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July 2, 2004

The Valley School seeks help from state

From: Flint Journal, MI - Jul 2, 2004


By Matt Bach • 810.766.6330

FLINT - Struggling to pay its bills, the area's most expensive private school is looking for the state to help bail it out of a $1.8-million debt on its historic building.

Among those trying to persuade the state to help The Valley School is state Sen. Bob Emerson, D-Flint, whose son will be a senior at Valley this fall.

If the assistance doesn't come, the school may move out of its home at 1505 W. Court St. in the former Michigan School for the Deaf building.

The financial problems are due to declining enrollment and revenue, and are centered on a $2.5-million mortgage the private school received from Bank One in 1997. The loan was used to renovate the first two floors of 91-year-old building, which was vacant from 1986-97, said Principal Charles H. Bryan.

The school owes $1.8 million on the loan, but hasn't made a mortgage payment in a year, Emerson said.

Valley officials have told Emerson that Bank One may agree to write off $1 million of the loan, leaving $800,000 outstanding, Emerson said.

Emerson has asked the state's Department of Management and Budget if it would buy back the Roman-pillared, four-story school from Bank One for $800,000 or less, thus freeing Valley of the large debt.

The hope is that the state would buy the school and then lease it back to Valley. This would be similar to an arrangement the state has with a Lansing charter school that operates on the former Michigan School for the Blind campus, Emerson said.

The state sold the building to Valley for $135,000 in 1995. The state is involved now because there was a clause in the sales agreement that gave the state the first right of refusal in any future sale of the building, Emerson said.

State officials are considering the request to buy back the school, but have made no decisions, said Bridget Medina, spokeswoman for the department of management and budget.

Emerson said he's aware that some may view his involvement as a conflict of interest, but he's been upfront to the state about his relationship to the school and that his son is enrolled there.

He said he's working in the best interests of the state and the deaf community, which has strong feelings about The Valley School building because it housed the state's deaf residential school program for about 80 years. He said he's been involved in the building since 1992 - long before his son began attending Valley.

One of the sites Valley could move to if the state doesn't bail it out: the closed Cody Elementary School, 3021 Fenton Road. Valley officials are considering leasing it from the Flint School District, said Marios Demetriou, chief financial/operations officer for Flint schools.

Whatever happens, the 70-student Valley School is not closing, despite rumors to the contrary, Bryan said.

"The plan is to open in the fall," Bryan said. "We might not be in the black (financially), but we plan to be open."

The school had about 135 students two years ago, about 100 in 2003-04 and has just 70 enrolled so far for this fall, Bryan said. Emerson said between 150 and 200 students are needed to keep the school financially strong.

Long-time Valley School parent Mary Jo Brock of Flushing said it doesn't matter to her where the school is located as long as it stays open.

"The school is the people," said Brock, who has three children attending. "It's the family, it's the caring teachers and the philosophy. It's not the building. The Court Street building is a gorgeous, wonderful building, but if we can't be there, we will go wherever they go."


About Valley School

WHERE: 1505 W. Court St. on the campus of the Michigan School for the Deaf.

WHAT: A private school with about 70 students in grades kindergarten through 12th.

COST: Tuition recently was increased by 10 percent. Families pay between $9,500 to $12,000 per student per year.


© 2004 Flint Journal. Used with permission

Copyright 2004 Michigan Live. All Rights Reserved.