21 thoughts on “School Start Times: Referendum on Board of Ed Budget Fails [UPDATED]

  1. This was a flagrant waste of town time and resources, and the petitioners who called for referendum repeatedly lied— to gather initial signatures, on their posters and yard signs, and on their robocalls and robotexts. The referendum was to strike $430Kish from the budget ONLY, not to control start times. Citizens don’t get to make these kinds of calls. We have elections to elect the people who make decisions for this town. Full stop. I personally cannot wait to put this entitled, untruthful chapter behind us.

    • While what you’re saying about line-item control is technically true—only the Board of Ed gets to decide how to spend the money in its operating budget—it’s hard to imagine that the school start times change would go forward if the referendum had succeeded.

      Most of all, it would’ve set a bad precedent for the Board of Ed if they could somehow continue operating the schools at current staffing and program levels while losing nearly a half-million dollars. You’d have to think the town funding bodies would take that as a signal that the money should be reduced from the Board of Ed spending plan every budget season. Six years ago, the Town Council in its final vote reduced Board of Ed spending by $100,000 with no explanation, which rankled a lot of people, including some on the Town Council itself. (Adding: The record of that vote does not appear in the meeting minutes recorded by then-Town Council Secretary Kathleen Corbet and posted online; Corbet was one of the councilmen to vote in favor of the reduction, while then-Councilmen Kevin Moynihan and Tucker Murphy, who now is a staffer in the first selectman’s office, voted against it.)

      Much has changed since then with respect to spending disclosures/budget presentations, communication and trust between the town and Board of Ed, under the leadership of Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi, the Board of Ed itself and Dr. Jo-Ann Keating, the district’s director of finance and operations. It’s like night and day.

      • I mean, I’m generally pretty quick to raise an eyebrow at this town’s incredibly posh school budget, but in this case, the town and the superintendent made a decision, and they managed to keep it from adversely affecting property taxes, so it’s probably time to let them have it. That, and the plan the referendum folks wanted was far more expensive.

        One can find 400K worth of fat to trim in most any 100MM budget– I agree with you that this would have found a way.

    • So if there is a theoretical local bond authorization in the future to fund a expenditure on a specific item, people should not be able to have any means of petitioning the expenditure, or have any real recourse to directly challenge the expenditure other than to once in a while voice their view in a timed public forum? If people talk about why they are against what the expenditure will be used for in a referendum, instead of literally only ever referring to the petition of the expenditure itself, they should be talked about as liars? Um, ok….sounds very democratic and a great example of governance in a well functioning society where people should be able to challenge conventional wisdom and their representatives under certain criteria (like a requirement on authorized signatures in a petition)!

      If one is going to be 100% literal, disregarding context and common sense, the referendum was not to strike $463k (not $430k as you incorrectly state) from the budget, it was to have the Board of Finance reconsider that amount.

      Also, is stating as you did below that the start time plan will not affect property taxes — when around $1 million a year needs to be raised every year in property taxes to fund the plan — a lie?

      As for the referendum itself, given the vitriol and how difficult it is to challenge the BOE/Administration on any issue — partly because people don’t want to be exposed to the nastiness and distortions that will ensue, with this being a case in point — I think all of the petitioners should really proud of all their efforts and the process itself. The outcome (a 42.2% yes vote) was a lot better than anyone should have anticipated given the David vs. Goliath scenario faced, but the act itself of fighting for a well-researched and worthy cause (and it wasn’t for 15 minutes of a later start among many petitioners) is reason enough to feel good about the effort…which will continue on this and other issues.

      I’m guessing some responses to this will be underhanded or attacking, which would just continue the pettiness already seen, leaving everyone worse for the wear. So be it, I needed to say what I said.

  2. Starting the high school later is long overdue. The research has been there for some time.

  3. Fantastic news to see the support for Dr. Luizzi and our schools – especially Dr. Luizzi’s work on changing school schedules. I also agree that not garnering even half of the votes needed sends a message. It’s interesting that the referendum proponents said that they collected 1000 signatures but there were not even that many “yes” votes. I don’t feel this was a productive use of town resources – but it’s great to see resounding support for our Superintendent and Board of Ed after all they do for our students.

  4. I hope for those who are commenting realize that we who opposed the current plan do not oppose later start time for HS – our children will be there. My son starts 7th grade next year. We also support our administration. This is not a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. This is asking for better. We all wish we had better and it is possible. This is why we are here in New Canaan – for the best – not perfect but best.

    Two years ago we all sat on the same side – better start time for children nothing before 8am. So sad it came to this. For a correction – the new scenario is 80 minutes earlier for approximately 2/3 of our elementary ed students. And for 5/6 – another 1,000 students almost an hour later greatly burdening families with increased childcare costs (before and after school) and diminishing opportunities for after school clubs and sports. And major complexities for high school students balancing sports, clubs, extra help.

