28 thoughts on “Op-Ed: The Town Has Spoken, Government Must Act Accordingly

  1. Excellent letter – could not agree more that we would like to see the Board of Finance and Town Council fund the 2020-21 Board of Education budget in its entirety.

  2. I am somewhat disappointed by some of the diversion in the letter. I believe we all know that much of the objection to the current plan from the town stems from moving our elementary school start times to the earliest in all of Connecticut, an average of one hour earlier than the top ranked and neighboring school districts. I think it is important to note that school districts in Connecticut that have made this change have not done so purely on the backs of our youngest learners? I still fail to see how starting a 5 year olds day, with pick-ups as early as 7:06AM, is for their “health or wellness”. Please note that physician recommendations do exist for Elementary School children as well as High Schoolers and we should do our best to respect both. I have also provided the BOE a study, which I hope has been considered. It was performed on over 700 elementary schools and 300,000 students and it specifically warns against swapping High School times for Elementary school times. In addition, I believe the 2 surveys administered also show that this is not the solution the town wants.

    So to be clear, the BOE wants $1 million for a plan that is unpopular, research suggest may be dangerous to our children, and puts our top ranked school system at risk. Honestly, I am surprised that there is not more vocal opposition to this plan.

    • I agree! I think there is a lot of opposition to this plan – community members, teachers, parents of young and older children, HS students themselves! I cannot wrap my head around how it has come this far with so much *blatant* opposition!

      • Couldn’t agree more, Jessica. Like my three children who went thru NC schools with current start times, you too turned out just fine.

  3. Great letter to the editor. Thank you to our BOE and Superintendent for the due diligence they’ve completed over the last two plus years. I just reviewed the BOE website on the process they’ve followed to make the best possible recommendation for every student and taxpayer in the district. The school start time recommendation for all students is made based on data collected from over 20+ studies listed on the BOE website, in addition to information gathered at national sleep conferences and by pediatric sleep experts, as well as the unanimous recommendations of The Center for Disease Control, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, as well as EVERY pediatrician in New Canaan. I will support our BOE’s full budget for 2020/2021, including the funding needed for the recommended change in start time schedules.

    • Before people escalate this into a high school parent versus elementary school parent debate. I think many elementary school parents support trying to get our towns high schoolers more sleep. However, I along with many others feel the cost to our elementary school kids is simply too high. The numerous studies you quote primarily indicate that high schoolers need more sleep and the sleep requirements for adolescents their age. I don’t think anyone is disputing those studies. Are there any studies that indicate our youngest will not be sleep deprived or potentially be less focused or have more behavioral problems? Because the studies I provided the Board of Ed last week indicate that this is exactly what they saw in elementary schools with earlier school start times. Or if there are any studies indicating that sleep deprivation does not affect 5 and 7 year olds or that they somehow are better able to cope with lack of sleep than a high schooler than I am happy to consider those. However, I encourage the readers to go to the BOE site and look for yourself. I think you will find a website which appears only to support one goal, 8:30AM start times for High Schoolers at any cost. Ignoring or explaining away the many issues that can arise from having the earliest elementary school start time in all of Connecticut.

  4. Brendan,

    I take issue with a few of the broad statements and claims made in your letter.

    First, my understanding is that on an apples-to-apples basis the BoE budget represents a y-o-y operating increase of ~5%, which is a divergence from the BoF-approved increase of 1.47%. And, in order to bridge the gap, the BoE budget proposal manipulates various historical assumptions regarding accruals for employee benefits costs and includes new and/or growth in various ancillary revenue streams. Creating additional budget headroom in this manner is a slippery slope, particularly when the key reasons behind BofE’s requested 2020-21 budget growth are the theoretically permanent operational changes necessitated by proposed changes to school start times. It would be helpful to understand exactly what contingency plans the BoE has identified in the event the prospective cost savings and ancillary revenues do not materialize as currently envisioned.

    Second, does starting elementary schools at 7:30am – which is earlier than neighboring districts with which New Canaan “competes” for new residents – have a negative impact on real estate values? You argue that the BoF’s “cut” to the budget could be detrimental in that regard, but I think it is just as easy to argue that a zero-sum, poorly-executed solution to the start time issue could have a similar impact.

