survey also shows that 73% of respondents agreed that “Living in New Canaan is a good value for the taxes I pay and the services I receive.” People know the relationship between education quality and property taxes is more favorable here than in any wealthy suburb in Westchester County, Northern New Jersey, or Nassau and Suffolk Counties. This is borne out by an Aug. 7 New York Times article, “Leaving New York: How To Choose The Right Suburb,” in which the author touts 17 homes in eight tri-state suburbs as particularly good values. The average mill rate in these towns is 72% higher than New Canaan’s. 

The New Canaan public schools are earning universal praise for the quality and quantity of education they are providing during the coronavirus pandemic. If it weren’t for their reputation as great schools, the current boom in home sales may not be occurring. If we want our schools to maintain their stellar reputation, we need to stop undermining their effectiveness with arbitrary and inflexible spending caps. In some cases, caps can provide helpful guidance, but actual budgets should reflect the values and priorities our community embraces.

Tom Butterworth (Republican) and Mark Grzymski (Democrat) are Town Council members who voted against the cut to the 2020-2021 school budget. 

32 thoughts on “Op-Ed: The 36-Cent Solution

  1. The authors knowingly mislead residents on town/BOE spending. You both seem to be fine with throwing many of your colleagues on the Town Council, and others on the BOF, under the bus for disagreeing with your incomplete and distorted viewpoints, while trying to shame them in the process for trying to be balanced for one year in their budgetary decisions between spending more every year and fiscal prudence in the face of sharply declining home values over the last 15 years and COVID. I’m sure they appreciate it! Be clear on what you both think: property taxes should be raised on residents on average at least 2% a year even if we go through long periods of home declines (or face a global pandemic). A few areas where you are misleading in your missive:

    1. Telling people that the BOE budget was down without pointing out that the operating budget was up over 2% year over year is either incomplete, misleading, or both. Lower health care claims experienced last year is separate from the BOE operating budget, which is the relevant metric.

    2. Not including New Canaan’s disproportionately high BOE debt service versus our peer towns in per student spending is incomplete, misleading, or both. All costs need to be included in per student costs to present an apples to apples comparison, otherwise the BOE can just fund it’s entire budget with debt and show per student costs of $0 until the debt matures/interest expenses are recognized. You both ignore this debt service expense, even knowing New Canaan has the highest town/city debt per capita in a spendthrift state. New Canaan also has the second highest town/city spending per resident in the state, but this is conveniently ignored by you both. Nothing gets the spending shaft in New Canaan! We’re the landlord of 57 town-owned properties!

    3. Tom, characterizing yourself as a Republican or fiscal conservative while advocating for budgets that only align revenues (from property taxes) with expenses through large tax rate increases is, at least the very least, misleading. If someone doesn’t believe that revenues and expenses should be aligned over time without large tax rate increases they are not a Republican. So just be transparent with residents, that you, like Mark, are a liberal when it relates to taxes and spending in New Canaan.

    Finally, from an ethical perspective, if one is convinced that more spending every year equals better educational outcomes, why are you both more focused on whether New Canaan spends enough money to refurbish their planetarium while many kids in Bridgeport, Danbury, and other towns/cities don’t have distance learning devices (Danbury’s spending per student is around $14,000 vs ours including all costs is around $24,000 per student)? The reality is ~80% of the variance in standardized test scores in CT on which school rankings are based are attributable to two factors: the educational attainment of the parents and whether the child is coming from a single or non-single parent home: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2004/rpt/2004-R-0005.htm.

    The bottomline is New Canaan has spent around $1 billion dollars over the last 10 years to support our schools (there is plenty of room for later starts for all kids, not just some, if that was prioritized), that our school spending is inordinately high once all costs are included, and that the increase in property taxes of ~2% plus every year that you and others advocate for has diminishing returns, like all excess government spending. This excess spending has little to no impact on educational outcomes, and you’ve never shown any data to reinforce your view that it necessary. The town of New Canaan would be just fine if our very high levels of spending were merely held flat for a few years, lessening the tax burden of all residents while maintaining high quality services. You are falling into the same excessive spending trap that CT has, and should know better.

    • Thank Jim for the analysis on the numbers. What do you estimate the true total cost per pupil to be for New Canaan including the proportional cost of the debt?

      Last year, most of the surrounding towns actually had cuts across all budgets as they prepared for the potential impacts of the pandemic. Greenwich cut $3MM from its school budget with Darien initially looking at a $1MM cut but then agreeing on a $.572K cut.

