This week on 0684-Radi0, our free podcast (subscribe here in the iTunes Store), we talk to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi about a revised school start times schedule that now is under discussion on the Board of Education.
Six months after voting in favor of a new school start times schedule that would see elementary schools start at 8 a.m. while the high school starts at 8:30 a.m., the Board of Education last week discussed a “revised” schedule that essentially flips those two groups. During a meeting held last Wednesday afternoon at the New Canaan Public Schools’ administrative offices downtown, the school board participated in a “workshop” on “healthier school start times implementation,” as follows, according to minutes of the meeting:
All nine Board of Ed members attended, including three remotely. It wasn’t clear who else was in attendance. A note on the public notice published on the NCPS website said, “Due to space limitations, the workshop is not open for public attendance. Instead, it will be livestreamed at the link below.” Typically, regular Board of Ed meetings are streamed on the district’s YouTube channel and recorded.
A referendum vote Wednesday that, had its petitioners succeeded, would have decreased Board of Education spending by about $460,000, failed to draw enough electors to carry, officials say. Just 1,914 total ballots were cast in a referendum vote designed to strip the school board of funds earmarked for costs associated with changes to school start times in New Canaan, according to Town Clerk Claudia Weber.
For the effort to succeed, a total of 2,046 cast ballots—that’s 15% of the electorate in the latest registry list—needed to be marked “Yes” on following question (and needed to be a majority of those voting), according to Weber: “Shall the action taken by the Town Council at its March 31, 2021 meeting, which did not reduce the Board of Education budget by $463,337, be overruled and returned to the Board of Finance for reconsideration?”
Of those who did cast ballots, 808 voted “Yes” (including 58 absentees) while 1,106 voted “No” (including 38 absentees), according to Weber. The $460,000 figure largely reflects the amount of money needed for additional buses in order to introduce a new start times schedule that would take effect in the middle of the 2021-22 academic year. In it, all three elementary schools would start at 7:45 a.m., fifth and sixth grades at 9:30 a.m. and seventh through twelfth grades at 8:30 a.m.
Proponents have pointed to scientific data regarding the negative effects of a lack of sleep for adolescents. Opponents have said the planned changes will negatively affect elementary school kids.
Those seeking to remove about $460,000 from the Board of Education’s budget for next fiscal year—the amount of money needed to bring about long-discussed changes to school start times—have obtained the necessary signatures on a petition to allow for a referendum vote on the funds, according to Town Clerk Claudia Weber. The Town Clerk’s office has verified the petitioners’ 682 signatures and now New Canaan’s legislative body must set a date for the referendum vote, Weber said in an email Tuesday to several officials, including the first selectman and representatives of the Town Council and Registrars of Voters. The date and time for voting must be set before June 6, and the Town Council must decide “if explanatory text is necessary,” Weber said in the email. “If the date is after May 20th, Covid will not be allowed as an excuse for an absentee ballot,” she said, referring to the date that Gov. Ned Lamont has set for the lifting of COVID-19-related executive orders in Connecticut.
The petitioners are challenging the Town Council’s decision to reject a motion at its March 31 meeting. There, Councilmen Mike Mauro and Maria Naughton voted in favor of a motion to reduce the Board of Ed’s operating budget by $463,337 and Councilmen John Engel, Rich Townsend, Sven Englund, Steve Karl, Penny Young, Liz Donovan, Cristina A. Ross, Mark Grzymski, Tom Butterworth and Robin Bates-Mason voted against.
After suspending the practice for one meeting, members of the Board of Education said last week that they’re hoping to find a secure way for the public to offer comment before the elected body during remote meetings in the future. Receiving people’s emails isn’t an adequate substitute for the live public comment period that’s part of regular meeting agendas, according to Board member Dionna Carlson.
“I wouldn’t want to see this going to the emails that just come to the Board, because that’s not public,” Carlson said during the Board’s March 30 meeting, held via videoconference.
“There is a lot going on right now and I do think we need to find a way for the public to be able to address us through the digital platform,” Carlson said. She added, “I think it is is important for us to see and hear the public and for the remainder of the public to see what is being addressed to the Board. So I would not want to see this go to emails and things like that. We just need to figure out how to work with [New Canaan Public Schools Technology Services] to keep these random things off the Zoom platform or go to a different platform that is more secure.”
She referred to inappropriate material that appeared during recent public meetings held by other municipal bodies in New Canaan on Zoom videoconferencing software—a practice known as “Zoom-bombing.”
Board member Bob Naughton suggested the district look into webinar platforms that require advance registration.
Board Vice Chair Brendan Hayes said it was a good idea to “pre-clear those who are going to speak.”
“It is a bit difficult, I think, but my guess is we are not going to have a huge number of people during this period of time,” he said.