    Lastly, I would argue that the current start time proposal is not “best for New Canaan kids at all ages” as you suggest (frankly, comments from your fellow BoE members don’t inspire confidence that they believe it is, either). The BoE has spent over two years studying this issue, but I have yet to see a quantification of how many 2020-2021+ elementary school families view this solution as a positive outcome? With respect to this process specifically, as a parent of future NCPS elementary schoolchildren and thus someone who will be directly impacted by the start time changes, I have not been included in the surveys, panels, etc. used by the BoE and consultants to collect feedback on this issue. I find it interesting that “solution” developed by the BoE seems to be most punitive for the least well-represented cohort – very young children & families that have not yet entered elementary school (for example: the third-party consultant’s May 2018 report shows 0% of survey respondents were from outside current NCPS families and staff). Further, the notion that academic studies support earlier elementary school start times is inaccurate; in fact, there seems to be debate regarding whether or not adolescents benefit from later start times (Marx, R., et al. (July 2017). Later school start times for supporting the education, health, and well‐being of high school students).

    I am fully supportive of a well-funded NCPS and financially healthy town. However, the current BoE budget proposal is not worthy of approval – it relies on potentially unsustainable sources of funding to enact structural changes that are detrimental to a significant portion of New Canaan families and their young children. The key driver of the budget request — the BoE’s start time proposal — seems to be a product of making a decision simply for the sake of finality and doing so with incomplete information. I urge you and the BoE to develop a solution to the start time issue that truly benefits all students, even if implementation has to wait until 2021+. There will be inertia behind whatever plan moves forward, even if it is poorly conceived and executed (see: quotes from BoE members following Jan 2020 meetings).

    • Thank you Jamie for echoing the concerns of many when it comes to start times. Any change we commit to especially at such an expense should serve the system as a whole and should be inclusive of all concerned members of the community. Our youngest will be in high school too – we want the best for all.

    • Jamie, I wanted to thank you and the many others for having the courage to speak out and consistently highlight the core issues. Thank you for speaking on behalf of all the young children, families and high school students that have spoken against this proposal, but have been consistently dismissed by the BOE. Thank you for not ignoring the sleep needs of our youngest. You are spot on. For those opposed to the change in start times proposed, please email the Town Council directly at TCDistribution@newcanaanct.gov. Your voice counts too. Thank you.

  5. Time will tell whether the Board of Finance (BOF) is serious about bending the spending curve, as they stated they would. The premise is right: New Canaan has the second highest spending per resident and the highest debt per resident in CT..

    Areas of Disagreement with Your Op-Ed (based on facts/data)
    1. The BOF’s budget guidance to the BOE was a 1.5% increase excluding health care changes. The BOE’s proposed budget is a 4.3% increase excluding health care changes. All other town departments were asked to cut 2% from their budgets and they have done just that.
    2. The author continues to exclude BOE debt service (disproportionately high versus other towns) in per student calculations to distort what taxpayers pay. Using the author’s logic, the BOE could fund their entire budget with debt and per student costs would be 0.
    3. We are facing much greater tax rate increases down the road as our “mark to market” Grand List has gone down dramatically. The very large tax rate increase in the future — if current real estate trends hold — from the decline in real estate values will fall most heavily on the tax burdens of residents who own median to lower-priced homes.
    4. The author mentions town survey results, cherry-picking only those points that serve his argument. Not mentioned is that 72% of respondents believed that we should retain or lower school spending (27.9% increase, 57.8% retain, 14.2% decrease). Retaining equals flat spending, a reasonable proposition in the current environment. The BOE invariably proposes to increase spending every year, inconsistent with survey results. From 1996-2012, New Canaan’s spending increased roughly 160% over 16 years, so the more recent increases are coming off a ridiculously high base.
    5. Our staff/student ratio is 8% higher than Darien. Dep’t of Ed data shows we have ~52 more “non-instructional staff” in New Canaan than Darien despite Darien having a few hundred more students. Why?
    6. The author fails to distinguish excellence in schools with what drives that excellence. He implies that ever increasing spending (a BOE theme) is necessary to maintain excellence. Research shows a different story. 80% of the variance in standardized test scores in CT — from which most rankings are based — are based on two factors according to a CT Office of Legislative Research study: 1) the educational attainment of the parents; 2) whether the child is coming from a single parent home. Demographics weigh heavily on standardized test scores. The BOE’s inexorable increases in spending has diminishing returns on educational outcomes.

