Superintendent’s Proposed Budget Calls for Changed Start Time Schedule To Take Effect Mid-Academic Year 2021-22

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Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi on Monday night proposed a spending plan for next academic year that includes funding for widely discussed changes to start times.

The estimated $463,337—part of an overall $95.7 million proposed operating budget—would cover transportation- and staff-related costs associated with changing school start times mid-year, Luizzi told members of the Board of Education during their regular meeting.

The changes—which would see elementary schools start at 7:45 a.m., New Canaan High School at 8:30 a.m., seventh and eighth grades at 8:35 a.m. and fifth and sixth grades at 9:15 a.m.—represent the same schedule that the Board of Education had brought before the Town Council last April in making a funding request that the legislative body ultimately rejected.

Luizzi said the change is a student health-and-wellness initiative that’s designed to align schedules with established, scientific data on sleep. He said district officials are anticipating that the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the way schools operate when they open Aug. 30, and noted that there are several practical advantages to pushing back a change to start times to the middle of the academic year rather than the very beginning of it.

“The fall is too unpredictable,” Luizzi said at the meeting, whose attendees participated both in-person and remotely.

“Even our enrollment is unpredictable, as we look at it. So knowing all the questions that are out there, and wanting to have some more time to bring in some more community members, as well, for some of the discussions, because the plan we bring before you, we believe we have carefully vetted it. We have looked at it. We have looked at the constraints and worked things through. But we’d like to have opportunities for more people to have some more discussion about it, if they feel that this isn’t the right plan. We’d like to have that conversation, and learn what their thinking is, share with them what we know and see where things go. Ultimately, when this kind of a large, whole-district systems change initiative goes through, it works best when it’s seen as a community-wide initiative. Not a superintendent’s initiative, not a buildings initiative, not a Board of Ed’s initiative. But we want it to be community-wide. So we think that that extra time allow some more of those conversations to occur, as well. There is also a very practical reason to do it mid-year, which is our budget not being approved and finalized until March 31st doesn’t give enough lead time for the bus company to order the buses, get the drivers.”

New Canaan is now in its fifth year of studying and discussing proposed changes to school start times. 

The Board of Ed began to address the issue publicly in August 2017, and in the years that followed conducted research on adolescent sleep and wellness, commissioned a study on lessons learned by other districts that have made changes, as well as a transportation study with a feasibility routing analysis, ran an online survey and multiple community workshops, and held public hearings and faculty meetings while launching a New Canaan Public Schools webpage dedicated to the topic.

Parents spoke out on both sides of proposed changes. Many of those in favor cited established medical data and recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics in arguing that the schools and town must do more to ensure that adolescents get sufficient sleep. Many of those opposed said it was unfair to New Canaan’s youngest kids and their parents to start the elementary schools so much earlier in the morning.

Some members of the Town Council, in voting in favor of a budget that was about $1 million less than what the Board of Education had requested—effectively forestalling changes to school start times—said they were convinced that New Canaan adolescents should start school later, but that the wide economic uncertainty due to COVID-19 made it the wrong time to introduce significant new transportation costs. (The approximately $1 million annual cost is tied mainly to hiring additional buses, as required by the Board of Ed’s favored school start times schedule.)

This year, the budget vote will come ahead of a municipal election that includes six Town Council seats. Among those whose seats are up for re-election are four councilmen who voted, a part of the 8-4 overall vote, in favor of a budget with $1 million less than what the Board of Ed had requested last year—Chair John Engel, Vice Chair and Secretary Rich Townsend, Liz Donovan and Penny Young.

Luizzi during Monday’s Board of Ed meeting said that even through the pandemic, “one of the things that continues to be written about and studied is the impact of sleep on health and the immune system and what have you.”

“Last week, while we were remote at the high school, we started our school day at 8 o’clock,” he said. “We gave students a little extra time to sleep in. The block schedule that we have implemented at the high school is a rotating block schedule, and I’ve talked to [NCHS Principal] Bill [Egan] a little bit if we are going to continue this can we have all four periods rotating, so that if anyone has a free period anywhere in their day, it will always at one point or another fall first thing in the morning for that sleep-in. That is another strategy around student health and wellness. The school start times is another strategy around student health and wellness. You never do this just to do it. You do it with that larger goal in mind.”

Luizzi in a budget message that introduces proposed spending plan, and New Canaan Public Schools Director of Finance and Operations Dr. Jo-Ann Keating during the meeting, reviewed the overall spending increase, driven primarily by salary and benefits. “[E]mployee costs represent 81% of this Superintendent’s Budget Proposal,” Luizzi said in his message.

He noted that a look at year-over-year spending changes may be misleading, because the pandemic forced elimination some programs and other activities (such as extracurriculars, athletics and programs in visual and performing arts) on a one-off basis for the current academic year. Luizzi said that COVID-19 ultimately will alter spending across three academic years, and that his proposed budget represents a trending increase of 2.13% over five years.

The school board accepted Luizzi’s proposed budget on a first-read basis, and will return to it for a second read at its Jan. 25 meeting.

Board of Ed Vice Chair Brendan Hayes thanked Luizzi, Keating and the administration for its work in compiling the proposed budget. 

“In a typical year it’s difficult to explain in detail how this budget changes, and this year, to do it in a cohesive, detailed and I think easy-to-understand way, it’s a testament to all the hard work and professionalism,” he said.

Chair Katrina Parkhill called the superintendent’s budget an “excellent start.”

“I look forward to more conversations about it,” she said.