      It is probably time to revisit the BOE model and perhaps implement a BOE base tax for all residents with then an additional fee for those that use the schools. I know that has been successful in other states.

      Thanks

      • Jennifer, here are the figures that Tom, Mark, et al., don’t want residents to know: inclusive of all costs to taxpayers, New Canaan’s per student spend was ~$24,600 as of last year when I did the analysis (someone can update it if they wish). Here’s the calculation for that: according to the BOF 2019-2020 Budget Guideline spreadsheet the amount of New Canaan BOE debt expense in fiscal year ’18 was ~$9.2 million. This compares to Town debt expense of ~$8.2 million. Adding the ’18 BOE debt expense to the proposed BOE budget at that time and dividing by student enrollment equated to taxpayer spending per student of ~$24,600.

        New Canaan’s total town debt when I did the analysis was ~75% greater than the average of other towns in the District Reference Group (DRG, group of surrounding peer towns). This data came from the State’s CERC database, which one can Google. If one makes a reasonable assumption that NC’s BOE debt/student is roughly 75% greater than other towns in the DRG , average DRG spending/student would be ~$22,450 on an apples to apples comparison to New Canaan’s ~$24,600 at that time. NC’s proposed spending/student was roughly 10% higher than the current spending of other towns in the DRG if all relevant taxpayer costs are included. The national average in per student spending is roughly half that at ~$12,600 (US Census data: https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2020/school-system-finances.html).

        I, and many others, find it extremely frustrating when government representatives mislead residents or obfuscate reality to suit their agenda. Let the data speak and be transparent with people. Present a balanced analysis so people can decide for themselves the right course without being compromised by a representative’s bias, dogma, and ignorance. If calling that out in a non-milquetoast way is uncivil, so be it.

        Some residents might be fine with paying those higher costs and a difference of opinions is OK as long as though opinions are based on facts. Residents shouldn’t erroneously assuming more educational spending equals better outcomes. The reality is there is no correlation between per student spending and standardized test scores in CT (see here: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2004/rpt/2004-R-0005.htm). This and other data analysis formed the basis for why I believed that BOE spending should be held flat during a period of significant home devaluation and much higher tax rates in New Canaan and CT. The latter making us less competitive with Greenwich (mill rate of ~11), Westport (mill rate ~16), and Darien (mill rate ~16) versus New Canaan (mill rate ~18). We’re not only competing against other towns, we’re competing against other states with a much lower cost basis for increasingly mobile residents.

        • Thanks James and extremely insightful. Surrounding towns with lower mill rates and excellent schools puts New Canaan at a disadvantage. I agree with your statement on transparency and numbers. Presenting a balanced and fact based discussion is key to solving these questions. Thank you for providing the information.

  2. Thank you Tom Butterworth and Mark Grzymski ! Your thoughtful and logical leadership is truly appreciated.

    Now, more than ever, we should support our school board and their efforts to optimize student health and to follow medical guidelines.

    • There must be a solution that would enable us to follow in the footsteps of our surrounding towns and implement later start times for teens.
      The interest in this issue has far from gone away. Understandably, COVID issues were a primary concern and I understand the decision to postpone the school start time adjustments for one year.
      I hear and comprehend both sides of this issue but I feel this change is imperative . The urgency is palpable among so many parents I speak to. Where there is a will, there is way and this issue is worth a fresh look. There must be a workable solution.

  3. Any changes to school start times must take all grades into account. The proposed plan in the spring would have had kindergarteners getting on the bus as early as 7:06 AM. This is unacceptable. Starting high school later may be a worthy goal, but it cannot be done at the expense of our elementary school students. We need a revamped solution that provides reasonable start times to all.

    • Hi Amy, Thanks for this reminder. And to add – the 2nd opinion from a school bus consultant had bus pick up at 7:01 – even earlier. It isn’t safe as we have seen recently with the accident in town. For sure a fresh start with collaborative goals is due.

  4. Leave the start times as is. The HS students won’t get out of bed any quicker or more happily than an hour earlier, anyway. Throughout history people and children get up with the sun and before, and we have managed fine with no adverse declines in brain power. We are coddling these kids too much and making them feel TOO precious. Doing earlier times significantly messed up the days for everyone, especially working parents. And trying to schedule after school activities and sports was a nightmare. I had 3 kids go through from k-12 and no way would I want a small child going off to school in the dark or even that early.