    Areas of Agreement
    1. It is important to maintain the excellence of our schools.
    2. Our schools’ excellence is one of the major draws to New Canaan. Property taxes/state taxes are one major drawbacks to New Canaan, and our dramatically declining real estate reflect that. Balance is finding greater efficiencies in spending so we will not be at the top of spending/debt lists in a spendthrift State. How efficient has the BOE given the data above and a projected $4.9 million in taxpayer cash sitting on the BOE’s books in fiscal year 2020?

    I hope that a discussion of the budget will be balanced this year and fact-based. In years past the BOE has rallied people with a distorted, scare tactic message that any reduction of increases in spending will harm our schools/kids. Common sense would dictate that there are certainly areas where savings can be found that do not directly affect the classroom.

  6. Last chance to stop this nonsense about school start times. Costs and benefits to all stakeholders have not been evaluated. If that had happened, budget would not have the funding for this change. We had three children graduate from New Canaan schools, and they all turned out just fine under the current school start time regime.

  7. I believe the Board of Education is elected by the voters of New Canaan for a reason. I believe the Board of Education has the best interests of our students in mind. I believe the Board of Education, our excellent Superintendent, and their professional staffs have much more information about the line items that comprise the budget than even our most informed and outspoken citizens who do not volunteer their time to serving our town. I believe the Board of Education, the Superintendent, and their professional staffs understand that most of the BoE budget is non-discretionary and is mandated by collective bargaining agreements.

    I hope that one year we will have a budget season in which there are no swipes at the good faith and competency of the Board of Education, our fine Superintendent, and their professional staffs. I support the budget proposed by the Board of Education. I hope the Board of Finance and Town Council will approve that budget.

    • That’s nice that you believe all those things. How about doing the real work of looking at our budgets, analyzing other towns’ BOE budgets, and asking challenging questions that may reinforce or dissuade people from their presumed beliefs and dogma. You will like come away with less fixed beliefs, and at the very least become better informed instead of accepting things at face value. Isn’t that what our educators teach our kids? If there are specific facts you want to counter in what’s been written above, go for it. Until you give specific data, a belief lacks substance on policy decisions.

  8. I have no interest in engaging in an internet debate with you or anyone else, James. I have informed myself about this year’s BoE budget, I attended the Board of Finance meeting on that issue earlier this month, and my support is based not only on that review but also on my confidence in the abilities and good faith of those who prepared it. I also don’t think dismissing as uninformed those who disagree with you advances your cause especially well.

  9. I said you would be better informed if you did more work/analysis. You seem to accept what the BOE says at face value (like their per student expenditures that you have repeated in the past which ignore debt service expenses — ever buy a leveraged business and exclude debt in the valuation?). That’s a mistake. Everyone is entitled to their beliefs, but it’s more substantive when there is data back up and multiple perspectives are considered. I agree that the BOE is largely well intended. I disagree with the perspective — I’m not saying you hold it — that good educators are also good at finance and finding efficiencies in taxpayer spending. How would one guess we got to the position of #2 in spending per resident and #1 in debt per resident in CT?

  10. Brendan, I think many have considered this plan, which I feel has serious flaws already, to cost approximately $1 million. But unfortunately this is only the first year cost isn’t it? Every year going forward won’t we be paying 100’s of thousands of dollars for bus drivers, maintenance, and depreciation? Would you have that amount in your projections? and could you share those so we can consider those as well? Thank you…

  11. Sorry Brendan, I looked up the annual expense for this folly in the budget and it appears to be over $220k a year for salaries and benefits alone which is likely to only grow every year. This does not include maintenance costs for the 7 additional busses or the depreciation. So would you think about $250k a year sounds right? Perhaps more troubling are the “Not included in budget estimate” items. So the $954k does not include costs for housing additional buses, or the substantial cost for “construction of new access road and related gates and other costs?” Do you have any idea what those expenditures cost? We should at least have an idea of the true upfront and ongoing costs are for this Proposal shouldn’t we?

