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NFA Foundation to be asked to help provide budget relief for districts

Norwich — After receiving requests for tuition relief from several partner districts due to COVID-19 costs, the Norwich Free Academy Board of Trustees finance committee voted unanimously Monday to ask the privately endowed NFA Foundation to provide an additional subsidy for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

The trustees’ finance committee met behind closed doors for nearly an hour to discuss attorney-client communications related to requests made by at least four school districts that have NFA as their main designated high school. Norwich, Voluntown, Franklin and Bozrah all had sent letters to the Board of Trustees asking for budget relief in the coming year. Franklin’s letter indicated the request was being made on behalf of multiple NFA partner districts, NFA Trustees Chairman DeVol Joyner said.

After Monday’s finance committee vote, Joyner said he would contact the NFA Foundation as soon as possible and “ideally” hoped to reach an agreement this week on any additional financial subsidy the foundation could provide to NFA’s budget that would translate into tuition relief for the partner districts.

Joyner said he would not approach the foundation with a specific request for funding, but to convey the partner districts’ financial concerns over the added costs they face with COVID-19 conditions.

“The foundation has been very, very generous this year and in prior years,” Joyner said, “over $10 million over the last number of years, and the number this year was $1.75 million, what they gave. I’m not going to go in with a number. Just see whatever they can do.”

Joyner said the foundation also has “taken a hit” financially with stock market swings and the current difficult economic conditions.

NFA Foundation President Todd Postler, who did not attend the finance committee meeting, said later Monday that as a trustees member, he was aware of the requests by the partner districts and looked forward to discussing the issue with NFA trustees.

“The NFA Board of Trustees is fully aware and sensitive to the financial challenges being experienced in your communities, our state and throughout the nation,” Joyner wrote in a letter sent to the districts Monday evening. “That said, we have received requests from a number of our Partner Communities to consider some type of tuition relief for the coming school year up to and including keeping tuition levels for all programs at their current 2019-20 rates. I will discuss this important matter with the Board of Trustees in the coming weeks and will follow up with you personally.”

In January, the NFA Board of Trustees passed 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 was subsidized by a $1.2 million grant from the privately endowed NFA Foundation, which also provided a $550,000 grant the Board of Trustees allocated for teacher and student support costs.

Norwich city and school officials have been engaged in contentious budget discussions this spring. Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow initially told the Board of Education it would take a 9.11% spending increase to keep all programs. Aware that would not be acceptable, the Board of Education approved a $85.4 million budget, which is $4.4 million or 5.5% more than the current budget.

The current budget is expected to end the year with a deficit of $1.1 million, and school officials have proposed major cuts to staffing and programs – including 50 support positions and eliminating magnet elementary themes -- next school year even with the 5.5% spending increase.

Norwich Board of Education Chairwoman Heather Romanski said the NFA finance committee vote was “encouraging,” as were Joyner’s effort to seek a quick agreement with the foundation. The Norwich school board is expected to meet June 9 to make any final adjustments based on the City Council’s decision on a final school board budget total.

c.bessette@theday.com

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