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).
By adding a third administrator, the program could be restructured to work more efficiently, Luizzi said, with one admin overseeing pre-K through fourth grade, one fifth through eighth, and one the high school grades and Launch population.
Luizzi said the new special ed management structure would “help the entire program” and help the administrators “get to know the buildings, get to know the kids, work with the staff, work with the families and be there when things happen.”
It isn’t clear where the selectman or Mallozzi, who by Charter doubles as chairman of the Board of Finance, stand now on other new positions called for in Luizzi’s budget. They include one new teacher at each elementary school with attendant specials area class support, a writing specialist at West School, two classroom teachers at Saxe Middle School, making full-time a part-time language arts leader at Saxe and restoring to full-time a STEM teacher at New Canaan High School.
Luizzi during his presentation reviewed both his proposed operating and capital budgets and the district’s plan for communicating them to parents—how staffing levels follow from enrollment projections and classroom size guidelines, how a requested $5.3 million year-over-year increase on the operating side breaks down, how health insurance is driving the overall increase and what new positions he’s seeking to add.
The selectmen asked about outside agencies’ evaluation of AP course participation in New Canaan (it’s trending up, though NCPS isn’t trying to “game” the numbers as some other districts have), whether elementary-level students are ever moved to a different school in order to make sensible class section numbers (in a pinch, yes, though the district will not split up families), and sought clarification on a new column in the superintendent’s proposed budget that calculates cost projections more accurately for the current fiscal year (helped largely by new payroll software).
Following a discussion of insurance costs as a budget driver, the first selectman said he hopes to avoid the divisive tenor of budget talks with the Board of Ed in past years.
“I really hope we don’t spend time taking away from the education of our kids by talking about this,” Mallozzi said. “They don’t have to be co-joined. It’s a separate, business conversation. So that is my hope.”
The Board of Ed is expected on Monday to hear from an insurance consultant at its regular meeting, and to go through a second read on Luizzi’s proposed spending plan. At that point, the full school board would vote on a proposed fiscal year 2017 budget, and it would come back to the selectmen, then finance board and Town Council for discussion and approval.