  12. When do all New Canaan residents get the opportunity to vote on the start time proposals, given the change seems to consume a vast amount of money? I feel this entire exercise gained unjust momentum because a relatively small cohort spoke the loudest. Shame on the rest of us for letting it get to this point. If there is a majority of tax-paying residents against this change (and bloating of the budget in real terms), give us the chance to be heard now. As one respondent said, if families have moved here because of our schools, but do not currently have children in the school, they deserve to have a voice in this decision. The same goes for parents whose children have passed through the school and managed just fine cajoling their teenagers out of bed. Their kids survived. It is very important that residents without school-age children are not driven out of New Canaan by higher and higher taxes. When they pay their taxes, they don’t get “their share” of the schools’ spending in terms of services. Instead, that part of their taxes benefits every child in the school district without adding another child to their classroom. There is a tipping point because they are not tied down by the school system. The schools are wonderful but escalating costs for this reason is irrational. Given a choice, wouldn’t all parents and residents prefer the BOE choose to spend our money on education, not transportation logistics? When is the vote?

    • Kate, At this stage members of the Town Council are contemplating this additional spend, even under this trying time. Many of us hope that they, as the voice of our town, convey to the Board of Education that this is not what the majority of the town wants. The vote/decision is currently scheduled for April 1st, if you wanted to convey your personnel thoughts to the Town Council this week.

      • Yes, even in these trying times of a major health crisis, our really excellent, proactive and continuously innovating school district is asking for funding to align with an evidence-based health recommendation that the CDC and the AMA made SIX YEARS ago. People act like they are asking for money to build a new teacher lounge. If the town council is going to say the district can’t do this, I hope they intend to submit their own evidence for why it is ok to ignore the recommendation of the entire medical community. And here’s a timely message. https://health.mil/News/Articles/2020/03/23/A-full-nights-sleep-could-be-the-best-defense-against-COVID-19

        • Karen, Yes. We are in agreement that sleep is important for High School kids, but what many of us are saying is that it is as important, if not more so, for elementary school children who are less able to recognize or cope with the effects. I have provided research that this sleep deprivation can be detrimental to elementary school children both academically and behaviorally. In addition, neighboring towns such as Greenwich, Westport and Norwalk have recently made start time changes and decided against the swapping of times as is proposed here. In the words of another parent who is far more eloquent than I “We are simply looking for Sleep Equality for all our Children”.

          • It makes no sense to me to have a vote on a health issue. Would we want asbestos removal to be by popular vote? Would we want a vote on whether we should do distance learning or not, bc some parents think it is too hard and we should just make up the time later? This is why we elect a BOE and hire the best administrators. Not to give them free reign, but to have dedicated experts making the decisions they are most capable of making. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and they all had three years to voice their opinions. The BOE took them all into consideration and made a decision. That is not giving unquestioning free reign to the BOE. It is the process at work. This is why the town council can cut funds but not say how they are used. This year, however, based on their repeated comments about start times funding, it sounds like they would be making a de facto line item veto. If they are going to do that, they should state their position and make it clear that is why they are voting that way. As for your referenced research, if the CDC and AAP make recommendations about elementary times, you may have a case. But for now it is your opinion and actually the opposite is true – many sleep experts, educators AND parents find it to be obvious that younger children are more alert earlier. And your petition is not about sleep equity – probably the majority of signers of that petition are people opposed to any change bc of worries about athletics or money, not bc they care about elementary start times.

