To the Editor, NewCanaanite.com:
We are back in the midst of town budget season.
The Board of Education has approved a budget for the 2020-2021 school year that will support New Canaan Public Schools’ continued excellence. The budget calls for a 1.47% increase and would represent a compound annual growth rate over the four years ending next year of just 1.88%—below inflation. The increase is the lowest proposed for next year among any of our nearby peer towns. New Canaan’s per-pupil spending is also lower than other towns, including Darien, and yet our school system is top in the state and among the best in the country.
Next year’s BOE budget also reflects an important investment in the health and wellness of our kids—a change to school start and end times to align with physician recommendations and over two years of BOE work to develop the optimal solution. There are many opinions on start times, but the BOE has been deeply driven solely by what is best for New Canaan kids at all ages. Although this change comes with a cost, it is manageable, particularly due to the significant and sustainable cost savings that NCPS have been able to realize. These include more than $15 million in healthcare cost savings or avoidance over the past eight years, savings in technology, printing, energy efficiency (solar, natural gas and propane), among others.
In light of all of these successes and a conservative BOE budget proposal, as a resident I would expect the Board of Finance and Town Council to fully support the BOE budget and our world-class NCPS administration, faculty and staff.
After all, unsurprisingly, residents have told us through the town survey that the schools are by far the top reason they have moved here (71% said so, 30 points higher than the next reason) and stay here. The schools are also the top town service exceeding expectations.
It is in this context that I sadly have learned that certain members of the BOF are discussing a more than $1 million cut to the BOE budget, which would result in a meaningful reduction in NCPS services. This is so at odds with what our residents want and expect, it is shocking. As a financial professional who helps companies restructure debt, I support town cost containment and debt reduction to keep tax rates in check. But seeking to do so by cutting our primary town asset is self-defeating. It is more likely to lead to an increase in tax rates (through reduction in real estate values) than the reverse. It would only take a .02% reduction in real estate values to offset $1 million in expenditures. Regarding debt management, New Canaan continues to have a AAA credit rating and our debt should always be viewed in relation to our town’s asset and income base.
On that measure, we have the highest per capita income in the state and the second highest Grand List (real estate value) per capita.
Please tell the BOF and TC that they need to fully support the outstanding and continuously improving work being done in the New Canaan Public Schools. It will continue to draw people to New Canaan, and keep them here! A BOF public hearing will be held at Town Hall at 7PM next Tuesday, March 3rd. Please attend and express your support in person, but if you cannot, you may email firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Brendan Hayes is vice chair of the New Canaan Board of Education, views are his own.