  5. By accusing us of being “knowingly misleading” (essentially tarring us as liars in his very first sentence!), Mr. Basch evokes the vitriolic tone of national politics that we all abhor. It reminds us why so many residents grimace at his posts. Civility would make James much more persuasive on the many issues on which he provides significant value. School funding is not yet one of them.

    The gist of his “misleading” argument is that James no longer likes the scope of expenses which the Board of Education has always included in the school budget, how the budget is compared with earlier years and with other towns, and how it’s compiled and reported by the State Department of Education. In the interest of clarity, we chose to honor convention.

    Readers are more than capable of seeing the disconnect between the content of our OpEd and what James claims it says. One assertion demands comment, however: To defend his argument he overstates our ten-year school costs by hundreds of millions of dollars. But to attack our argument he sharpens his pencil and vehemently opposes having taxpayers spend 36 cents a day on the health and safety of 2700 students.

    The essential questions shouldn’t be muddled by the rhetorical fog: Do we want great schools, and can we afford them? We believe the great majority of residents would say yes and yes.

    • Once again, misleading people Tom.  I’ve been inclined to speak and write frequently, whether it be against forced school regionalization and the gross fiscal mismanagement of our state, or regarding local matters. I do this because I want to get to the truth and make common sense changes, even if it means ruffling feathers. I have voiced publicly many times and written my support for later start times for all kids, not just some as you do.  I think there is ample room within a $92 million operating/health budget for the BOE for later start times for all kids.  I also believe in fiscal prudence, meaning keeping revenues and expenses aligned over time excluding major property tax rate increases.   You have no qualms with major property tax rate increases in New Canaan, and have advocated for them multiple times.  As a result, I think it’s fair to call you a fiscal liberal when it comes to spending matters.  That’s your record.

      As far as school support goes, adding the operating, health, and capital/BOE interest expense to finance our schools, we’re at around $1 billion over the last 10 years.  You can fill in what you think is the real number adding all these categories but it would require you to dig deeper into the numbers, something you have been loath to do as it relates to school spending.

      As far as the grimace reaction to my posts, sometimes the truth in politics hurts and thank you for reinforcing that I and others must be doing something right in fighting for fiscal prudence through objective analysis and common sense ideas.  You and Mark have chosen a well-trodden political path: shame anyone who disagrees, mislead them with half-truths, and provide zero objective data or real analysis to back up their points.  It is the same sophomoric and ignorant tact taken in federal and state politics, to everyone’s detriment.

      The reality is the operating budget of the BOE was increased last year.  The accumulation of years of over-estimating health care reserves reversed and had a one-time positive impact on the non-operating portion of the BOE budget.  You and Mark chose not to be transparent with residents about this.  Try to use some common sense and answer this, how is it that New Canaan has the second — or third depending on the database — highest spending per resident of 169 towns/cities in spendthrift CT without spending a very high amount on our schools, which consume almost 70% (including BOE debt expense) of our annual budget? It is not because our other departments outside of the BOE spend an inordinate amount of money. It is because every department in New Canaan spends a lot of money relative to almost virtually all other towns in CT and beyond. So your Unicef-commercial of 36 cents a day rings hollow to me and many others! We’re privileged don’t you know! Danbury spends around $14,000 per student a year (maybe a little higher with debt service) compared to our ~$24,000 a year. They have kids that don’t have access to distance learning devices in COVID. You complain when our kids might not have access to a refurbished planetarium.

      Our schools are ranked very highly because we have generally excellent teachers and administrators, parents with high levels of educational attainment and deep resources to invest in their kids’ education, high functioning family units, and a demography where few students are learning English as a second language (see this study as a reference point: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2004/rpt/2004-R-0005.htm).  It’s not because of class size — reading and math scores are highest in Asia where average class-room size is around 30 — or any other spending metric you and Mark believe while only ever doing superficial analysis.

  6. Amy Zinser highlights the key point. I am all for high school students getting more sleep but not at the expense or elementary school kids. I realize there is clinical data that shows young children are more alert in the morning but I’d like to know if any of those clinicians have gotten small kids up and out of the house in the dark.

  7. Thank you Tom Butterworth and Mark Grzymski for your thoughtful analysis and concern for the well being of our youth! Following the medical guidelines of the CDC, AMA, and AAP are more important than ever. Our Board of Education has consistently shown their leadership and logical decision making process throughout the years, especially in response to COVID and safely keeping our children in school. Thank you to our outstanding BOE leadership team.

