Protect Our Independence

For the second time in three years, legislative action proposed in Connecticut’s General Assembly would impact NFA’s independence. The tabs below indicate the current and former legislative proposals.

Governor’s Bill 874, introduced in the Connecticut General Assembly, mandates public representation on NFA’s private Board of Trustees. The Bill would alter NFA’s independent governance model and, effectively, end the community-driven mission that the Academy has upheld since 1854.

Norwich Free Academy was built on a commitment to independence. Our founders saw that, when free from politics and conflict of interest, their school could focus on developing students into productive, contributing members of their communities.

Today, over 160 years of independence empowers NFA to meet student needs in ways that are innovative and affordable. It allows for a breadth of opportunities that sets the Academy apart.

Please take a moment to read more about NFA's History of Independence.

Governor's Bill 874 - 2019

Governor's Bill 874

Sec. 9. Section 10-34 of the general statutes is repealed and the
380  following is substituted in lieu thereof (Effective July 1, 2019):
381  (a) The State Board of Education may examine any incorporated or
382  endowed high school or academy in this state and, if it appears that
383  such school or academy meets the requirements of the State Board of
384  Education for the approval of public high schools, said board may
385  approve such school or academy under the provisions of this part, and
386  any town in which a high school is not maintained shall pay the whole
387  of the tuition fees of pupils attending such school or academy, except if
388  it is a school under ecclesiastical control.
 
(b) Each incorporated or endowed high school or academy
390  approved by the State Board of Education shall be operated by a
391  governing board. The membership of such governing board shall
392  include, but need not be limited to, a representative selected by each
393  local or regional board of education that sends more than fifty students
394  to such incorporated or endowed high school or academy. Such
395  representative may be the superintendent of schools employed by such
396  board of education.
 
397  (c) The governing board of each incorporated or endowed high
398  school or academy approved by the State Board of Education shall post
399  on any Internet web site the governing board operates the (1) schedule,
400  (2) agenda, and (3) minutes of each meeting, including any meeting of
401  subcommittees of the governing board.
 
(d) Each incorporated or endowed high school or academy
403  approved by the State Board of Education shall submit annually, to the
404  Commissioner of Education, (1) a certified audit statement of all
405  revenues from public and private sources and expenditures related to
406  such governing board's function as a governing board of an
407  incorporated or endowed high school or academy in this state, and (2)
408  a complete copy of such governing board's most recently completed
409  Internal Revenue Service form 990, including all parts and schedules,
410  other than Schedule B of such form.
 
(e) The Commissioner of Education shall post any reports, certified
412  audit statements and forms submitted to the Department of Education
413  regarding an incorporated or endowed high school or academy
414  approved by the State Board of Education on the department's Internet
415  web site not later than thirty days after receiving such reports,
416  statements or forms. The commissioner shall identify any governing
417  board of an incorporated or endowed high school or academy that did
418  not submit a report, certified audit statement or form for the current
419  reporting period and post such information on the department's
420  Internet web site not later than thirty days after failing to receive such
421  reports, statements or forms.
 
(f) Prior to the adoption of an annual budget by the governing board
423  of an incorporated or endowed high school or academy approved by
424  the State Board of Education, the sections of such budget that receive
425  public funds shall be (1) reviewed by the local and regional boards of
426  education that send students to such incorporated or endowed high
427  school or academy, and (2) subject to a public hearing.
 
 

Public Testimony

Here find the public written testimony of NFA officials opposing Governor’s Bill 874
before the Education Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly on Friday, March 1, 2019.

Read written testimony Sarette Williams '78 - Chairperson, Norwich Free Academy Board of Trustees

Read written testimony Keith Fontaine '78 - Board President, NFA Foundation, Inc.

Read written testimony David Klein - Head of School/Superintendent, Norwich Free
Academy

Read written testimony Cheryl Ritacco '82, Corporator and Donor

Frequently Asked Questions

1.  What is NFA’s major objection to Senate Bill 874?

For 163 years Norwich Free Academy has been privately governed by an independent Board of Trustees drawn from a larger Board of Corporators. Trustees are not elected; their loyalty is to the mission of the Academy, not to reelection, political affiliation, or Partner District. This independence has allowed the Academy to be mission-driven, separate from the pressures of political or personal interest. It is a governance model which has served students well regardless of their town or residence.

There are also financial implications of public representation.  As proposed, this legislation will immediately impair the fiduciary obligation of the Board.  Trustees take an oath with fiduciary obligations to preserve a mission-driven institution.  Public representatives on NFA’s Board of Trustees would not be stewards or fiduciaries of a mission-driven NFA, but advocates for and agents of the specific fiscal interests of their towns.

