Saxe Building Proposal: Where Candidates Stand


What follows are candidates’ responses to a public call from dozens of taxpayers to answer this question: Will you support the full project to renovate and expand Saxe Middle School? See PDF at the bottom of this article for details on the proposed $18.6 million building project. We will update this article with new responses as they come in from candidates for the Board of Selectmen, Board of Education and Town Council.

Board of Selectmen

  • Rob Mallozzi, Republican incumbent seeking re-election for first selectman: “It didn’t take an email that I saw [Monday] to get my position out there. I think it’s very important, as a leader of this town, to telegraph my feelings and I appreciate the fact that there is a group that wanted to know people’s positions before the election. I think that’s very appropriate, but I would call attention to the fact that I have shared my position. I think it’s important that we all know where people stand. Will this be a one-issue election? I hope not. There are a lot of issues in our town besides Saxe. A lot of issues about costs in terms of how we pay for benefits for our teachers and employees in town, a lot of conversation about what capital projects we take on besides Saxe, a lot more conversation around the quality of life in our town in terms of alcohol and substance abuse and getting teens away from some behaviors and delivering a more positive experience to their lives in town. So that is one major issue and I understand it, it’s a real big one, but I hope that one issue is not the dominant reason people are going to the polls, because there are a lot more going on in town than just a conversation about Saxe and the needed measures that need to be taken to mitigate some of the space concerns that we are now made aware of … I am fully in favor of starting the auditorium project ASAP. I still say it is a pretty big project to just delay because it is pretty hard, I would think, to run a school without an auditorium. As part and parcel of that auditorium, there were plans in place that showed ancillary rooms, depending on how it was built out. I would move ahead with a plan that showed that auditorium and those extra music rooms. But I would designate those music rooms for flex space just now, so that you could mitigate some of those space issues that we know exist. So I say get that started right away. I will tell you that what I hear from Board of Finance members and Town Council members is an absolute agreement that we want to get something going right away. I think the general fear is knowing how bad things are at the state level, with the state economy, knowing how things are pretty tough in the job market in terms of growth in the area for jobs—we are losing jobs in Stamford, losing jobs at GE, losing jobs all around us—I think we are a little worried seeing how this will all play out over the next four or five years in terms of how people are attracted to Connecticut and to New Canaan, that a more cautionary approach is warranted. I have to look at the big picture. It’s as simple as that. I am put here to look at the big picture, and I understand we have pressures at Saxe. I am saying, let’s get something started right away to address those pressures and let’s see if we can come up with alternatives in the next year or two that begin to address it for the future without having to spend $18.6 million, which I think would definitely be a burden to this community.”
  • Beth Jones, incumbent and Democratic candidate for selectman: “The Board of Selectmen must balance the needs of the Town with the burden placed on the taxpayers. It is not a new problem and the solutions will never make everyone happy. The right decision is reached by listening to the community, being careful how the dollars we bring in are spent, and making difficult decisions about our priorities. From my viewpoint, the most important job of government, at all levels, is the education of our youth. The future of our society and even the planet depends on it. Therefore, I believe we must prioritize the Saxe expansion project in this coming term. It has been clearly shown that Saxe is overcapacity. Overcrowded rooms impact the education we can provide. We have an obligation to our children to address this.”
  • Nick Williams, Republican incumbent for selectman: seeking response.

Town Council

  • Jim Kucharcyzk, Democratic candidate: “Yes, I fully support the full renovation proposal for Saxe. That building has been at or over its designed capacity since it was last renovated in the 1990s.”
  • Joe Paladino, Democratic incumbent seeking re-election: “I moved to this town for many of the same reasons that you folks did, and also my wife told me we were moving to New Canaan. But the thing that brought us here was the school system, and I will tell you this, and it’s a very personal thing and I asked my son and he said, ‘Dad, you can talk about whatever you want.’ But there was a child that had mild and some a little bit beyond mild disabilities when he came into the middle school and then through the high school. And he’s a third-year engineering student, currently, in college. So it didn’t happen by chance. It happened because we have a tremendous, tremendous school system, and I will support the project. I wish there was some way to reduce this because, when I look at it, I have had three children in the school system. I’m not paying $58,000 or $59,000 in real estate taxes, so some of my neighbors were subsidizing the cost when my children went here. So now I have a high school senior, and I am going to be very proud to pay for someone else’s children to be in this, because I don’t think many people benefitted more than I did. So, thank you to the school system.” —from comments made at an Oct. 21 meeting of the Town Council
  • Ken Campbell, Republican incumbent seeking re-election: seeking response.
  • Steve Karl, Republican incumbent seeking re-election: seeking response.
  • Christa Kenin, Republican candidate: “Yes, I support the Full Saxe Renovation Project. After reviewing our town’s 5 Year Capital Plan, I am confident it can be done without greatly impacting our current mill rate. Let’s put emotion aside and focus on the numbers. Here’s the actual math on the Project. We need to change the budgetary framework we are using. Let’s talk about the incremental cost required to do the Full Saxe Renovation Project. As of March 19th 2015, the Capital Plan already earmarked $10.1M for a Saxe Renovation. After state rebates, the Full Saxe Renovation becomes $16.2M ($18.6M – $2.4M). That means we only need to come up with an additional $6.1M to close the gap. To do this, we can look to the Capital Plan, which already accounts for $1.98M in other renovation projects at Saxe (masonry repairs, window caulking, lighting retrofit and parking lot renovations). When bidding the job, we should only accept bids from construction companies that are willing to bundle these extra renovations into the Project or at least create substantial efficiencies. Now, we’re closer to $4.1M. To close the final gap, we will have to re-prioritize some other Capital Projects. Collectively, we can decide which ones to delay – $5.8M in 3 elementary school roof replacements or $3.3M for the Locust parking deck or take your pick. At the end of the day, there will be minimal impact to our current mill rate. The Project happens. Everyone wins. The numbers are not perfect. People will be quick to criticize because it’s always easier to criticize than create. However, at [the Oct. 21] Town Council meeting, which officially ended at 11:57 p.m. (I know this because I was there), I was inspired by all the parents who came out tonight to speak their minds on this very important issue. Towards the end of the meeting, I was equally encouraged by the Town Council’s collective acknowledgement that this Full Saxe Renovation Project should be done. We just have to come together to find a solution that will make this Project a reality and at the same time be fiscally conservative. Most sincerely, Christa Kenin. (The 5 Year Capital Plan can be found at this weblink.)” —submitted via email
  • Cristina A. Ross, Republican candidate: seeking response.
  • Roger Williams, incumbent and petitioning Republican candidate: seeking response.

