NFA board of trustees approves $37.8 million 2020-21 budget, 3% tuition hike

Norwich — The Norwich Free Academy board of trustees on Tuesday approved a $37.8 million budget that calls for a 3% tuition increase for regular education and varying increases for different special education programs.

The tuition will be subsidized by a $1.2 million grant from the privately endowed NFA Foundation.

The board voted unanimously to approve the budget following a presentation by Head of School David Klein for what will be his final budget process at the academy. Klein is leaving NFA at the end of the school year to become president of St. Joseph High School in Trumbull.

The budget totals $37,845,081, a $1.2 million increase over this year’s $36.6 million budget. It includes $31.2 million for salaries and benefits, 82.5% of the total, $3.5 million for facilities and $3 million for instructional supplies.

General education tuition will be $13,375 per student from seven of the partner district towns and $200 lower, or $13,175, for Norwich students. Norwich receives a $200-per-student host town discount to cover emergency services provided to the NFA campus.

The Sachem Campus transitional program will have a $29,212 tuition, and tuition for various special education programs will range from $19,688 to $71,450 for non-Norwich students, with Norwich students receiving the same $200-per-student discount.

The budget calls for adding one staff person — a health and physical education teacher — to accommodate a new state requirement that students earn at least one credit in “wellness” as a graduation requirement. The state is increasing graduation requirements from 23 to 25 credits, and Klein said the other added credit at NFA will be in a “mastery-based diploma assessment,” which would not need additional staffing.

In total, NFA will have 198 full-time equivalent faculty members, 11 administrators and 93 support staff. Enrollment is projected at 2,212 students, a drop of 64 students from this year. Tuition, however, will be billed based on the October 2019 student count per the contract between NFA and the eight partner districts.

Klein told the board the pool of potential eighth-graders is declining, and students have more high school choices.

While the overall budget increase is 3.38%, the tuition increase is 3% for general education and some of the several special education programs. The privately endowed NFA Foundation Inc. on Jan. 21 approved the $1.2 million tuition subsidy for the 2020-21 budget, bringing the total tuition subsidy to $10.35 million since subsidies started in 2013.

“Who does that?” Klein said in appreciation for the foundation’s long-standing support. "That's generous."

In addition to the tuition subsidy, the NFA Foundation awarded a $550,000 unrestricted grant to the board of trustees. In the past three years, the board of trustees voted to apply the grant to tuition subsidies. But for the coming school year, the board's Finance Committee recommended using the $550,000 for teacher and student support costs, including instructional supplies, technology, athletic uniforms and equipment, textbooks and for NFA’s participation in Project Oceanology.

During a budget overview news conference prior to the board of trustees meeting, NFA Foundation Executive Director Kathy McCarthy credited “generous alumni” for their continued support of the academy and its programs. She said all students will benefit from some portions of the $550,000 program grants.

Klein said the budget calls for level departmental spending, although some programs will be “enhanced,” including the new school-to-work program implemented this year and a revamping of one special education program: the Program for Academic and Career Education or PACE. Tuition for PACE jumped from $19,115 this year to $31,412 next year. The program has about 40 students, Lisa Wheeler, director of students services, said.

The academy also added a special education resources program at the Sachem Campus to provide additional individualized supports for some students. Tuition for that program will be $35,212.

c.bessette@theday.com

Editor's Note: Head of School David Klein is leaving NFA at the end of the school year to become president of St. Joseph High School in Trumbull. His future role was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.

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