  8. Thank you for your unwavering support of healthy start times. Sufficient sleep is one of the most important components of a healthy immune system. Now, more than ever, we need to give our tweens and teens the opportunity to achieve a healthy amount of nightly sleep. I hope we will follow the guidance of the CDC, AAP, AMA, our local pediatricians, and our BOE and make a positive change for the next school year.

  9. I think any person familiar with this issue should be insulted by this Op-Ed. I believe it contains omissions of fact and shows misstatements that many, even those who support this plan, have acknowledged. Frankly, I would have hoped we were past these tactics by now. I will try and just clarify the primary misleading points.
    1. Wow!!! At this stage to just mention the potential additional sleep of some older students, ignoring the fact that it would also be at the expense of our youngest elementary school kids, is very disappointing. I remind you that this town has 3 elementary schools and we actually have over 4,000 children in our school system, and not 2,700. To simply pretend that these children do not exist or completely ignore the potential harm it can cause to our children is perhaps most insulting.
    2. You have conveniently broken out the expense on a per household basis, I will just hope that you calculated it on an objective and factual footing. I am not sure if you contemplated the running costs or the likely substantive additional costs associated with this plan (please refer to the operating budget on those items). However, if you claim that the additional cost comes down to 36 cents a day, what would be the cost of a solution that does not impose such sleep deprivation on our youngest learners? an additional nickel? a dime? maybe a quarter? Unfortunately, we don’t know because not a single other scenario appears to have been priced out.
    3. The letter further references reports that indicate that High Schoolers are not getting enough sleep and references reports on recommended hours of sleep. Again, neglecting the fact that those same tables recommend considerably more sleep for a children as young as 5 or 6. You also go on to mention potential effects of lack of sleep on older children in our school system, as if sleep deprivation does not affect younger children or that they can somehow identify or deal with lack sleep better. I remind you that these children will be building their educational foundation and to potentially sabotage children at this stage could have effects on our school system for the next 10+ years.
    4. In regards to the changing of high school start times in neighboring towns. Perhaps you neglected to research the fact that these HS school start time changes did not simply swap their elementary school start times. As a matter of fact, other school boards specifically decided against such a decision. The schedule changes in towns that you mention would have approximately an hour later elementary school start times than this plan and not the earliest elementary school start times in all of Ct, as proposed. Again, I remind you that we do have elementary school children in this town.
    5. Now, if you look at the budget issues you raise I think you are aware of the one-time health care claim gain that occurred. If one wants to see what the BOE is spending than you should consider the operating budget, which contrary to your assertions appears to be 2% higher than the previous year. In addition, any company or family would consider its debt service and outstanding debt as key to their financial analysis. Not sure why the town shouldn’t
    6. Finally, the author also states his interpretation of the results of a number of surveys which are general and in no way represent any views on this proposal. In addition, the survey can be also interpreted as satisfaction and preference for the way things currently are and not the result of some large proposed change that would effect so many and could be detrimental to our school system for years to come.

    In respect to the Town Councils budget decision this year I believe that its concerns about the potential effects of Covid -19 and the ever increasing annual BOE budget have been validated. I am sure few predicted we would be where we are now nearly half a year ago, but some members of the Town Council had the foresight to account for this possible scenario. I believe as of August the BOE contemplated a potential $2 million budget add due to Covid-19 to help keep our children as safe as possible. This is needed money that I am sure almost all parents would support. I along with many others commend the excellent job that Dr Luizzi and the staff are doing during these trying times, but unfortunately none of us know exactly what is in store for us in the months ahead and hopes and wishes do not pay the bills.
    As always, if people feel that I am inaccurate in my assessment of this letter I am happy to discuss and will always respect others concerns.

    • Thank you James. Excellent summary of many of the points that frustrated so many during the last budget process. As a reminder as well the scenario represented in the budget and costs skyrocketed versus the original proposed amount. The sentiment of so many was that we all support appropriate school time but for all students not just some and that we can do better. This was expressed through many parents attending BOE public sessions, the results of BOE sponsored surveys, a majority of parents at a special public BOE session (this is public record, you can count the the responses that drew a packed room) and a petition signed by parents, students, and community members still live to today. The petition garnered just under 500 signatures in as little as 48 hours.

