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Norwich Free Academy trustees approve budget

By Claire Bessette

Publication: theday.com

Published February 06. 2014 6:00PM   Updated February 06. 2014 10:47PM

Norwich — The Norwich Free Academy board of trustees Thursday approved a $32.8 million 2014-15 budget that calls for an $896,425, or 2.8 percent, overall spending increase and a 2 percent regular education tuition increase for the eight towns that use NFA as their designated high school.

A year ago, the board of trustees had projected a possible tuition increase of up to 4 percent for the 2014-15 school year, but Head of School David Klein said the lower amount reflects a higher-than-projected regular education enrollment, allowing economies of scale. NFA projects regular education enrollment of 2,288, nearly 300 higher than a private projection done a couple years ago.

Klein credited the academy’s recent marketing push to attract more students from the eight partner towns, as students have more and more high school options in the region.

Klein said NFA officials promised partner districts the school would try to reduce the projected tuition increase last year, “and we did.”

Regular education tuition for Norwich will increase by $127, to $11,582. Regular education tuition for the seven surrounding towns will increase by $229, to $11,684. Norwich pays a lower rate to cover the cost of hosting the school and providing public safety and other city services.

The total regular tuition bill for Norwich will be $14.5 million, an increase of $159,526. Preston will pay $1.6 million for regular education tuition, a decrease of $93,945. Regular education tuition bills are set based on actual current enrollment, so the bills would not change if more or fewer students come to the academy from a specific town next school year.

Unlike in past years, NFA officials did not release enrollment projections or projected tuition bills for several special education programs offered at the academy. Tuition for those programs also will increase by 2 percent. Klein said in past years, those figures were estimates at best, as special education placements often are finalized in spring. He said individual towns would have a better handle on their anticipated special education costs.

Norwich Superintendent Abby Dolliver said her staff will calculate the special education totals within the next few days, but even at a 2 percent instead of 4 percent increase, she expects a “hefty” increase in the overall NFA tuition bill. The Norwich Board of Education will review the budget at its March 9 meeting.

Preston Superintendent John Welch said the special education increase for Preston also will be substantial, but Welch was pleased that the NFA tuition increase was set at 2 percent, instead of the potential 4 percent. The Preston Board of Education will review the proposed 2014-15 school budget Monday. Welch had projected a 4 percent NFA increase, so high school special education will be nearly $83,000 lower, totaling about $373,000.

“It’s definitely to our advantage that it’s 2 percent,” Welch said. “We certainly appreciate it.”

The overall new NFA budget calls for two new full-time teaching positions and two full-time student support staff — either two social workers, two psychologists or one of each, depending on specific needs to be identified, Klein said.

The budget also will create a “New Arrival Center” for incoming immigrant students who speak no English.

Klein said the number of English Language Learners has doubled in recent years, and the school is working to improve programs to allow them to become proficient in English as quickly as possible. One of the new teaching positions will be dedicated to the ELL program.

The second new teacher will be a combined reading/English teacher. The new position will allow reading to be expanded to four days a week for all NFA students, Curriculum Director Denise Grant said. Currently, ELL students have reading only twice a week.

NFA also will add a unique class to the world language offerings — sign language. A current foreign language teacher already is certified as a sign language teacher, Grant said.

The budget includes $25.3 million for salaries and benefits, which includes a new teachers’ contract approved in December, which comprises 77 percent of the total, $4.2 million for maintenance and $3.2 million for instructional supplies.

c.bessette@theday.com

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