    And no one can say what families can do and can’t. That is presumptive and naive and not empathetic. Again – I think we can do better and so do the 500 people who signed a petition a year ago, 209 people who signed a petition this year(and continue to do so organically), almost 1000 people who signed a petition for referendum and the over 800 people who could vote tonight.

    Hopefully, this means we can stop having the arguments about what this is about – this is simply about what is best for the overwhelming majority of students – not budgets, not school support. This is about an equitable sleep. And our Board of Education can continue to get to 8am – it is in their hands if they have the courage to set that as a priority.

    For those I let down – I am so sorry I couldn’t make this more clear to those who were confused on the vote, or the science, or the validity of the referendum. I tried (a whole group tried) and we are proud and hold our heads up high.

    At the end of the day I go back to quoting Dr. Suess (I know not very PC) – “a person’s a person no matter how small”.

    • Thank you, Jen. That is exactly right. There was certainly a group of people (shame on the Moms blog for even allowing the level of what happened to unfold) who went out hard to portray those in favor of revisiting the start times as “against our school board” and “against later start times for high school children” when all they wanted was a seat at the table to discuss fair start times for ALL children. I’ve watched this unfold from the sidelines and the behavior has been incredibly upsetting. Mud slinging, blaming and most of all, a smear campaign to say those in favor of wanting to try to find another option (seems reasonable in a town like ours), are against the schools. That’s some serious DC politicking right there.

      • Carly – thank you. I truly hope there is a better tomorrow for our children and a new bar set for what is acceptable in our town on how we as a community solve community issues. It has been exhausting, frustrating and at times so hurtful (you can only imagine what has come our way) – just for voicing an opinion and for helping others voice theirs.

        I appreciate your kind words and observations.

      • To be fair, opponents of the referendum were also accused of being willing to “sacrifice” the youngest students to serve the needs of the oldest ones. As a mother of elementary aged students and opposed to the referendum for various reasons, I found that offensive too. Point being, there was plenty of mud-slinging on all sides. It’s now time to move forward as a community and work together to find solutions to make the schedule work best for everyone. At least, that’s my hope!

  5. What a difference in the classiness of the comments cited in the article and thereafter. No need to clarify for now — the comments speak for themselves.

    And of course the customary political spin as well and attempts to undermine the credibility of dissenting voices (and there are plenty of them, especially given what those dissenting voices are up against!). Sad to see but not in the least bit surprising.

  6. A strong showing on both sides, befitting the passionate views of this highly divisive issue, the outcome of which has significant ramifications for elementary aged children and their families. The referendum was doomed to failure, not least because of the nature of a referendum itself but moreover because of the highly confusing language in the referendum. Voters were told that a “no” vote meant supporting NCPS. And yet a public school system is not simply the will of an elected BOE, or for that matter a handful of Town Council members — it is an entire ecosystem, consisting of children, teachers, staff, parents, taxpayers, etc. Those exercising a “yes” vote were acting in the best interest of their children’s health and well being, and their family unit. And yet continually, this group was publicly maligned, simply for fighting for what is best for their children. Children K-4 who will be getting up in the dark, 80 minutes earlier than some are accustomed to, and walking to bus stops at/ before 7am for an estimated 706am pick up under scenario A (the earliest pick up). Children of dual income families who will lose precious family time and may spend up to 12 hours out of their homes between new school hours and aftercare program (if they find a coveted spot). And so parents do what they generally do best, despite the bullying, shaming and the name calling, and continued to fight for their kids. I hope we as a community can rise above the harsh language and accusations and work towards a compromise solution, which exists in both the BOE’s scenario B and the two tier, and throw scenario A in the bin. A million dollars is too much to spend on a bad plan. Let’s do this once and do it well. The referendum may have failed but 800 persons turned up to vote “yes”. Many more do not support scenario A but have been cowed into silence and inaction or were simply too confused about the language in the referendum to feel they could vote. That should not sit well with any of us. Let’s drop the accusations and harsh rhetoric and embrace civilized discussion, dialogue and compromise, and move towards scenario B or the two tier, for the sake of ALL of our children. The ball is in the BOE’s court, to do the next right thing.

  7. Mike, a technical clarification. You say, “…a total of 2046 ballots were needed, a majority of them marked yes.” That’s not correct. For the referendum to succeed, a minimum of 2046 “yes” votes (not total votes) would have been needed. Only 808 “yes” votes were cast, which is only 39% of the required number.

    Here’s the language from Section C4-16(4) of the Town Charter:
    “An affirmative action of the Town Council shall not be repealed, nor a negative action overruled, unless the number of votes in favor of repeal or overrule shall be a majority of those voting and equal to at least 15% of the number of electors of the Town as determined by the last completed registry list.”