      To discount these voices and project that the letters written during the last hours of town budgeting as a “representative vote” is shameful. The vote was just as we were sheltering in place, families adjusting to distance learning and most not even sure the process in town. The voices of so many who asked the administration to do better, in their two minutes to speak, were ignored and railroaded into bad scenario after bad scenario over the course of the budgeting process.

      It is simple – how many buses does it take to get all students to school between the hours of 8 and 9 considering our hard limitations of miles of road and time needed to get to class in the morning. Everything else is negotiable – cost for buses, exact scenario of who starts when, fresh look at collapsing 5-8 grade to avoid complexities of Saxe, South and HS traffic patterns. etc. These were never answered as well as calls for collaboration – to work together to find a solution vs finding a solution to fit an open hole in an already inflated budget. Answers were also avoided in response to why a proper RFP was not included in the due diligence. NYC Transit, the most complex transit system in our country, requires an RFP for any cost over $15,000 yet we didn’t do one. How can we be sure we are getting the best cost?

      In regards to other towns and budgets. Westport changed school start times with zero cost implication for the budget working with a cross collaborative team of administration, town officials and “civilians”. Greenwich flipped their decision of having earlier start times for elementary when the heard the voices of elementary school parents cry out against it. Their cost was minimal and adjustments were made to the benefit of all students. Weston adjusted their school times, albeit not between 8-9 but much better at zero cost to the budget. I had the pleasure of spending my days this summer working next to (socially distant) a member of Weston’s BOE and they got to it by hard budgeting discussion and cost efficiencies and yet not a single program for the children was cut. The answer is not always to add more but to add smartly. These school systems are excellent as well – why should we not expect the same.

      I strongly believe no one doesn’t want to provide the best for our children. It is why many of us chose this town. It is why we work so hard. It is why we speak out. But if we are going to spend the money – let’s spend it wisely – let’s at least acknowledge and address the concerns. To quote one of the courageous parents who came to the special public session on start times – “Hear us, see us – we are right in front of you”.

      To try and convert this as a matter of cents alone as James said is insulting and divisive. We are better than that.

  10. We should respect Dr. Luizzi’s and the BOE’s work over the last three years in proposing a system that best supports the health of all students. Strong immune systems are more important than ever, and it’s vital that we solve for the 2000 chronically sleep deprived students. The comprehensive research has been done, all the BOE meetings are available online. Thank you Tom and Mark for your sensible analysis and support.

  11. As a parent with children at the high school, middle school and elementary (kindergarten) and also a younger one waiting for his turn, I appreciate Tom and Mark continuing to support this important issue for the health of our children. I fully support funding this initiative in the 2020/21 school budget.

  12. Thank you Mark and Tom for your leadership and support of our schools and town. As parents of two elementary students and one at Saxe, we appreciate your continued support of Dr. Luizzi’s proposal for healthy start times and a better system for students. The exemplary approach to safely reopening our schools this year is just one more example of the outstanding leadership and decision-making by our Superintendent, Administration and BOE.

  13. This morning is the 4th day since March 11th that the entire school district will be open for in person learning at one time. Instead of focussing (celebrating) on that, and that all our kids wear masks all day (how many of us are going to wear masks each day after this is over?), and that we have more than 100 kids and staff in quarantine (this may be necessary but it is certainly not ‘normal’ nor I doubt great for those impacted), and that just last evening Dr. Luizzi talked about the challenge of keeping schools open each day the rest of the year, we are talking about changed school start times for next year. Do we even know when all these Covid procedures are going to end – will they even be done by Sept 2021 (it appears to depend on who you ask)?
    I don’t get it really – hit pause on this issue and focus on the really critical priorities i.e. getting and keeping all kids in school each and every day of the school year and providing them an excellent and affordable education.

    • Giacomo: it’s up to the Board of Education, of course, to decide whether to pursue start time changes for fall 2021, and if they choose to defer it for any reason, we’ll support that. Our argument is that funding should be available whenever BOE decides to pull the trigger. All else being equal, the benefits to adolescents will be significant as soon as start time changes are implemented, and may have been even greater during a pandemic because of strengthened immune systems.

      • Whatever is proposed by the BOE, and funded by town residents and property owners, lets just make sure it is a decision focussed on what is best for all kids in our school district i.e. K-12. I don’t know why there is a prioritization of a subset of children (adolescents in your note above or the 2,700 out of 4,200 students in the original piece) on this sleep discussion. And yes for transparency my kids are 7, 5 and 2 so I am biased to the younger set, and am well versed in issues associated with early mornings (and sleep time) with young kids :-).