          • Yes. I agree on not having a vote on health issues like asbestos removal, that are unquestionably beneficial for the students and town. I think many see this, using your example, as paying over $1 million and 100’s of thousands every year to remove asbestos from the High School to put it in the Elementary school. Likewise you are not removing early start times but just having our youngest pay the price. In regards to the research, the AAP and the AASM actually does provide recommended sleep times for all ages, not just High School aged students (I can provide them if you don’t have them or you can just google “Children Sleep Requirements”). These tables indicate an average of 3 or more hours of sleep required for our youngest students. Again, I stress that all children need their recommended sleep and to deprive our youngest should be at least as unacceptable as depriving High School kids (“Sleep Equality”). I think that is pretty obvious as well. In addition, in this case there is actual research and precedent that suggests this specific plan to swap times may actually be detrimental to a large number of our youngest learners. Contrary, I have not found any research that sleep deprivation of elementary school children would be somehow less stressful. To date the only thing that has been indicated by the BOE is “We spoke to some teachers and children seem more alert in the morning”. How many teachers did you ask? What did you ask them? What were their responses? Personally, I don’t think that remotely resembles research or a study. I believe much of this can be attributed to intellectual endurance. 5 and 6 year old children may only have 4-5 hours of concentrated focus before they tire and become frustrated. Likewise even as adults many may have limited ability to concentrate and focus for extended periods 8-10+ hours before there is some degradation, however we can at least recognize it and attempt to compensate. This has nothing to do with time of day and likely affected greatly by adequate sleep. I have not seen any studies that indicate time of day itself is a factor. Otherwise, east coast students should be smarter than mid west students and mid west students smarter than West coast students due to time zones. And I don’t think that is necessarily the case.
            Many parents did not get involved more directly because before January of this year there was no indication that this was the plan, especially when the 2 surveys seemed to indicate that this was actually the least desired/most opposed.
            In regards to the petition, I think you probably have access to it. There are almost 100 comments including many which are pleas from parents saying that they will lose valuable family time with their children, seldom seeing them all week. I think its somewhat callous to completely disregard the situations of many commuting parents, whose request is simply to be able to keep seeing their kids at night.
            As an update for parents we received the new busing consultants study and it appears that the first pick-up is actually earlier, moving to 7:00AM. I remind readers that this would be the earliest in all of CT for elementary school children and over an hour earlier than other top ranked schools. Also please note again that Greenwich, Westport and Norwalk have recently made changes and none have done so at the expense of our youngest.
            I continue to question what happened to Scenario B, which has somehow disappeared, despite being offered as a viable alternative when first presented. Many parents actually took the time to answer a survey on this and the new busing consultant was not even asked to assess this alternative. This alternative would affect far fewer students and give our 5 and 6 year old children some time to adjust to structured learning in a potentially less frustrating environment. Apologies in advance for the lengthy response.

      • James Yao, first of all how do you know what the majority of the town wants? Did you conduct your own survey? Secondly, the town bodies have never told the BOE how to spend their money. They can ask them to cut the budget but BOF and TC do not line item cut. “The town” does not decide what is best for students. The superintendent and Board of Ed do. And they’ve shown incredible leadership throughout this crisis. Are you saying that you would second guess the BOE on what is in the best interest of students?

        • Hi Barbara, I was basing my comment on the surveys conducted. However, I understand there are different ways to cut the information, if you exclude specific respondent groups. There was also a petition against this plan that was circulated recently , which garnered approximately 500 signatures with numerous comments in just a few days. However, there is a very easy way to settle this. Why not have a simple Yes/No vote, with each child representing one vote by the parents and community members and High School students having a vote. Shouldn’t that be the clearest way? I think that is more than fair, as some would contend that votes should be more heavily weighted to parents of younger children, who will be in the system longer. I can say I truly care about starting times at all levels because my children will go through them as well. The same may not be said for parents of High School students. In regards to Dr Luizzi, I agree he is doing a great job through this crises. Kudos to him and his staff. However, your description of the BOE sounds like it can pretty much do whatever it wants and no one is allowed to question them and they are accountable to no one. That does not sound like the way any “Board” that is supposed to represent all our interests should be run.

  13. I do no plan on staying in CT once my kids are out of school because of the excessive state level and municipal level taxation. That’s also the primary reason most wealthy folks decide to move out when they retire. CT is killing itself with taxes, tolls, etc.

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