Troubled schools are close to sale Columbia Academy primary, preschool are likely be sold

Key meeting is Thursday

Deal would repay $130,000 loan from a group of parents

March 17, 1996|By Mark Guidera and Shanon D. Murray | Mark Guidera and Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

An investment group says it is close to making final a deal to buy the financially troubled Columbia Academy Elementary School and its sister operation, the Columbia Academy Pre-School, both of which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week.

Members of the group, headed by a Woodbridge, Va., businessman who operates 25 private elementary schools and day-care centers in Virginia, vow to repay a $130,000 loan made to the private elementary school by a parents' group last summer.

"We have every intention of paying back the parents' loans," said Charles Leopold, founder and operator of Minnieland Private Day School Inc. in Woodbridge.

The investment group plans to discuss the sale with parents at a meeting at the school Thursday.

Members of the Columbia Academy Parents Association, whose $130,000 loan is the elementary school's largest debt, were not available for comment Friday.

The financial troubles of the two schools and the efforts of founders Raymond and Gayle Chapman to keep them afloat have continued since last summer, when parents of children in the elementary school raised money to keep it in business.

According to the Chapter 11 bankruptcy records filed last week in who enrolled her 8-year-old son in the school in September and was aware of its financial problems, does not intend for the boy to return in September.

"I was willing to take my chances, but not anymore," she said. "The reorganization may do the school some good. I'm not happy with the management it has now."

Frances Schoonover, whose 5-year-old daughter attends the preschool, plans to enroll her child next school year if she can afford it, despite the recent financial problems.

"It sounds like they've been bought out by another company that knows how to manage a small private school," she said. "I feel good about it. I think the school will only improve."

The Chapmans neither of whom has a background in education started the Columbia Academy Elementary in 1994 at the Rivers corporate business park on Old Columbia Road in the Village of Kings Contrivance. The preschool is off Route 108 near U.S. 29.

Parents began raising money last summer after the Chapmans disclosed financial problems that, according to court records, included more than $200,000 in business and personal debts, including $146,000 in Internal Revenue Service liens.

Mrs. Chapman said Friday that the couple decided to seek the Chapter 11 protection for the school on the advice of their attorney.

Chapter 11 allows a debtor to work out new payment arrangements with court oversight.

When the elementary school's financial troubles came to light last summer, the Chapmans said they did not expect to seek bankruptcy protection for the businesses but might seek personal bankruptcy.

But the schools' financial troubles worsened, Mrs. Chapman said, when last fall's enrollment fell short of projections. She said unfavorable news coverage of the couple's financial troubles contributed to the low enrollment.

The sale to the investment group "should be a positive move for the schools," Mrs. Chapman said. "There's nothing that should cause anyone concern. We're trying to make this easy for the parents."

She expects the sale to be complete by April 30.

Mr. Leopold said he is uncertain when the sale will take place. He said the group is close to securing investment financing and wrapping up key negotiations with the schools' landlord.

Columbia resident Thomas Kincaid, a member of the investment group whose two sons attend the school and who has lent the school $36,000, said the investment group plans a number of expansions and improvements.

They include the addition of several classrooms to the elementary school, which would increase its capacity to about 250 students from the current 210.

The group also is looking into the possibility of adding an infant day-care operation to the preschool, he said.

Mr. Kincaid said he joined the investment group partly to protect his investment and partly because he wanted to see the schools continue offering their academic program.

"They have a really good program," said Mr. Kincaid. "I'd like to see my kids attend Harvard if they can, and I want to give them every edge."

Mr. Leopold said he will assure other parents who have children enrolled in the schools that programs will continue uninterrupted after the school is sold and the new management takes over.

"The schools' strengths are first-class educational programs," he said. "What we think we can bring to the operations are capital and good financial-management techniques that have worked very well for us."

Pub Date: 3/17/96

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