Perhaps many have heard the New Canaan Board of Education touting its plan for later school start times for students and how it would be a great win for “our” students. More sleep for our children sounds like a great thing, right? What Board of Ed members don’t mention is that it would be solely at the expense of our youngest children (and about $1 million in tax dollars). The current plan they are trying to push through is attempting to give high school students an additional hour of sleep by taking away one hour and 20 minutes from most elementary school children. This would represent the earliest elementary school start time in all of Connecticut and an average of one hour earlier than the other schools.
The Board of Education on Tuesday night voted 6-1 to recommend an approximately $92.8 million spending plan for next fiscal year. The budget brought forward by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi and endorsed by the school board during its regular meeting represents a 1.47% increase over current spending—within Board of Finance guidelines.
It includes about $950,000 needed for new transportation costs that would come with a revised school start times schedule, though it is unclear which of two equally expensive start time scenarios the Board of Ed ultimately will recommend.
The first scenario, studied and discussed extensively for months, would see the three elementary schools start together at 7:45 a.m., followed by the seventh and eighth grades at Saxe Middle School and all of New Canaan High School at 8:30 a.m. with the fifth and sixth grades at Saxe starting together at 9:15 a.m.
Major advantages of that schedule include starting school late enough that adolescents get sufficient sleep, district officials have said, citing established medical data and recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics. It also would see all three elementary schools get onto the same start and end time schedule and avoid having those young kids in school late into the afternoon, when anecdotal evidence says they tire out, officials have said. Yet based on strong feedback from the community, including families with kids in elementary school, Board of Ed Chair Katrina Parkhill said the elected body may consider another scenario that “flips” the first and last “tiers.” In other words, the fifth and sixth grades would start at 7:45 a.m. while the elementary schools would all start at 9:15 a.m., she said. “This scenario may more appropriately balance schedules, in response to family and community needs,” Parkhill said during the meeting, held in the Wagner Room at NCHS.
The superintendent of schools on Monday night proposed a spending plan for next fiscal year of nearly $92.8 million. Dr. Bryan Luizzi’s operating budget includes about $950,000 for the additional buses and attendant staffing that would be needed for a revised start times schedule for New Canaan Public Schools.
It represents a 1.47% increase over current spending, meeting the town’s 1.5% budget guidance. The increased cost for a new start times schedule is offset by an anticipated reduction of about $1.9 million in spending on district employee benefits, Luizzi told members of the Board of Education in presenting his proposed budget during their regular meeting. Reduced projections for healthcare costs next year stem from “significantly improved performance” and other factors, Luizzi said at the meeting, held in the Wagner Room at New Canaan High School.
Though Luizzi did not go into granular depth on the large reduction in benefits spending, saying the district’s insurance consultant would appear before the Board Jan. 13, he noted that factors include fewer retiree and active participants, increased reimbursements on prescription drugs (about $100,000), well-negotiated benefits in partnership with faculty and staff, and a re-allocation of profits from food services.
Board of Education members are divided as to whether they have enough feedback and information on a revised school start times schedule to recommend this month that hundreds of thousands of dollars in spending for additional buses be included in a proposed budget for next fiscal year. No one disagrees that starting grades seven through 12 at 8:30 a.m. as opposed to 7:30 a.m. would benefit students in important ways—established medical research recommends later start times for adolescents.
Under a favored scenario that district officials have developed, New Canaan’s elementary schools would start at 7:45 a.m., though because morning buses could start their routes from the geographically distributed neighborhood schools rather than New Canaan High School, the first student wouldn’t need to be picked up until 7:06 a.m. (currently 6:27 a.m.) when it’s sufficiently light outside that flashlights aren’t needed.
Yet that proposed new schedule also forces a bus usage system that’s far less efficient than the one New Canaan Public Schools now employs, and it would require about six or seven additional buses—at a clip of $100,000 in additional annual spending, per bus—to make the favored start times scenario work. Board of Ed member Dionna Carlson at the elected body’s Dec. 16 meeting called it “a very expensive option that will go up 3% every year, in perpetuity.”
A similar start times scenario garnered low levels of support in surveys conducted earlier this year, she said, and there are unanswered questions about just how it will affect students seeking extra help from teachers, among other concerns. To include funding for the busing system as part of the school board’s Jan.
Though New Canaan’s youngest students would start school first—instead of last, as they do now—under a new schedule that district officials are considering, those kids wouldn’t need to be picked up by buses until after it’s light outside, officials said last week. Because buses could head out in the morning from each of the three geographically distributed elementary schools—that is, closer to students’ homes than they do now, in picking up New Canaan High School kids—a 7:45 a.m. start time at East, South and West would mean the very first student wouldn’t need to be picked up until 7:06 a.m., according to new estimates from the district. Though such a system would require additional buses and brings with it several practical challenges (see below), it also would allow NCHS to start at a sufficiently late morning time with respect to adolescent health, officials said Friday during a special Board of Education meeting. Under the proposed system, seventh- and eighth-graders at Saxe Middle School would start with NCHS at 8:30 a.m., while the fifth and sixth grades at Saxe would start together at 9:15 a.m.
The schedule would see elementary schools run through 2:15 p.m., while the high school and seventh and eighth grades finished at 3 p.m. and fifth and sixth grades at 3:45 p.m., meaning all levels would have a 6.5-hour school day, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi said at the meaning, held in a conference room at the district’s administrative offices. The potential new start time schedule—what Luizzi called a “prototype,” developed much work from Roy Walder, transportation coordinator for New Canaan Public Schools—follows multiple surveys and workshops involving the schools and wider community, and is built around an anchor assumption that grades seven-and-up start at 8:30 a.m., as recommended by pediatricians.