To learn more read NFA's History of Independence

2.  Why is this happening, now?

Economic times are hard, especially in Southeastern Connecticut.  Taxpayers in NFA’s partner communities are looking for property tax relief.  Also, unfunded and underfunded state and federal mandates, especially in special education, are a heavy burden.

In seeking financial relief, partner districts believe that representation on the Board of Trustees will give them input into cutting NFA’s program costs, a measure which will help them balance their K-8 budget.

All members of the NFA Board of Trustees live in Norwich and/or in a Partner District, and most attended Norwich public schools. NFA and its 8 Partner Districts operate under the provisions of a contract, called the Master Agreement, which was fairly negotiated with the Partner Districts, and which they all agreed to and signed.

3.  What is the Master Agreement?

To formalize business relationships in a fair and transparent way, NFA and its 8 Partner Districts negotiated a Master Agreement (July 1, 2015- June 30, 2020) outlining the provisions of NFA’s relationship with the districts and the costs for educational services.

All Partners have the same agreement with the Academy. The only exception is a $200 per pupil discount for Norwich in recognition of municipal services; that discount is approximately $300,000 in the current fiscal year, and that discount is credited to the Education Budget, not to the Municipal Budget.

At the partners’ request, the first three years of the contract called for a 2.5% tuition increase across all programs.  In the fourth year, the increase was 1.5%, and next year the increase is 1.75%. 

Norwich Free Academy has been extraordinarily responsive to the challenges of its Partners.

To learn more read the Master Agreement At A Glance

4.  What is the NFA Foundation, Inc.?

The NFA Foundation, Inc. is a private non-profit organization whose mission is “to advance the educational opportunities available at Norwich Free Academy. To support this endeavor, the Foundation solicits and accepts gifts, prudently manages the endowment funds, builds awareness, nurtures relationships and develops partnerships that benefit the Academy’s students and staff."

The Foundation provides material support to Norwich Free Academy through careful stewardship of endowment funds, both restricted and unrestricted, in response to donor intent, and by prudently adhering to a spending policy based upon a strict formula which preserves and grows the body of the endowment.

Compromising NFA’s independence would have a chilling effect upon donor support. A reduction in donor support would ultimately affect the Foundation’s support of NFA.  The result will be higher tuition or reduction in NFA’s academic and co-curricular programs

5. Is NFA unrealistic in price?

NFA’s average per-pupil cost is lower than the PreK-8 per pupil expenditure of each Partner District, Norwich included.  Value is also part of the discussion. No other high school in the state offers the breadth and depth of NFA’s program to public school students.

6.  How does NFA’s independence add value to the Academy?

Independent governance is the very reason alumni and private donors give to the private NFA Foundation, Inc. because they know that their money will be prudently managed to provide opportunities to students well into the future. That independence has enabled the Foundation to underwrite NFA’s tuition and program costs and to offer student support in the following ways:

  • Since 2013, and including support for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, NFA will have received $9.15 million in general support from the NFA Foundation, Inc. to maintain a NFA’s broad, robust, and rich curriculum and a program of choices and opportunities unlike any other available to a diverse public school population in the state.
  • Over 6 years NFA has received an additional $ 1,3 million in endowment program support from the NFA Foundation, Inc.
  • In the past 6 years, NFA students from all of NFA’s Partner Communities (over 1,500 individuals) have received $1,649,810 in scholarships and awards from the NFA Foundation, Inc.

Any compromise of NFA’s independence will likely cause a drop in donor support. Independent governance and private dollars have grown and stewarded NFA’s endowment over decades. If not managed prudently with a vision for the future, these funds can be depleted very quickly, and would not be recovered, if at all, for decades.

We owe it both to donors and students not to allow this to happen.

NFA Press Releases

Proposed Legislation Impacts Independence Again - NFA email to alumni, faculty and staff - Friday, March 1, 2019

Local Media Coverage

Senate Bill 786 - 2017

Senate Bill 786 - Updated Language

Sec. 7. Section 10-34 of the general statutes is repealed and the following is substituted in lieu thereof (Effective July 1, 2017):

(a) The State Board of Education may examine any incorporated or endowed high school or academy in this state and, if it appears that such school or academy meets the requirements of the State Board of Education for the approval of public high schools, said board may approve such school or academy under the provisions of this part, and any town in which a high school is not maintained shall pay the whole of the tuition fees of pupils attending such school or academy, except if it is a school under ecclesiastical control.

