Norwich Free Academy trustees approve 2018-19 budget with 1.5 percent tuition increase

Norwich – The Norwich Free Academy Board of Trustees approved a $35.9 million budget for 2018-19 Tuesday with a 1.5 percent tuition hike, the lowest increase in seven years.

The budget is 1.7 million or 3.39 percent more than this year’s $34.7 million total, but a $1.5 million subsidy provided by the academy's privately funded endowment kept the tuition increase to 1.5 percent, Head of Schools David Klein said.

The budget contains no new programs or staffing, Klein said, and all departments are being asked to cut spending by 5 percent from last year’s levels to contain costs. Those cuts have not yet been made, he said, but are not expected to affect staffing, class offerings, clubs and activities. However, NFA also must honor contractual obligations, including a 3.19 percent salary increase. Salaries total $29.3 million or  81.6 percent of the total budget.

“We know we need to continue to be sensitive to the fiscal challenges of NFAs partner districts,” Klein said. “We are very mindful in and fluent in the (state Education Cost Sharing) cuts and the ECS holdbacks that each of our partners have endured.”

The NFA Foundation agreed to contribute $1.2 million to the operating budget, and the foundation added a $300,000 unrestricted grant to NFA. The Board of Trustees’ Finance Committee voted to recommend that the entire $300,000 be applied as a tuition subsidy, and the full board voted unanimously Tuesday to accept that recommendation.

Klein said the $300,000 could have been used to eliminate the 5 percent department cuts, but the finance committee preferred to apply it to the tuition subsidy. Board Chairwoman Sarette Williams assured the board that existing programs would not be compromised by the 5 percent reduction.

The foundation has contributed $7.4 million to subsidize the operating budget since the 2013-14 fiscal year, Klein said.

The tuition for 2017-18 will be $12,762 per student for regular education students, and a range for various special education programs between $27,873 and $68,176 per student for seven partner districts with contracts to send students to NFA as a designated high school. Norwich, also a partner district, however, receives a $200 per student discount on all tuition levels to cover host town costs such as emergency services provided to the academy campus.

Enrollment is expected to remain relatively stable, with a projected drop of 38 students to a total of 2,287 next school year. Klein, though, said NFA officials expected a drop this year, but the freshmen class ended up larger than expected. NFA is projecting the freshman class to total 532 students, replacing a graduating senior class of 563 students.

With more competition for incoming high school students, NFA has a rigorous school marketing effort, hosting open houses in fall for prospective students and a “Celebrate NFA” night in spring for seventh graders. Director of Student Affairs John Iovino also attends high school fairs held in surrounding towns.

Staffing also will remain the same, with 197 faculty, 93 staff and 11 administrators.

The operating budget doesn't include capital improvements to the campus, funded through private endowment money. The board will hear a presentation on proposed summer capital projects at its Feb. 20 meeting.

 The budget is at www.nfaschool.org/budget.

c.bessette@theday.com

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