    • Tom I’m glad you brought this up because there was all kinds of confusion outside the polling place on Wednesday—we probably could have talked about it if I’d been able to stay there just bit longer but you arrived as I was leaving to write this article.

      My understanding from the Town Clerk and Republican Registrar of Voters is that I have it right in the story and that the “at least 15%” refers to the percentage of total electors needed to cast ballots in order to trigger a viable referendum vote.

      Maybe some clarifying language could be taken up by the Town Council Bylaws & Ordinances Committee or a future Charter Revision Commission.

  8. I am impressed at the length at which we as a community (starting with the BOE and some other elected officials, on down to all of us as regular citizens – including me as a proponent of the referendum and a ‘yes’ supporter) have gone to spend a rather large sum of taxpayer money to get a portion of our students to school at the right time, yet have determined it is absolutely not possible to spend any more to get all kids to school at the right time. My three boys 7, 5 and 3 spent a good portion of the afternoon yesterday (don’t forget it was ‘half day Wednesday’) at the H.S. watching this interesting political process. I am not sure exactly how to explain to them that we can only spend a million but no more because that would be too much. That is ok they will figure it out.

  9. Although I am disappointed in the result yesterday I remain steadfast in my belief that the current proposal, as research appears to indicate, is harmful to our young children and hope for a better solution. For many of us that has always been why we have so fiercely opposed to the current proposal. This has never been about support for the Dr Luizzi or the administration and if this proposal is implemented we will continue to provide the research for a better time for our elementary school children. Won’t this be exactly what supporters of this proposal did for High School students just a few years ago? I don’t believe they were called out at that stage for not supporting the administration when they wanted to change a schedule Dr Luizzi thought was the right one for all our children at the time.

    At the end of the day we all just want what is best for our kids and hope for a schedule that provides us that. That has been our view from the start. Below is my exact comment from last year when this proposal was voted down by the Town Council.

    “James Yao on April 3, 2020 at 12:10 pm said:
    I fully support the Town councils vote on the BOE budget last night, as I think it was the prudent and fiscally responsible thing to do.

    However, I also realize that some may feel like yesterdays town council vote was a loss for their cause. And if your cause is later start times for High school students at any cost, including depriving sleep of elementary school children, than I would agree. But please realize, as has been expressed by many of us who have been protesting this plan, that we believe in and support what is hopefully your true goal “Healthy Sleep for all our Students”.

    The proposed plan, which some feel failed to consider many children, and the current economic situation may have contributed to the results of last nights vote, but I hope it does not diminish your passionate efforts. The work and research that has been done by advocates, the BOE and Administration is not wasted, as it demonstrates a health need. The information collected from surveys, traffic studies and consultants is not wasted, as it can hopefully help to sketch out a new and more equitable scenario.

    I think it is especially important in our current times that we look for reasons to unite our town as opposed to divide it. Let’s put this chapter behind us and all work together to formulate a plan that can work for more of our children and then figure out a responsible way to fund it. Thank you..

  10. I am a father of a second grader and two preschoolers, and I truly hope we move forward with scenario A (early start for elementary school kids, later start for high school kids).

    I believe that at least for my family and my children, 7:45 is much better than 9:05:
    – my children seem to be much more alert in the morning
    – such late start times for young kids are extremely inconvenient for my family with two working parents (the sheer existence of “Early Bird” programs at East/West with 7:50 drop-off time seems to indicate that my family is not unique in that respect, but of course I can speak only for myself).

    I understand that the change might be inconvenient for other families, but I would like to appeal to everybody to reduce the degree of dramatization.

  11. I have to disagree with Barbara Rucci’s “everyone can make it work.” Most people perhaps…but not if you have a high needs elementary child with an incompatible complex profile that is 2 standard deviations from the mean. Some of us are forced to exit the system altogether, so no, not EVERYONE can make it work.

    (And circadian rhythm disorders are a real thing, though rare.)

    • Angela, So, Sorry to hear about the additional challenges this plan will create for you. We are still hoping for a more equitable solution for all our children. The fact of the matter is if they implement this current plan people can “make it work”, but that doesn’t mean its right. People have made the current schedule work and even if they moved High School student start times to 7:00AM people could “make it work”, but again that does not mean that it is the right thing to do for our children.
      There are also mounting studies that indicate that shifts in sleep patterns can begin at 5-7 years old and like most things in nature circadian rhythm shifts are a gradual process that does not instantly occur at puberty. We try to put my 2nd grader to bed at 8:30 every night and he will inevitably flop around for 30 minutes to an hour before finally falling asleep, nonmatter when he woke up that morning or how active he was during the day. Of course I admit this is anecdotal, but very noticeable for us.
      I truly hope we can find a better solution for all of us and wish you the very best with your new potential challenges. James.

  12. Thank you everyone for your comments. I just got off the phone with Town Clerk Claudia Weber, who is clarifying for us what’s needed to win a referendum vote. This thread is now closed.