(b) Not later than July 1, 2018, and annually thereafter, each incorporated or endowed high school or academy approved by the State Board of Education shall submit to the Commissioner of Education (1) a certified audit statement of all revenues from public and private sources and expenditures related to such incorporated or endowed high school or academy, and (2) a complete copy of such incorporated or endowed high school or academy's most recently completed Internal Revenue Service form 990, including all parts and schedules, other than Schedule B of such form.

(c) The Commissioner of Education shall post any reports, certified audit statements and forms submitted to the Department of Education regarding an incorporated or endowed high school or academy approved by the State Board of Education on the department's Internet web site not later than thirty days after receiving such reports, statements or forms. The commissioner shall identify any incorporated or endowed high school or academy that did not submit a report, certified audit statement or form for the current reporting period and post such information on the department's Internet web site not later than thirty days after failing to receive such reports, statements or forms.

(d) Prior to the adoption of an annual budget by an incorporated or endowed high school or academy approved by the State Board of Education, the sections of such budget that receive public funds shall be (1) reviewed by the local and regional boards of education that send students to such incorporated or endowed high school or academy, and (2) subject to a public hearing.

Original proposed text of Senate Bill 786 with highlights regarding NFA

Public Testimony

Here find the public written testimony of NFA officials opposing Senate Bill 786 before the Education Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly on Monday, March 6, 2017.

Included also is written testimony filed opposing Senate Bill 786 (§11 and 12) by Leslie Mitchell Jones '66, Corporator, Former Foundation Board Member and donor and Douglas Lyons, Director of the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools.


Sarette Williams '78 - Chairperson, Norwich Free Academy Board of Trustees
Read written testimony - Education Committee Public Hearing - Monday, March 6, 2017
Watch video testimony- Education Committee Public Hearing - Monday, March 6, 2017


Keith Fontaine '78 - Board President, NFA Foundation, Inc.
Read written testimony - Education Committee Public Hearing - Monday, March 6, 2017
Watch video testimony - Education Committee Public Hearing - Monday, March 6, 2017


Peter D. Calvert '66 - Chairman, Franklin Board of Education
Read written testimony - Education Committee Public Hearing - Monday, March 6, 2017
Watch video testimony - Education Committee Public Hearing - Monday, March 6, 2017


David Klein - Head of School/Superintendent, Norwich Free Academy
Read written testimony - Education Committee Public Hearing - Monday, March 6, 2017
Watch video testimony- Education Committee Public Hearing - Monday, March 6, 2017


Doug Lyons - Director, Connecticut Association of Independent Schools
Watch video testimony- Education Committee Public Hearing - Monday, March 6, 2017


Lesley Mitchell Jones '66 - Partner & Senior VP (retired) Reich & Tang Asset Management, LP
Read written testimony- Education Committee Public Hearing - Monday, March 6, 2017


Emmett D. Riley '87 - Representative, 46th District of Norwich, Connecticut General Assembly
Read written testimony - Education Committee Public Hearing - Monday, March 6, 2017

PLEASE NOTE:
Posted below also is the written testimony of Norwich Superintendent of Schools Abby Dolliver '71, Lisbon Superintendent of Schools Sally Keating '70, and Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzell IN FAVOR of Senate Bill 786 limiting NFA's independence.

Abby Dolliver '71 - Superintendent of Schools, Norwich, CT
Read written testimony - Education Committee Public Hearing - Monday, March 6, 2017

Sally Keating '70 - Superintendent of Schools, Lisbon, CT
Read written testimony - Education Committee Public Hearing - Monday, March 6, 2017

Dianna Wentzell - Commissioner of Education, State of Connecticut

Read written testimony - Education Committee Public Hearing - Monday, March 6, 2017
Watch video testimony- Education Committee Public Hearing - Monday, March 6, 2017

Frequently Asked Questions

1.What is NFA’s major objection to Senate Bill 786?

For 163 years Norwich Free Academy has been governed by an independent Board of Trustees drawn from a larger Board of Corporators. Trustees are not elected; their loyalty is to the mission of the Academy, not to reelection, political affiliation, or Partner District. This independence has allowed the Academy to be mission driven separate from the pressures of political or personal interest. It is a governance model which has served students well regardless of their town or residence.

To learn more read NFA's History of Independence

2.Why is this happening, now?

Economic times are hard, especially in Norwich. Norwich Free Academy has been extraordinarily responsive to the challenges of its Partners.

All members of the NFA Board of Trustees live in Norwich and/or in a Partner District, and most attended Norwich public schools. NFA and its 8 Partner Districts operate under the provisions of a contract, called the Master Agreement, which was fairly negotiated with the Partner Districts, and which they all agreed to and signed.

