Published January 29. 2013 6:00PM Updated January 29. 2013 11:28PM
Norwich — The 2013-14 Norwich Free Academy budget will total $31.9 million for combined regular and special education expenses, a 4.53 percent increase, but persistent declining enrollment will mean lower tuition bills for all partner towns, which use NFA as their designated high school, except Norwich.
The Board of Trustees voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the budget and also approved a concept plan that calls for NFA to set tuition rate increases at 4 percent a year for the next three years.
The budget maintains current staffing and all educational and extracurricular programs, Head of School David Klein told the Board of Trustees. Although NFA expects to see a drop of 122 students in the coming school year, Klein advised not cutting teaching staff to prepare for a state-mandated increase in credits required for graduation from the current 22 at NFA to 25.
As the host city providing emergency response services and other services to the academy, Norwich pays $100 less in tuition per student than other partner towns. The budget calls for a 4 percent tuition increase, which means Norwich will pay $11,355 per student for regular education while other towns will pay $11,455.
But only Norwich will see a major financial impact with the NFA budget.
In the budget, Norwich will pay $19.9 million for regular and special education, an increase of $981,480, or 5.1 percent. That figure does not include the new Sachem Campus transitional program, an NFA program that replaced the former Thames River Academy alternative high school. Norwich will pay $25,000 per student in the Sachem program, estimated at about 70 students next year, amounting to another $1.75 million.
Norwich paid about $600,000 per year to run Thames River Academy, but Superintendent Abby Dolliver said that did not include all the programs NFA offers, and Norwich would have faced increased costs in that program had it remained.
In addition, eight of the 10 students enrolled in a new Life skills, Employment Adult Development special education program for students aged 18 to 21 will be Norwich students, at a tuition cost of $43,000 per student.
Dolliver said the NFA bill is even higher than the increases enumerated in the NFA budget, because Norwich public schools also provide para-educators to the special education programs, tutoring for suspended Norwich students and psychiatric evaluations for some students.
Because of the enrollment decrease, all other partner towns will see overall decreases in their tuition bills ranging from a $1,200 reduction for Lisbon to a $144,380 reduction in Voluntown's bill. Preston will see a $79,485 reduction.
Klein and NFA Chief Financial Officer Rich Rand told the board that the administrators continue to pursue new revenue sources. NFA officials this week are interviewing five students from China to possibly open NFA up to international students. Klein said NFA has not yet issued letters of acceptance to international students.