See the source of ranking of 169 school systems showing Woodstock as 164/169 in per pupil spending, e.g. the bottom 3%, below in the comments. Admin
“Woodstock Academy is an intriguing model and a critical asset for public education in northeast Connecticut. For many families, this school is a primary motivation for a decision to raise their families in this part of Connecticut. But the current structure of this model is increasingly at odds with public education policy because it is incomplete. The Connecticut General Assembly created and fostered this model and it is incumbent on this body to make the proposed modest adjustments to carry it forward successfully consistent with the interests of the region’s public education system.” From the Summary at the end of this statement. Admin
Submitted to Andrew Fleischmann, Chairman of the Education Committee, CT General Assembly, on February 21, 2007
- The Town of Woodstock has a local ordinance called Proposition 46 which imposes a rigid fiscal constraint on the town’s expenditures.
- Woodstock’s public education expenditures are consistently ranked in the range of 160-165th among all Connecticut towns.
- Woodstock Academy is privately chartered with a public education mission and has almost exclusively public students and funding. Sending town representation is nominal.
- The Academy receives priority public funding and asserts exemption from Prop 46, so that Woodstock’s public K-8 system bears the full fiscal impact of Prop 46.
- The Academy is expanding staff and facilities and reserving cash from public tuition payments for a planned expansion. Woodstock Public Schools are reducing staff and programs and are unable to make necessary capital investments.
- Contract negotiations between the Academy and Woodstock BOE are deadlocked. The Academy asserts private control of its governance and budget; WBOE asserts the need for more effective sending town participation in Academy decisions in order to balance and coordinate overall educational expenditures.
- Payment for complete reconstruction of the Academy was recently completed; withdrawal and construction of a public high school is impractical.
- Statutory guidance (CGS 10-36/10-285b) for Academy governance appears to have ceased. Based on the substantial public investment in the school, Woodstock is seeking (i) clarification of the public education role of the Academy and its Sending Town Representatives; (ii) 50% sending town representation on the Academy Board with full participation in major decisions; and (iii) reimbursement of domicile costs.
Background – Woodstock shares the problems of local education funding that are common statewide, but two factors make its fiscal problems unique and severe. First is a local Woodstock ordinance called “Proposition 46″ which imposes a rigid constraint on the town’s expenditures. Second is the funding priority of Woodstock Academy, which is exempt from this fiscal constraint and represents a substantial portion (40%) of the town’s total public education budget. These factors have created a gradually ratcheting fiscal ‘vise’ that is undermining Woodstock’s ability to maintain its public, primary (pre-K-8) educational system, and have caused a gradual, steady process of under-funding that system. Woodstock’s public education expenditures are typically ranked 160-165th among Connecticut towns with increasingly serious reductions in staff and programs, especially for 2006-07.
Proposition 46 - This 1978 ordinance allows Woodstock to make expenditures only in the amount made the previous year, except for increases in revenues from its grand list and other levels of government. There is no inflation adjustment in the formula, and the value of appreciation in home values is explicitly negated. These problems are aggravated by declining relative state and federal aid and the fiscal deficit inherent in the accelerating, almost exclusively residential growth of the town. There have been numerous attempts to repeal, amend or reinterpret this ordinance politically and legally, all of which have failed, so that the law appears to be a long term condition. A full explanation is attached.
Academy History/Structure - The Academy is a privately chartered secondary school established by the Connecticut General Assembly in 1802 to “engage in educational enterprises in Woodstock for the benefit of inhabitants of said town and the vicinity”. The Academy is governed by a 30-member Board of Trustees, including 8 Ex-Officio Trustees (“Sending Town Representatives”) from four of its sending towns. These Sending Town Representatives must be voted upon by the Nominating Committee and the full Board before being seated as Trustees. The Board has an “Executive Committee” consisting of 4 private Trustees, 4 Sending Town Representatives, plus the chair, who is the Board’s president. The powers of the Executive Committee have never been defined in the bylaws, which allows the Board of Trustees to establish or revoke its powers at will. The school’s charter allows it to be “altered, amended or repeat(l)ed (sic) at the pleasure of the General Assembly”.
The Academy’s $15+ million operating budget is funded almost exclusively by the sending towns through tuition payments for their public students, and by grants by the State of Connecticut. The school effectively serves as the regional public high school for Woodstock, Eastford, Pomfret and Brooklyn with 1,150 students, including 480 (42%) from Woodstock (the largest sending town) plus a handful of private students.
Bonds/Reconstruction - In the late 1980-s, the Academy was under serious financial strain. In 1992 the towns of Woodstock and Eastford issued a $14.5 million bond (guaranteed by Woodstock) maturing in 2012 under the auspices of the Connecticut Department of Education, which was used to reconstruct and expand the Academy’s deteriorated campus. In association with the bonds, the Academy received long term Building Project grant support from the State of Connecticut under CGS Section 10-285b. Woodstock, Eastford and Pomfret committed their students to the school with long term contracts, joined by Brooklyn a few years later. This arrangement provided a new campus and athletic facilities and financially stabilized the school for the long term.
