NFA leaders credit supporters for retaining academy's 'independence'

Norwich — Norwich Free Academy leaders credited the loyalty and activism of alumni and supporters for killing a proposed bill last spring that would have given NFA sending towns representation on the board of trustees and called for public hearings on proposed NFA budgets.

The academy is a privately endowed institution that also is the designated public high school for eight municipalities.

In her address to the annual meeting of the NFA board of trustees and NFA corporators, trustees Chairwoman Sarette Williams said NFA hired a lobbyist and reached out to alumni and supporters, who flooded legislators’ inboxes with messages against Senate Bill 786. The bill was watered down to call for only a public hearing on NFA budgets — not sending town representation — but it died without a vote at the end of the legislative session.

“We retained a lobbyist and we became engaged, you became engaged,” Williams said. “And our community of alumni from around the United states and scattered in several foreign countries fought hard against 786.”

Williams said NFA must remain focused to its mission of student achievement “without regard to the town of residence of the student.” Williams said, however, that NFA learned from the bill process, first assuring that all NFA corporators must rally around its mission of independence when it is challenged and must learn about NFA’s history as a privately endowed public high school.

She said endowed academies are “an anomaly” not easily understood by the public and state legislators.

“We learned that our legislators listened to us,” Williams said.

She said NFA is indebted to corporators, alumni and supporters, who “bleed red and white together,” and said two legislators asked that they “cease and desist” communications because they overwhelmed the legislators' inboxes.

NFA officials supplied the foundation’s nonprofit IRS Form 990 and told legislators that academy administrators regularly meet with superintendents of the sending towns, and that trustee meetings are open to the public.

Those meetings, however, do not include public comment periods or a public hearing on the proposed annual budget prior to adoption by the board.

Thursday’s corporators meeting included a closed-door presentation on the NFA Foundation’s financial activities and donations, which were summarized in the annual report released Thursday. The report took a different format, shedding the usual charts and graphs and financial tables for a printed “conversation” between Williams and NFA Foundation President Keith Fontaine.

In the introduction, the report stated that the foundation contributed $1.2 million to subsidize the operating budget for the academy this fiscal year and contributed $397,305 in direct support to academic programs. The foundation also awarded $390,000 to 325 students in the 2016-17 school year.

The NFA board of trustees elected Williams to the three-year term of board chairwoman; DeVol Joyner, vice chairman; Mark Tramontozzi, secretary, and Denise Lindell, treasurer.

c.bessette@theday.com

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