School districts to start contract negotiations with Norwich Free Academy

The five-year contract between Norwich Free Academy and the eight designated partner districts will expire at the end of June, and a proposed new universal contract won’t come together until three of those districts negotiate with NFA on changes they want to see in the new deal.

By agreement, NFA’s partner districts had to inform NFA two years before the contract expires that they wish to negotiate changes in the next five-year deal to begin on July 1, 2020. The Norwich, Preston and Canterbury boards of education made that notification, and now those boards are gearing up to negotiate a new deal with NFA.

The Norwich Board of Education discussed the NFA contract for two hours behind closed doors Tuesday night. Afterward the board voted unanimously to authorize Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow to “initiate negotiations with Norwich Free Academy on a new contract."

Following the meeting, board Chairwoman Yvette Jacaruso declined to discuss any specifics on what changes the Norwich board might be seeking.

Preston Superintendent Roy Seitsinger said the Preston Board of Education will be discussing the NFA contract priorities in the next few board meetings.

“The Board has not yet specifically identified changes,” Seitsinger said in an email, “but did send a letter last year stating its interest in negotiating a new deal.”

NFA spokesman Michael O’Farrell said the NFA board of trustees will lead the negotiations on a new five-year contract with the three districts that are seeking changes. Once those issues are resolved, a universal draft contract will be presented to the towns.

The other partner districts are Bozrah, Franklin, Lisbon Sprague and Voluntown. Brooklyn also sends students to NFA as one of its town’s high school choices.

Contract negotiations in 2015 between Norwich public school officials and NFA were contentious and divisive. Issues at the time included NFA’s charges to Norwich in addition to tuition for special education support staff services.

Norwich school board members accused then-NFA trustees Chairman Theodore Phillips of not negotiating in good faith and for allegedly treating Jacaruso and then-Norwich Superintendent Abby Dolliver shabbily during the negotiations. The Norwich board voted 5-3 to approve the contract, with those voting against it saying they wanted to “send a message” to NFA about their dissatisfaction.

This past summer, the state Department of Education resolved one long-standing issue over NFA’s past practice of referring temporarily expelled students to the school district to pay for state-mandated and expensive tutoring or replacement classes. State education officials said in their interpretation of the state law, NFA is required to cover those costs.

“I look forward to meeting with Mr. Klein and his new board of trustees leader,” Stringfellow said. “I’m hopeful for very agreeable meetings.”

The NFA board of trustees elected board member DeVol Joyner as its new chairman at its Nov. 7 annual meeting. The trustees board next meets at 5:30 p.m. next Tuesday at the Latham Science Center.

c.bessette@theday.com

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