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    Tuesday, February 07, 2023

    Norwich Free Academy budget calls for 7.25% tuition hike

    Norwich ― Rising costs for fuel, insurance, staffing and “the cost of goods” coupled with the loss of COVID-19 relief grants will lead to a 7.25% tuition increase for the eight communities that send students to Norwich Free Academy.

    The increase is needed to support a 2023-24 school year budget of $37.6 million despite the possible cut of 15 academy positions.

    The NFA Board of Trustees voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the budget after what board Chairman David Kalla “a very difficult” set of budget committee sessions. NFA officials also cited unrealistically low tuition increases enacted in recent years to help school districts with their own budgetary challenges and the uncertainty of COVID-19 impacts, including a 0% budget increase in 2020-21, as a factor in the proposed increase.

    The budget calls for a $494,629 spending increase, 1.33% more than the current budget, but a regular tuition increase of 7.25%.

    NFA Head of School Brian Kelly and Finance Director Richard Freeman said NFA faces the twin challenge of losing $1.1 million in federal COVID-19 relief grants through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, called ESSER, and the rising costs of inflation, labor and insurance. The higher tuition increase was necessary to meet the revenue shortfall and rising education costs, they said.

    The academy received $1,664,000 from from the privately endowed NFA Foundation to support the operating budget for 2023-24.

    NFA regular education tuition will be $14,632 for towns outside Norwich, and special education rates ranging from $21,538 to $78,163, depending on the students’ needs. Norwich receives a $200 per student discount to compensate for host-town costs including police and fire coverage, placing Norwich regular education tuition at $14,432.

    Norwich Board of Education Chairman Robert Aldi, who attended the NFA budget presentation and vote, said afterward that the tuition increase was not a surprise. Aldi credited NFA for keeping tuition increases in check for the past few years, and said the four-year average of 3% reasonable. The Norwich Board of Education budget committee holds its first session Wednesday.

    NFA proposed eliminating as many as 15 positions next year, eight faculty and seven staff. Kelly said the total cuts are not yet certain and will depend on the school’s success in attracting out-of-district tuition-paying students, including those from foreign countries. Kelly and Freeman said NFA would look to retirements and attrition where possible in making the position cuts.

    Kelly added that there “very likely” would be program cuts as well. Board Chairman Kalla said programs that are “less utilized” by students would be considered first for cuts.

    NFA this year hired a student recruitment staff person in an effort to stem the projected decline in enrollment due to a smaller high school-age population in the region. Enrollment next year is projected at 2,124, including an estimated 62 private tuition-paying students.

    NFA also boosted foreign recruitment, which dropped sharply during COVID-19 border closures. The success of the first-year elite-level Norwich Hockey Club has drawn additional interest from students in Canada, and the successful recruitment of one student from Finland this year has generated strong interest from that country, Kelly said, along with interest in Colombia and Spain.

    “We had a very successful recruiting trip to Finland,” Kelly said. “We have a lot of interest from Finland.”

    He said he did not want to provide specifics about “the big number,” but said if NFA enrolls 10% of them, it would be successful.

    c.bessette@theday.com

    Editor’s note: This version corrects the NFA regular education tuition due to a correction made in the NFA budget presentation.

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