State Grants/Conditions - The state Building Project grants (CGS-285b) and Interest Subsidy Grants (CGS 10-292h) require charter school recipients to provide (i) educational services for ten years after completion of the grant payments; and (ii) at least 50% of their governing board seats to representatives of the boards of education of the sending towns, exclusive of the chair. However, in the case of the Academy, the sending town representation requirement for Building Project grants is 50% of its Executive Committee, exclusive of the chair, equal to 4 of 8 seats plus the Chair, who is the Board of Trustees President. Again, the powers of the Executive Committee have never been defined in the bylaws, and can be established or revoked by the Board of Trustees at will. This structure provides a poor basis for effective input by the sending towns in Academy decisions.
Land Acquisition/Sewer - In 2004-05, the Academy purchased a 30+ acre parcel of land adjacent to its campus for expansion of its athletic fields, financed with a private bank loan. This financing represented a default under its bond agreement with Woodstock, which restricted further liens on current or future Academy assets. In response to a default notice by Woodstock, the Academy refinanced the public bonds privately, paying them off in 2005-06. This payoff appears to have extinguished any remaining statutory guidance of the Academy’s governance. The costs of the proposed athletic expansion, along with the cost to meet a State DEP requirement to sewer the campus after the failure of its septic system, have not been made known by the Academy but are expected to be substantial.
Contract Negotiations - In June 2005, the contract between the Academy and the Woodstock Board of Education (WBOE) expired and the WBOE voted not to renew it; negotiations have continued for two years. The Academy is requesting a renewed, long term contract with unilateral, undefined tuition levels and a guaranteed commitment of students, but devoid of the basic requirements of oversight, financial controls, and other standard contract provisions. The Academy has rejected any proposed changes to its governance.
The WBOE has been unwilling to commit to an open-ended, long term (5-10 year) contract to fully fund Woodstock Academy budget requests (estimated at $25-$50 million over the contract term) while leaving the public, primary K-8 system to absorb the full impact of budget reductions expected to be required by Proposition 46. Woodstock is seeking a new contract with governance provisions that better align the interests of the Sending Town Representatives in the Academy’s major decisions.
During these negotiations, the Academy has publicly asserted that as a private school (i) the Proposition 46 fiscal constraint does not apply to its budget; (ii) it controls the selection of Sending Town Representatives; and (iii) all Trustees (including Sending Town Representatives) must subordinate their other obligations to the interests of the Academy.
Recent Financial Events - In June 2006, the WBOE projected a $428,000+ deficit for the 2006-07 academic year in a budget designed strictly to maintain existing services. The Academy denied WBOE’s appeals for relief in this crisis, and WBOE reduced public education staff and programs accordingly. Two months later, in August, 2006 the Academy notified WBOE of an accumulated $487,000+ cash surplus from the 2004-05 and 2005-06 academic years, of which $100,000 was retained for its reserve account (currently carrying a $1.3 million balance). The Academy informed WBOE that disposition of these funds was subject to its sole discretion. The Academy again denied appeals from WBOE for relief, deferring the decision until October 2006. Contemporaneously, WBOE considered a proposal to retain the ninth grade in the Woodstock Public Schools in 2007-08 as a cost reduction effort. In October, 2006, the Academy voted to return a portion ($100,000) of the surplus funds to all sending towns except Woodstock on the basis that Woodstock had not yet signed a contract.
These actions by the Academy seemed intended to induce WBOE to commit to a long term contract, the ninth grade class, or both. WBOE subsequently rejected the ‘Ninth Grade Proposal’ for the 2007-08 academic year, and the Academy then refunded the Woodstock share of the 2005-06 surplus. In February 2007, the Academy Trustees approved an updated business terms letter which stated “The Academy maintains the right to assess the WBOE for any costs determined to be associated with actions, either taken or not taken, by the WBOE that are determined to increase the cost of the educational process to the Academy beyond what is anticipated by this letter”.
Despite the absence of a contract, the WBOE has made, and the Academy has accepted, regular tuition payments determined unilaterally by the Academy throughout the 2005-06 and 2006-07 fiscal years. To date, the contract has been unresolved; negotiations are ongoing.
