LaBelle Students And Teachers Surprised By Closing - Where's The Money?
LABELLE, FL -- After more than two decades of private schooling, the Community Christian School of LaBelle closed its doors to students April 9. The Hendry county school had this year relocated to a rented building on Dellwood Terrance in Port LaBelle after selling it's 19 acre property on Cowboy Way to Edison State College for $1.1 million.
The non-profit school's board listed by the Secretary of State's office includes Brian Beer, Pat Langford and Hendry county attorney Ralph Elver. The board made the final decision to close after reviewing the school's finances. Preston Long, a pastor at First Baptist Church has been volunteering to help out with finances involved in closing down the school.
10-year veteran teacher at the school, Jennifer Pepitone is manning the phone for questions by surprised parents and school supporters. Teachers, parents and staff were only given one day's notice on April 8, of the sudden closing.
The question on many minds is how did the school fail financially after receiving $1.1 million for the campus on Cowboy Way last summer. According to court records, after the sale the school paid off a $544,000 and $70,000 mortgage to First Bank of Clewiston in August. After paying off the mortgages is appears there would have been about $486,000 left, minus any selling expenses, seemingly enough to rent a building and equip the new campus, and pay the small staff..
They paid $1,350 monthly to the Port LaBelle Development District to rent the building with a lease ending in September with options to renew. Lester Baird, administrator of the PLDD says he has not received notice from the school of an intention to end the lease. The rent for April is due, says the PLDD. The school added playground equipment and added a portable classroom to the grounds, located next to the Port LaBelle Development District maintenance sheds and offices.
The school's board had been telling parents and staff since last year that the school had been heavy in debt and the board was glad to see the sale of the school's 19-acre Cowboy Way property to Edison State College.
The school had 30 elementary students, having lost the middle school students from last year. Four teachers, two of whom are state certified are losing their jobs, along with administrator Shelton Gwaltney, who lost his job at the school a month ago. Pepitone says half of the students have found placement in local public schools for the remaining school year, and half are now in private schools in Fort Myers.
The Eagle's Nest Preschool will remain open until June because of government funded obligations. The pre-school has a director and assistant who will finish out the school term.