3.What is the Master Agreement?

In order to formalize business relationships in a fair and transparent way, NFA and its 8 Partner Districts negotiated a Master Agreement (July 1, 2015- June 30, 2020) outlining the provisions of NFA’s relationship with the districts and the costs for educational services.

To learn more read the Master Agreement At A Glance

The 8 Partner Districts formed a consortium for discussions with NFA. Former Board of Trustees Chairperson Attorney Ted Phillips '74 represented NFA, and former Lisbon Board Chairman Randy Baah '65 was selected by the Consortium to represent the Partners.

All Partners would have the same agreement with the Academy. The only exception is a $200 per pupil discount for Norwich in recognition of municipal services; that discount is approximately $300,000 in the current fiscal year, and that discount is credited to the Education Budget, not to the Municipal Budget.

The negotiations proceeded through December of 2014, and an agreement was reached including a tuition increase of 2.5% for the first three of 5 years. The percentage increase was determined and agreed upon in response to Partner District request.

When all Partner Districts were ready to agree, Norwich pulled out of the consortium of Partners. It notified the Academy that it would seek a separate agreement.

Norwich did sign the fair agreement of the Partner Districts.

To review the history of the Master Agreement collaborative process, see The Master Agreement Timeline , and to learn more about the discussion process for the Master Agreement.

4.Why is the word “transparency” used in the title of the Senate Bill 786?

The word “transparency” is in the bill for several reasons, but fundamentally its application to Norwich Free Academy implies that NFA (and the private NFA Foundation, Inc.) operate under a veil of secrecy. NFA already meets all the mandates for transparency of the bill.

To learn more read the Response to Written Testimony

5.What is the NFA Foundation, Inc.?

The NFA Foundation, Inc. is a private non-profit organization whose mission is “to advance the educational opportunities available at Norwich Free Academy. To support this endeavor, the Foundation solicits and accepts gifts, prudently manages the endowment funds, builds awareness, nurtures relationships and develops partnerships that benefit the Academy’s students and staff."

The Foundation provides material support to Norwich Free Academy through careful stewardship of endowment funds, both restricted and unrestricted, in response to donor intent, and by prudently adhering to a spending policy based upon a strict formula which preserves and grows the corpus.

Compromising NFA’s independence would have a chilling effect upon donor support. A reduction in donor support would ultimately affect the Foundation’s tuition subsidy and program support. The result will be higher tuition or reduction in NFA’s academic and co-curricular programs.

For more information about the NFA Foundation, Inc.’s, position, read or watch NFA Foundation Board President Keith Fontaine’s testimony to the Education Committee.

6.Is NFA unrealistic in price?

NFA’s average 2016-17 per pupil cost is lower than the PreK-8 per pupil expenditure of each Partner District, Norwich included. NFA’s average 2016-17 per pupil cost is less than per pupil expenditure or net current expenditures per pupil for each of the preK-8 costs in every NFA Partner District.

In addition, value is part of the discussion. No other high school in the state offers the breadth and depth of NFA’s program to public school students. Familiarize yourself with NFA’s program.

For more information about the cost and value of the NFA experience, read or watch NFA Head of School David Klein's testimony to the Education Committee of the CT State Legislature.

7.How does NFA’s independence add value to the Academy?

Independent governance is the very reason alumni and private donors give to the private NFA Foundation, Inc., because they know that their money will be prudently managed to provide opportunities to students well into the future. That independence enabled the Foundation to underwrite NFA’s tuition by $5.9 million dollars over the past 5 years. That support has kept tuition in check for Partners.

In addition, the NFA Foundation, Inc. has provided an additional $1.2 million in the past 5 years of restricted endowed support for textbooks, technology, specific student programs, materials & equipment, and facilities, and during the past 4 years the Foundation has provided more than $1.2 million in scholarships and awards to 1,149 students who come from all of NFA’s 8 Partner Districts.

Any compromise of NFA’s independence will likely cause a drop in donor support. Independent governance and private dollars have grown and stewarded NFA’s endowment over decades. If not managed prudently with vision for the future, these funds can be depleted very quickly, and would not be recovered, if at all for, decades.

We owe it both to donors and students not to allow this to happen.

NFA Press Releases

NFA Foundation, Inc. Statement - Senate Bill 786 - Monday, February 27, 2017

NFA Statement - Senate Bill 786 - Monday, February 27, 2017

NFA Foundation, Inc. Statement - Senate Bill 786 - Monday, March 27, 2017

NFA Statement - Senate Bill 786 - Monday, March 27, 2017

Local Media Coverage