Board of Education

  • Brendan Hayes, Democratic candidate: “I fully support the Saxe expansion project, as recommended by the Saxe Building Committee and the Board of Education. Even if we put our responsibility to educate our children aside (which should never happen!), this makes financial sense. We borrow at 3 percent, or an annual cost of approximately $150 per tax-paying unit, to ensure our students are being properly educated, thereby increasing achievement, the value of New Canaan property, and income levels. This is a no-brainer. For those residents who are more focused on home values and tax levels, consider the following math. A simple estimate of the total value of residential real estate in New Canaan is at least $7 billion (based on the latest grand list). If we were to get zero return on our $21.2 million net investment (including interest), which is unlikely, then this would equate to .3 percent of the total value of residential real estate in New Canaan. On a $1 million home, this is only $3,000 (it’s actually less than this on a present value basis). It only takes a few buyers turned off by Saxe’s overcrowding (and resulting poor student performance) to impact prices by this much – it’s actually likely to be much more. The reality is that there will be a positive return on this investment and home prices will increase (instead of decreasing in the event we do not fully fund the Saxe project).”
  • Hazel Hobbs, Republican incumbent seeking re-election: See this letter, signed Oct. 20 by Hobbs and the entire school board.
  • Tom Cronin, Republican candidate: “Yes.”
  • Maria Naughton, Republican candidate: “On October 19, the NewCanaanite posted a letter to current candidates, written by New Canaan taxpayers, asking candidates whether or not they support the full project as defined by the current BOE. Those plans for the Saxe project are estimated to cost $18.6 million, which would be offset by a state reimbursement. As a candidate running for the BOE, I fully support our schools, and will work toward making them the best they can be for our children. My viewpoint is that any decision made on behalf of our children, must consider the needs and desires of the families and the community at large. Like others, this proposal raises questions for me, which would help determine if it is the right solution for New Canaan. We know Saxe is over-capacity. However, according to the same plan, there is capacity remaining at the elementary schools. Are we looking ahead to take a holistic view of the district? Are we considering future overcrowding at the elementary level, given BOE class size recommendations? Many parents have also expressed a desire to move fifth grade back to the elementary school to address negative social issues, which are known to accelerate in middle school. Construction at the elementary level was mentioned in the plan, but dismissed with no quantifiable data to use as a real comparison. Additionally, we want the best infrastructure for our students, but is this it? Have we considered that this addition will create one of, if not the largest, middle school in Connecticut? Saxe does a great job of running 5th grade as a school unto itself, but as schools get larger, current research supports that negative social issues increase, students feel less connected, and the correlated rise in management costs mitigate potential efficiencies. And while an already large school, the grade 5-8 population is projected to rise to over 1,400, where all neighboring DRG A schools house grades 6-8, and have populations falling under 1,150. Families moving to this area will consider that. And while New Canaan is comprised of about 43 percent of families with children under 18, we must consider the needs of the community at large. In the 13 years that I have lived in town, our town has approved our school budgets with very little resistance. Those taxpayers do support our schools, but they now have to consider the bigger picture and so should we. Overall, residents are leaving Connecticut, according to the most recent Census, the economic outlook is not good and we have state budget discussions pending. For us to go forward without addressing this would be like going sailing without considering the weather report.  The Saxe Building Committee should be commended for the work and effort put forth in this project. They are undoubtedly making their recommendation based on that hard work. By voting for me on Election Day, I look forward to being part of the BOE, and using my background and experience as an educator to do what is best for our children, while always considering the input of the families and community we serve.”

2 thoughts on “Saxe Building Proposal: Where Candidates Stand

  1. BOE — May have other problems –Their budget book 2014-15 shows they saved close to $2 million on utilities on what they budgeted and what they spent going back 3 yrs. If you go back and compare Budget to Actual in each of the budget books — another accounting error? –If not what happen to the savings? — They never have a surplus at the end of the year — this info has been given to all town bodies for review — if correct — it needs to be answered

  2. Mr. Mallozzi:

    This comes down to a monetary decision, and as such we need to be clear about the numbers. I believe that the town, and our elected officials, agree with you that our middle school needs an auditorium. My understanding is that the price tag for the auditorium is in the $7 million range.

    So if we take the auditorium as a given, then this is not about “having to spend $18.6 million, which I think would definitely be a burden to this community”. It’s about the impact of spending $11 million.

    While this is not an insignificant amount, it’s imperative that we all understand the dollar amounts under discussion. I ask that as our First Selectman you ensure that the debate is framed correctly.

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