‘You Had Me At Hello’: First Selectman Supports Addition of Special Ed Admin in Public Schools

The town’s highest elected official last week voiced support for the Superintendent of Schools’ request to add a third full-time special education administrator to New Canaan Public Schools’ staff. Designed to more effectively manage special ed staff and cases, the addition is “something important to my values,” First Selectman Rob Mallozzi said Wednesday during the first presentation of Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi’s draft proposed budget to the Board of Selectmen. “If we have enrollment that is driving this, then that’s [why] we all voted for [the expansion at] Saxe,” Mallozzi said during the presentation, held in a board room at Town Hall. “This position here is some that on an emotional and any kind of level seems very important, so I am delighted to see it in the budget.”

“You had me at ‘Hello’ with this,” Mallozzi said with respect to the request, offering high praise for the two administrators in place now and their ability to carry a large workload. Currently, two administrators divide the work of overseeing special education in the public schools—evaluating and supervising all staff, communicating with parents, sitting in on meetings, keeping abreast of developments in special ed requirements and regulations—one responsible for pre-K through fifth grade, the other sixth grade through “Launch” (any special ed student through age 21).

Superintendent of Schools Recommends $2.8 Million Capital Budget for Next Fiscal Year

An estimated $400,000 restoration of the Farm Road-side parking lot at South School and masonry repairs at Saxe Middle School rank as major items driving Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi’s $2.8 million proposed capital spending plan for next year. The figure would roughly triple what had been approved in capital spending for New Canaan Public Schools last budget season, though that number does not include the $18.6 million renovation and expansion at the middle school. Presented at the Board of Education meeting Monday night together with Luizzi’s recommended $88.5 million operating budget, the capital spending proposal places into future years some projects that originally had been slated for next fiscal year. For example, an estimated $2.3 million replacement of the 20-year-old roof of South School now is slated for fiscal year 2020, under the district’s fluid 5-year capital plan, the superintendent said. “We will certainly keep a close eye on [the roof] and if something goes very wrong, then we would have to accelerate it, but after taking a good hard look, [Manager of Facilities Operations] Bob [Willoughby] was comfortable deferring that now,” Luizzi said.

School Board Grappling With ‘Risky’ Cut To Health Insurance Reserve Fund

Just weeks after the town slashed the New Canaan Board of Education’s health insurance reserve account by $1.1 million for the fiscal 2015-2016 year, members of the board are now discussing how they would deal with a potential worst case scenario in which claims exceed the amount budgeted and eat into the reserves. During Monday’s Board of Education meeting at New Canaan High School, Dionna Carlson, who heads up the board’s educational resources sub-committee, said, “Through our work on the health insurance account we have identified a problem with our health insurance reserve as it relates to the health insurance reserve policy that was put into place in April 2014.”

That policy, crafted in cooperation with the Board of Selectmen, calls for the board to maintain 60% of the approximately $3 million health insurance reserve, known as the stop loss health corridor, as part of its budget, while the town maintains the other 40% in a special reserve on the town’s books. (To save money, the Town of New Canaan self insures as opposed to using full insurance.)

On top of this, the town maintains a special “incurred but not reported” (IBNR) reserve account, of about $1 million, that is used to cover claims that occurred in the fiscal year but which are not processed until after the fiscal year has ended. Members of the Board of Education and the school administration feel that the recent deep cut to the board’s reserve account puts the board at risk of defaulting on claims in the rare event that a high volume of claims draw down the health insurance budget and eat into the reserves. The town’s rationale for making the cut was basically that the board’s health insurance reserve fund is routinely overfunded at the end of each fiscal year.

Concerns Arise as Enrollment Drives up Projected Class Sizes at Elementary Schools

The district will see a steep increase in the number of kids in New Canaan’s elementary schools this coming year, preliminary data show, prompting concerns from some education officials about average class sizes. Projections call for 1,674 elementary-level students in New Canaan Public Schools. Though that figure may be higher than the number of kids who actually show up next Wednesday for the first day of school, it represents a net increase of 72 kids over the last academic year. District officials said during Monday night’s Board of Education meeting that East, South and West schools plan to absorb the additional students with a net increase of just one more class/section. (Tables with average classroom size projections for each school are interspersed throughout this article.)

School board Secretary Dionna Carlson said she’s concerned that six out of the 15 grades (kindergarten through fourth, in each of the three elementary schools) are either at or slightly above class size guidelines.

Board of Ed Welcomes Kristine Woleck, East School Principal

The Board of Education on Monday formally welcomed the new East School principal to that leadership role in the district. School officials appointed Kristine Woleck to the position one week ago, the same day Jan Murphy was named principal at West. Murphy was unable to attend the board meeting, held in New Canaan High School’s Wagner Room. There, retiring New Canaan Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Mary Kolek described Woleck as “an instructional leader of the highest caliber.”

“She joined the district in 2002 as a math specialist at South School, and after two years, we really recognize her talents and her contributions at the district level, and she was promoted to the district math coordinator at our elementary level, and she served as our district math coordinator from 2004 to 2011,” Kolek said. “During that time, Kris certainly took a leadership role in terms of looking at how to develop and implement high-quality curriculum, instruction and assessments in professional development.