      • Sorry Tom, “All else being equal”? In case you are not familiar with the entire proposal it will certainly not be “equal” for elementary school children, so why just caveat the proposal when we all know who you are ignoring. And again I remind you elementary schools likely represent the largest of the 3 school tiers and in many ways helps drive the decision of new families to move to this town. And yes sleep is important for adolescents, but last I checked young children need sleep as well, often more, and I believe elementary school aged children have immune systems too. So you appear to be purposely ignoring the potential health risks to 1,500 of our youngest learners or believe elementary school children have no immune systems. I am not sure which makes your reply less credible.

        • Hi, James. It’s my understanding that the main driver of the BOE’s start time decision was a plethora of compelling evidence concerning adolescent health and safety. I’m very confident that if the BOE had been aware of convincing evidence to support your concern about the health and safety of elementary school children, they would not have proceeded. You have plenty of time to continue to plead your case to the Board of Education, but it’s their call. The Town Council shouldn’t act as a board of appeals to reverse the BOE’s decisions.

          • Hi Tom, As I indicated in my previous post, adolescent health and safety did not appear to be “the main driver of the BOE’s start time decision” it appeared to be the only driver. Again, a simple scan of the “Start Times” link on the BOE website should make that pretty clear. You only find “evidence” of something if you are looking for it.
            – It took me about 10 mins to find studies that appear to specifically warn against what this proposal does. I provided these to the Admin and BOE.
            – Or please refer to the oft quoted AAP or CDC guidelines on sleep recommendations and simply compare sleep needs of adolescents to the needs of a 5 or 6 year old. I’ll let you do the math.
            – I can also provide you a ton of studies indicating how poorly young children deal with sleep deprivation, from lack of focus to frustration, but anybody who has a young child can probably tell you that.
            – Or you can look at the start times of neighboring or peer group elementary schools to get a baseline. In case you didn’t read any of my previous comments they average about an hour later than this proposal. In addition this start time would be the earliest in all of Ct. I don’t think we get a prize for that.
            It is disappointing that some of this “evidence” was not considered, but I assume doing so would have threatened some compromise to the “main driver” of this effort. But I guess what is most troubling is that despite many voicing their honest issues and concerns about this proposal, proponents simply go on and pretend the issue does not exist. Again, really insulting.
            However, I am glad that someone has filled you in that this plan would involve 1,000 elementary school children starting 1 hour and 15 mins earlier than they are now. Better late than never, I guess.

          • Tom, Apologies but I did not want to ignore the second half of your comment regarding the Town Councils/Your role. You are correct that the Town Council has not made specific decisions on how the BOE spends on a line item basis. That was made clear by members of the council after the vote, including the Chair and other members who voted to reduce the budget. Those who voted to reduce the budget actually encouraged the BOE to find the money if they thought the benefit of this proposal warranted the elimination of other expenses. I believe in doing so they are trying to convey that they are attempting to reduce the ever increasing BOE budget and not specifically eliminate this plan. Are you implying that you don’t feel the Town Council/You should review, question or approve the BOE budget and that you should just “Rubber Stamp” any BOE ask? Then, with all due respect, why do we need you in this process at all?
            In addition, although you seem to indicate that the Town Council should have no say in the BOE budget or this proposal I believe you should refer to the Town Council Rules where under Section 2. II. it states the “Education Committee. It shall have the responsibility to review all of the New Canaan School System’s proposed operating and capital expenditures.” I believe under any definition $700K in new School Busses would be a Capital Expenditure. I assume the purpose of this “review” is not to “Rubber Stamp” any and all expenditures. Or again, why would we need you.
            I know election season is upon us and some would like to pander to members of their constituency however, TOWN council members should recognize the views and concerns of the town, shouldn’t they look to bring us together as opposed to reinforce differences? Couldn’t someone take this opportunity to say “What can we do to get high school children more sleep, without such a cost to our youngest? Why does there appear to be no room for compromise? Let’s look at some of the other scenarios. How much would they cost?”, recognizing that we all want what is best for our kids. Now that’s a leader and representative I can get behind.

