Norwich gets some responses to requests for 5 percent tuition, school contract cuts

Norwich — School officials have received three dozen responses thus far to the 400 requests sent in June to all tuition-based schools, vendors and contractors to consider cutting 5 percent off their bills to the school district this year in the wake of a projected deficit in the school budget.

Superintendent Abby Dolliver sent the letters at the request of the school board, which voted June 26 to adopt the $78.46 million budget approved by the City Council although that total was $4 million less than requested. The board rejected proposals to cut staff or restructure schools but since then has used grants and other anticipated savings to shave the deficit to an estimated $3.3 million.

Responses have been mixed to Dolliver’s letters, with Norwich Free Academy and Ledyard High School saying they could not reduce high school tuitions this year, while several agencies with much smaller bills to the school district did agree to cut costs in some form.

Dolliver said she appreciates the willingness of some contractors to help the school district but it’s too early to calculate total savings from those reductions. She said in some cases, the district simply has stopped buying materials and services because of the budget cuts, so the reductions in prices might be moot.

Some reductions offer small savings. For example, United Community and Family Services agreed to reduce its medical director’s services fee by 5 percent, from $3,500 to $3,325. The board’s law firm, Shipman & Goodwin LLP, offered 10 free hours of legal work. A&A Copiers agreed to the 5 percent discount, as did Allston Supply on its products. Follett School Solutions offered a 5 percent reduction on print materials and books for classrooms and school libraries.

Norwich Free Academy board of trustees Chairwoman Sarette Williams wrote in her Aug. 23 letter that NFA administrators and the trustees “diligently reviewed” the request with legal and financial advisors, who warned that NFA could be jeopardizing its tax-exempt status if it were to agree to the request.

“We have concluded that there are considerable financial and legal risks to NFA should we agree to your requests,” Williams wrote. In the letter, Williams offered to coordinate a meeting with NFA Head of School David Klein, herself and other officials and Norwich school leaders to discuss “these shortfall issues,” if school board Chairwoman Yvette Jacaruso wishes.

Ledyard Superintendent Jason Hartling sent a brief letter Aug. 17 stating that the Ledyard Board of Education’s Finance Committee had discussed the request Aug. 15 and “chose no action at this time.” He wrote that the board approved updated tuition rates at the full board meeting. Hartling added a handwritten “Sorry” at the bottom of the typed letter.

Dolliver’s initial letter requested either a 5 percent reduction in tuitions or bills to the district or a deferral of 10 percent of costs to next year. Dolliver said Friday the second part of the request was dropped, because the board legally could not defer costs to next year.

The Board of Education will discuss the budget and the vendors’ responses to date at its 5:30 p.m. meeting Thursday at Kelly Middle School. Dolliver sent the board a spreadsheet listing the three dozen contractors and tuition schools that have responded thus far.

c.bessette@theday.com

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