Buyers of schools focus on repaying parents $130,000 was lent in effort to keep elementary afloat

March 22, 1996|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

An investment group negotiating to buy two financially strapped Columbia schools said last night it would give priority to repaying parents who lent money to one of the schools.

The investment group, led by a Woodbridge, Va., couple, has offered to buy Columbia Academy Elementary School and Columbia Academy Pre-School, which were founded by Raymond and Gayle Chapman, the preschool in 1991 and the elementary school in 1994.

The investment group has orally guaranteed repayment of the $130,000 loan that parents made to keep the elementary school afloat.

Both schools filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week. According to court records, the elementary school owes more than $230,000 to creditors and the preschool owes more than $232,000.

The $130,000 loan from members of the Columbia Academy Parents Association is the elementary school's largest debt.

Last night, the Chapmans and five of the six members of the investment group were hosts of a meeting at the elementary school in Kings Contrivance village that was held to update about 70 parents on the Chapter 11 filings and the negotiations to buy the schools.

Two members of the investor group, Charles and Jackie Leopold, are founders and operators of Minnieland Private Day School Inc. in Woodbridge. The Leopolds operate 25 private elementary schools and day care centers in Virginia.

Four parents of students at the Columbia elementary school also belong to the investment group.

"We have a moral obligation" to repay the parents who lent the schools money, said Thomas Kincaid, a Columbia resident and a member of the investment group. His two sons attend the elementary school, and he has lent the school $36,000.

"But we can't split hairs on how we're going to do it right now," Mr. Kincaid said. "The idea is to pay the parents as quickly as possible."

Mike Stishan, who represented parents who are owed money, said their "money is more secure now [with the pending sale] than it has ever been."

Although the parents haven't received written guarantees of repayment from the investment group, Mr. Stishan said, "their assurances have been quite good. They don't want to alienate their customer base."

Parents who attended last night's meeting expressed overwhelming support for the schools, but they said they were dismayed with the lack of communication from the Chapmans as their business debts worsened.

Parents also expressed concern about what the sale would mean for the schools' future.

"Cast out your fears; the schools are going to continue," Mr. Chapman told the parents.

He promised that the schools will operate without disruption during the negotiations to sell them.

"The sale should bring a certain amount of calm to the schools," Mr. Chapman said.

The sale is expected to be completed in two months, the investment group said.

Pub Date: 3/22/96

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