  14. I commend Dr Luizzi, the BOE and proponents of this proposal for their passion to get additional sleep for our towns High School students. As I have stated in the past many who oppose this plan support what I believe should be one of our towns goals. However, from the start there appears to be one sole focus “Later Start times for High Schoolers”. There seems to be little compromise and no consideration for the potential effects of sleep deprivation on children as young as 5 or the overall benefit for the additional tax dollars to implement this proposal. Why do I say this?
    – I have looked over the “Start Times” website from the BOE a number of times and after 3 years of research and many articles on adolescent sleep there appears to be Nothing on the potential effects of sleep deprivation on our youngest learners, which is what this plan may result in for many. I have provided some of this research to the BOE and Dr Luizzi in the past. As always, I invite you all to go to the website yourselves.
    – Proponents of this plan continue to tout the benefits of additional sleep for teenagers, seldom, if ever acknowledging the potential harm that it can do to our youngest or even recognizing the 1 hour and 20 mins it would take away from most of our littlest learners. Again, please refer to many of the previous posts from proponents of this plan and judge for yourselves if this cost is even mentioned or acknowledged.
    – At a BOE meeting I asked if there was some room in the 8:30AM start time so that High Schoolers can get some additional sleep, but perhaps not at such a heavy cost to our youngest. The reply was they were not married to 8:30AM, but proponents are not willing to consider anything before 8:30AM and HS must end by 3:00PM to support after school activities. So, if we do the math High School can start at any time, as long as its 8:30AM. No seriously.

    If we are going to have an honest truthful debate about the merits of this or any proposal lets all recognize and agree on what this plan actually entails in its entirety and be open to others concerns. I welcome the discussion with anybody willing to do so.

  15. 1) A book title, quote, and popular joke is “Lies, dammed lies, and statistics”. When it comes to $11/month in our taxes, it all depends how you look at it, doesn’t it? If you want to trivialize it, you point out that it’s only 36 cents per day. To do the opposite, point out that it’s $132 per year. Lots of us could think of something to do with another $132 in our pocket. Or, more correctly, since it doesn’t actually increase our income, that’s $132 less taken out of our pockets.

    2) If memory serves, New Canaan High’s start time in the 1970s was 8:15, or maybe 8:10 a.m. It absolutely amazes me how, time and again, it costs us hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to get back to where we were. (Another example is renovating the high school a while back to bring it back to the capacity for which it was originally built.)

    3) Few adults start work before 8 a.m., It is not reasonable to require children to start work (school) before 8 a.m.

    4) Very young children are notorious for waking up before the crack of dawn, before their parents want to get up. Perhaps that’s because their parents put them to bed so early. Parents of elementary school kids are reasonably successful at getting their kids to bed early. No such luck with high school students. High school students are not going to go to bed earlier just because they have to get up early. That said, it is not a good situation to have kids standing on the bus stop or walking to school in the dark, at any age.

  16. It’s a common public policy fallacy that almost any position would benefit were more money spent on it. Fifteen trillion dollars were spent on LBJ’s ‘War on Poverty’ to virtually no affect. The cost benefit of changing school start times – almost infinitesimal by comparison – is in essence more of the same. Politically, when you can combine more spending with public health you’ve really hit on something. But when you can combine that with tying the spending to protect our children’s health you’ve hit the political mother lode. Who can but admire one who pretends to spend a little money to save the children.

    Are we really expected to believe that not spending more on altering school start times raises a portentous threat to the health and well being of the community’s young ones. Further are we to be cowed into thinking that start times impact in any measurable way student outcomes. Mr. Butterworth tips his rhetorical sleight of hand when he slips in an oblique connection to our real estate values. A transparently desperate and rather ridiculous attempt at connecting small things to large and distant consequences. Conflating minor spending cuts with the health of our school children, our school system and the value of our homes is grossly manipulative and dishonest.

    Can we agree that cutting Town expenses even at the margins is a laudable goal. It serves the taxpayer and reminds our officials that there are always limits on the public purse. That every added expense adds incrementally to the burden of the individual taxpayer. A burden that has had a habit of being largely ignored, but at this moment in time, one that is keenly felt by more than a few and should be sensitive to us all.

  17. Thank you Mark and Tom for your valued support in the Healthy Start Times initiative. As parents of 2 elementary school students and 1 middle school student here in the New Canaan public schools, my husband and I fully believe in and support Dr. Luizzi’s proposal for Healthy Start Times. We are also tremendously grateful for everything Dr. Luizzi and the Board of Ed have set out to mitigate the Covid pandemic, with a similar balance of mental, emotional and physical health. Thank you again for your support of Healthy Start Times.

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