Alternatives - Woodstock is required by law (CGS 10-33 and 10-34) to designate a qualified high school and pay the tuition charged by that school. The structure of the Academy’s charter and the level of sending town representation provide Woodstock and the other sending towns no effective input into its budgetary decisions, so there is no legal choice in the short term but to pay the tuition unilaterally determined by the Academy. The long term alternative for Woodstock and the other sending towns is withdrawal from the Academy and construction of a (probably regional) public high school. However, the taxpayers of Woodstock, the sending towns and the State of Connecticut just paid to (re)construct a regional high school to fulfill this purpose - it seems unreasonable to ask them to build a second one and abandon the first. As a practical matter, with the high level (42%) of Woodstock student population at the Academy, the Academy would be unlikely to financially survive this event.
Politics - Woodstock has a very active and prominent local anti-tax group called Citizens for Prudent Spending. This group is the primary political supporter of the Proposition 46 fiscal constraint. This group has a strong anti-education thrust, and for many years has disrupted the administration of the Woodstock Public Schools with broadly publicized, false allegations of financial malfeasance. Some former leaders of CPS, once prominent in key town boards, are now Trustees of the Academy, where they have joined a contingent of Trustees with strong anti-public education views and have continued their public criticisms of the Woodstock Public Schools from this new platform.
Governance Void - While the Academy has asserted its status as a privately chartered school to control its decisions, its student body and funding have always been public, as the taxpayers of Woodstock, the other sending towns and the State of Connecticut pay virtually all of the school’s construction and operating costs. Woodstock Academy’s aggressive interpretation of its authority as a ‘private’ school; its piecemeal negotiation with its sending towns; its strong political influence with its primary sending town; and its lack of responsiveness to the educational needs and fiscal constraints of its sending towns are all a function of its poorly defined governance structure as a ‘hybrid’ public/private entity, primarily the under-representation of the sending towns on the Academy Board of Trustees.
In 1996, CGS Section 10-36 governing the state’s arrangements with all three privately chartered high schools was repealed. This left requirements of the Building Project and Interest Subsidy grants the sole remaining conditions for governance of these schools. But these conditions expire ten years after their payoff, or 2016 in the Academy’s case. After this date, the school’s governance appears to revert to a purely private status. Most important, given the extent of public investment in this school, it is critical that its role in the area’s public education system in the long term be clarified.
Public Policy Problems - The lack of definition in the governance of the Academy has led to a number of problems including (i) a lack of proper oversight of public funds, including a default on the state Building Project bonds; (ii) unilateral pricing power and imbalanced contract negotiations; (iii) lack of accountability of a contractor to its funding public agencies; (iv) an increasingly serious imbalance in funding between sending towns’ primary and secondary education systems; (v) questionable actions relative to retention of public funds; and (vi) assertion of control of appointment and intended role of Sending Town Representatives.
Proposal - Woodstock Academy’s ‘drift’ from its chartered public education mission is a function of its poorly defined governance, and has raised serious legal and public policy issues which can only be resolved through modifications to the state statutes, the school’s charter and the sending town contracts. However, any proposed changes require direction from the General Assembly. Woodstock Academy should be governed by the simple principle of public oversight of public funds expended to accomplish a public objective. These principles can be captured with the following basic modifications.
1. Mission – The Academy’s role in the provision of public education services to secondary students from its sending towns, and its responsibility to advocate for the public education of all students should be made explicit and extended in perpetuity.
2. Governance – The sending towns should have full 50% representation on the Board of Trustees, proportionate based on student/tuition contributions. Sending town representatives should be appointed by the sending town boards of education and their role as representatives of the sending towns should be made explicit. The chair position should be rotated between public and private representatives.
3. Major Decisions - Major capital, financing, curriculum, management, budget and legal decisions, including reasonable line item budget restrictions as well as expansion of participating towns, facilities or land holdings, should require consent of the sending town representatives with input by their boards of education.
4. Domicile Costs - Woodstock, as the home of the Academy, bears costs for public infrastructure, traffic and public safety costs, and should be reimbursed for reasonable associated costs.
Summary - Woodstock Academy is a privately chartered, regional high school that has used its privileged legal status and prioritized public funding to accomplish its public education goals with relative success. However, the health of the area’s overall educational system requires balanced allocation of scarce public education dollars between its primary and secondary components. Having been sufficiently stabilized through contractual and funding commitments of the sending towns and State of Connecticut, the Academy’s ambitions as a private institution are now undermining the broader public education mission which has been the basis for its long term public funding. While this problem has currently become critical in Woodstock’s case due to its unique fiscal constraints, it points to a greater, long term issue common to the Academy’s other sending towns and possibly other chartered secondary schools.
Woodstock Academy is an intriguing model and a critical asset for public education in northeast Connecticut. For many families, this school is a primary motivation for a decision to raise their families in this part of Connecticut. But the current structure of this model is increasingly at odds with public education policy because it is incomplete. The Connecticut General Assembly created and fostered this model and it is incumbent on this body to make the proposed modest adjustments to carry it forward successfully consistent with the interests of the region’s public education system.