5 thoughts on “Superintendent’s Proposed Budget Calls for Changed Start Time Schedule To Take Effect Mid-Academic Year 2021-22

  1. As someone who was deeply involved in the League of Women Voters of New Canaan’s 2005-2006 effort to get this done, let me tell you how happy this makes me, and how gladly i will accept whatever incremental amount is put on my tax bill to ensure a healthy adolescent population in our town. Congratulations to Dr. Luizzi, the Board of Ed, but most especially the parents who renewed the call for change and worked so hard to organize, inform and advocate to do what is in the best interests of the children who now go to school in the NCPS. Nice to finally breathe a sigh of relief for what i read in the news these days….

  2. Changes to the school schedule must provide healthy start times for ALL students, including elementary. A 7:45 AM start time for elementary—which would have some kindergarteners boarding the bus as early as 7:06 AM—is not reasonable for our young children. Such a change would also have a disastrous impact on working families, because the early school dismissal time (2:15 PM) is wildly out of sync with the typical workday.

    The BOE should do the work necessary to create a school schedule that is healthy for all.

    • Thank you Amy! I mirror your sentiments. We can not fix one groups problem at the expense of another. Additionally, with more and more dual income households this is a concern on both ends of the day.

  3. So, this appears to be the exact same plan that many parents voiced their concerns about last year. I think the same issues remain;
    1) Moving our youngest children to the earliest start times in all of CT, including 7:06AM first bus pick up. Which means we will be waking our little children up in complete darkness.
    2) Neighboring towns, including highly ranked Westport and Greenwich schools, that have changed their start times have specifically decided against swapping start times between HS and Elementary school children.
    3) Specific research on the potential harm of swapping times between HS and elementary school exists, while no/none/zero research refutes the intuitive and logical assumption that sleep deprivation of our youngest would be as, if not more, detrimental to our young children.
    4) Advocates consistently represent CDC and AAPA tables that stress sleep needs for adolescents, ignoring those same tables and sources which indicate the sleep requirements of our youngest.
    5) There are a very significant number of parents and stakeholders who have voiced opposition to the proposal and say that this would be detrimental for our children. Including, school staff and HS students themselves who are opposed to this schedule change. Please note the Surveys commissioned and administered by the BOE, or the petition opposing this plan with 500 signatures in less than a week.

    Despite claims from the BOE and administration that they want an open dialogue and something that should represent the desires of the community they seem to ignore valid concerns being expressed by parents. Most clearly evidenced by the current budget proposal, which is essentially the same plan that was opposed to so fervently by many last year. From the onset their single focus appeared to be to get HS to start at 8:30AM, there appears to be little room for any compromise. Has any other schedule even been priced out, as this one has? Even the Start Time website provides little, if any, research that considers the sleep needs of our towns youngest learners or the potential detrimental effect of sleep deprivation for them. This information should be on the website as well and not just articles indicating adolescents should get more sleep, which many of us can support. Let’s not get to this goal solely at the expense of our towns youngest and spending our tax dollars to do so.

  4. Thank you all. Tackling out budget is by no means a small feat. For sure not everyone will be happy with everything but as stated many times in public hearing, through emails, petitions and here on the NewCanaanite we can do better. Westport and Greenwich both heard loudly the concern of elementary students and adjusted school times as it was in the best interest of the littlest ones – and let’s not forget our 5/6 graders to find alternative solutions. The health and well being of our students to listen to the BoE and Dr. Luizzi today is the priority. This clearly has been demonstrated through the navigation of our current COVID crisis. But seems to stop very short of “great” when it comes to start times.

    Today expressed for the first time in public we heard the cost of getting all children to school between 8-9 so it is possible. There may be logistical concerns but that can be sorted now that we know the cost. As expressed today it is small compared to the total budget and should be of paramount priority as expressed in the communication. In fact, recent posts by Town Council members seem to call on the town not to strangle hold our BoE budget in order to let start times pass and yet we don’t proceed with the solution that is in the best interest of all our students. Again, it feels that we are forcing a scenario (not well liked) into a budget.

    The current scenario is centered around a high school start of 8:30. If the smallest can be adjusted why not HS students. Starting at 8 and other grades later would let families leverage older siblings watch younger ones or be available for babysitting. New Canaan sorely needs more childcare. The community will need before school care for dual working families for 5/6 or other solutions at a cost. With many out of work (yes it hit our community too) we would be asking families to commit dollars to a childcare solution when money can be tight which is insensitive to say the least.

    Other issues that seem to be swept under the rug in order to push this solution through is:
    – Elementary pick up at 7:01 (per the 2nd consultant – early than the original 7:06 time). As a reminder a student was hit this school year as it was too dark to see them
    – 5/6 graders not getting out until 3:45 (with some children not getting home until almost 5pm) greatly reducing the opportunity for after school activities important for mental well being. And this is a critical time to shape “keep kids out of trouble” per our administration.
    – In order to allow for 10-12 hours of required sleep (per James Y cited researched avoided in our town online start time postings) children would need to be in bed by 6pm (not reasonable to have extra curricular activities or have family time which is a critical factor in educational success)
    – Kindergartners who don’t have an adult to meet them would brought only to South School not their familiar school and the aids on the bus that have their cars at East/West would need to garner a ride back. Seems like a nonsensical solution.
    – No assumptions should be made about ongoing flexibility for dual working families. Many, many businesses can’t wait to have everyone back in the office. Any many families are dealing with that even in our current crisis.

    This is just a sample of what has been asked to be considered and adjusted in the plans.

    Agreed our administration has worked miracles during our current crisis. It shows their ability to truly solve the hardest of hard and keep our children’s health and well being front and center. School start times has been an ongoing difficult solution to solve but I do believe there is a solution – one that can work for all especially considering the outpouring of support in this town regarding the BoE budget.

    Please find a solution that truly takes in all science and acts in the best interest across our community – the students, teachers, businesses, athletics, etc.

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