Norwich ready to start talking contract with NFA

Norwich - Two years remain on the city's contract with Norwich Free Academy as its designated high school, and city school officials have notified academy officials that it's time to start negotiating a new deal.

Board of Education Chairwoman Yvette Jacaruso addressed a letter to NFA Board of Trustees President David Whitehead as "our official notice to you of termination of the existing contract" as it is set to expire on June 30, 2015. The Board of Education will be asked to vote on the letter at its meeting today at 5:30 p.m. at Kelly Middle School. Jacaruso said the contract specifies that the city must notify NFA two years in advance if the city wishes to negotiate new terms in a new contract.

"It is not the intention of the Board to sever our relationship with the Norwich Free Academy," Jacaruso wrote. "However, the Board does desire to negotiate over the terms of a contract that is mutually acceptable."

She also expressed desire to conclude negotiations on a new contract prior to the city's adoption of a 2014-15 budget a year from this spring and asked that negotiations on a new contract start no later than July 1 of this year.

NFA Head of School David Klein issued a written statement Monday in response to the board's request:

"NFA values and appreciates its educational partnerships with each of the school districts and communities we faithfully serve," the NFA statement said. "We welcome the opportunity to discuss the terms of our agreement with Norwich beyond June 30, 2015."

Jacaruso said she was pleased with the NFA statement and she too looks forward to the discussions. The board's established negotiating committee, comprised of board members John Levangie, Aaron Daniels, Dennis Slopak and Robert Aldi, would be asked to handle the NFA contact, Jacaruso said.

"We want to work cooperatively with NFA," Jacaruso said. "It's our designated high school. They do a good job. We want to talk about the rate structure, that's all."

Norwich's contract with NFA has a few key components. Norwich receives a $100 per student discount in the tuition rates set by the NFA trustees, because Norwich provides host city services - including police and fire coverage - to the academy grounds.

Tuition is based on the average of the previous two years of enrollment to avoid sharp fluctuations in numbers that could either disrupt NFA's revenues for an unusually small incoming class or cause spikes in expenses on the city side for a large freshman class.

The NFA Board of Trustees enacted a 4 percent tuition increase for the 2013-14 fiscal year, a $1.5 million increase in combined regular and special education tuition for Norwich. The tuition bill to NFA will total $21.7 million for both regular and special education.

But other terms in the contract have highlighted discussions at recent Norwich Board of Education meetings. The public school board next year will pay an additional $1.7 million in "non-tuition costs directly attributed to NFA students."

The public school budget pays for para-educators to support Norwich special education students attending the academy, despite higher tuition rates for special education programs. Norwich also pays for tutors for students suspended or expelled for certain periods of time and pays for transportation.

The non-tuition costs normally are not contained in various line items in the public school budget, such as special education para-educators and tutoring services. As the board reviewed its budget last week, members asked administrators to show those costs separately in an effort to show the City Council - which controls the school budget bottom line - that the public school portion of the proposed 3 percent spending increase is only 0.87 percent.

c.bessette@theday.com

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