Letter: Board of Ed Urges New Canaan To Support Saxe Building Project

The Board of Education has been closely following the Saxe Building Committee’s (SBC) work throughout their process of analyzing the educational space needs at Saxe, recommending changes to meet those needs and designing the improvements deemed critical. The Board of Education fully supports the SBC’s recommended project to renovate the Saxe Auditorium and visual performing arts/music area and to expand the current building to add a net of 12 new classrooms.

Why Saxe Needs More Space

Built in 1957, Saxe Middle School was last renovated from 1997 to 1999 to accommodate 1200 students. Since this time (15-plus years), Saxe’s enrollment has increased. Current enrollment is at 1,327 students, up from the 1,292 students enrolled at this time last year. The latest projections anticipate that enrollment at Saxe will steadily increase over the next few years, peaking in 2024 at 1,376 students, and remaining stable at around 1,350 afterwards.

Board of Ed Supports $16.9 Million Building Project at Saxe

The Board of Education on Tuesday voted 9-0 in favor of a recommendation to renovate the Saxe Middle School auditorium, expand performing arts classroom spaces and build a 2-story, 12-classroom addition on the northwest corner of the building for an estimated $16.9 million. The proposal, which also includes one relocated science/STEM classroom in the addition, would meet pressing enrollment needs by providing enough classrooms “without sacrificing program or class sizes, and put students into appropriately sized classroom spaces,” said school board member Penny Rashin, who helped lead a committee of residents and town and district officials who are overseeing the project. “While the cost is significant, we think this option provides an efficient solution to the needs of students at Saxe and urge you to support it,” Rashin said at the Board of Ed’s special meeting, a second read of the building proposal, held in the Choral Room at the middle school. On Wednesday, Rashin said, the Saxe Building Committee will go before the Board of Finance to seek $750,000 in preconstruction funding for the project (architects, engineering, legal, owner’s rep, environmental testing, construction manager and cost estimating). Parents and school board members in voicing support for what’s been called “Option 3A” pointed to rising enrollment at a school built for 1,200 students and attendant curriculum needs for the student body.

‘Frustrated’ and ‘Disappointed’: School Board on Final $100,000 Reduction from Proposed Spending Increase

Saying the Town Council’s final, unexplained reduction of $100,000 from the district’s proposed spending increase for next fiscal year left them frustrated and disappointed, several Board of Education members on Monday night called for equal transparency and greater accountability from town government and municipal bodies. New Canaan also should look at its own budget process, school board members said, because by giving more power to appointed—rather than elected—officials, that process leaves Town Council members just one way to put their mark on the budget: reduce what’s been handed to them. Calling the Town Council’s move “unprecedented” in her 12 years on the Board of Ed, Alison Bedula described the move as a “basically random cut to either meet percentage or fulfill an obligation.”

Administrators and school board members worked diligently “to present a transparent line-by-line budget and to have discussions about it through the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance, and to have this thing really kind of ripped apart and looked at in detail which is a really necessary part of the process—to reach the Town Council and answer all their questions and then to get to the very end just to have $100,000 lopped off of the top of the budget, I just found that very disconcerting as a board member, very frustrating, quite frankly,” Bedula said at the Board of Ed meeting, held in the Wagner Room at New Canaan High School. “I think it’s very difficult as a board member for us to go through the process that we do, to the level of detail that we do, with the level of thoughtfulness that we do, and try to be as transparent as possible, which is asked for and delivered, which is what we all want, obviously to get to that point and have a random no pulled out of the sky, to say ‘We’re just going to take $100,000 off … you guys just have to find it some place.’ ”

Bedula and others at the meeting praised Interim Director of Finance and Operations Nancy Harris, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi and others for putting so much time and effort into a budget presentation that included new depths of detail, as well as the four councilmen who voted against the final $100,000 reduction in the district’s spending increase for next fiscal year: John Emert, John Engel, Kevin Moynihan and Tucker Murphy. (The 12-member Town Council voted 7-4 in favor of the reduction, with Penny Young absent.) Engel in particular during the Town Council’s April 1 meeting had said he was dissatisfied with a $100,000 reduction that lacked any supporting documentation or explanation.

East School Parents Fund $35,000 in New Playground Equipment for Kindergarten, First Grade

Thanks to the generosity of East School parents, kindergarteners and first-graders on Little Brook Road as soon as April will enjoy new playground equipment that’s designed both to provide fun and stimulate the senses. The Board of Education at its regular meeting Monday night voted 8-0 to accept a $35,000 gift from the East School PTC that will go toward a rollerslide, grab bar, hand hold/leg lift and other equipment from Delano, Minn.-based playground design firm Landscape Structures. The figure includes the relocation in the playground of a popular “fire truck” and introduction of new woodchips that will be needed for the site, according to PTC Co-President Patty Zoccolillo and East School Principal Kris Woleck. Weather-permitting, the new gear will go in over April Break, Zoccolillo said. “I just wanted to mention once again the incredible generosity of our parent body,” she told the school board at the meeting, held in the Wagner Room at New Canaan High School.