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Windrush School Enters Bankruptcy, Gets $250K Matching Pledge

Threatened with imminent closure because of a large bond debt, El Cerrito's Windrush School entered bankruptcy today, Friday, and secured a $250,000 matching pledge from an anonymous donor, the school said.

New hope for keeping open at least the rest of this year has been kindled by an anonymous donor's pledge to match any additional donations up to $250,000, school head Ilana Kaufman said Friday afternoon.

At the same time, the school's petition to enter Chapter 11 bankruptcy was granted by the court today, the school said in a letter posted on its website. The bankruptcy gives Windrush temporary protection from creditors, but Windrush must demonstrate to the Bankruptcy Court on Oct. 7 that it has enough pledges to keep the school operating until June, the letter said.

The school administration and trustees Tuesday night when they told the staff and parents that the school may have to close Oct. 28 because of a large bond debt and dropping enrollment.

The private, progress education-oriented school has begun an emergency fund-raising drive, saying it needs to have $900,000 in pledged support by Oct. 7. Kaufman said $300,000 in pledges has been raised so far, and that every additional dollar up to $250,000 will be matched by an anonymous Bay Area resident.

"It just bowled me over," she said of the matching pledge. "It's so exceptional."

What the 35-year-old school calls "an unprecedented fiscal crisis" stems from a drop in enrollment and the debt on a $13 million bond incurred in 2007 to build the new middle school/library building and refurbish the gym.

Enrollment dropped from 259 students when the bond was issued to 165 today, causing a drop in tuition income. The trustees found they could not continue making payments on the debt and asked the bondholders to restructure the deal, the trustees said in a letter sent to parents Wednesday.

The bondholders declined to agree to terms that the trustees said were necessary and said they would move to seize the school's property, which is collateral for the loan, their letter said. Entering bankruptcy would block a court-sanctioned seizure of school assets by creditors, the letter said.

The comments section of the has become an ongoing forum for debate and pleas for support as well as criticism and praise for the school and those in charge.

Update 4:30 p.m., Friday: In a news release this afternoon, the school said it is "hearing from parents and guardians, alumni, alumni families, faculty and staff, friends and relatives who are filling out pledges. Together, the community is confident that the school can reach its goal to finish the school year." It also provided a link to the donation pledge form at  www.windrush.org.

Astrid Broberg October 03, 2011 at 05:19 PM
I agree..people/parens need to decide what is important...is it the buildings which WR most likely can,t afford t stay in or is it the school itself..the idea behind this school...like you say it,s mission...portola could be reduced to fit into the existing WR buildings and the City might be able to save money by not having to build a whole new school and we would have a new safe school for our middle schoolers which might just help make neigborhood parents more interested in keeping their kids in public school beyond the elementary school years
Ira Sharenow October 03, 2011 at 06:36 PM
According to the bond documents in 2011 and 2012 the debt service payment is $715,000, as there are no principal payments. From 2013-2037 the payments are about $970,000 per year. The total payment from 2008-2037 is $27,710,086.11. “The 13,500 square foot addition will provide an interim library, seven new classrooms, and supporting circulation area that includes a new lobby for the gymnasium. The new building will allow the School to increase its enrollment from 260 to 347 students”
Tom Chesterman October 03, 2011 at 10:35 PM
"The board of the 2006-07 school year committed the school to a huge debt to finance a building. In retrospect, the board made this decision based on poor data, the same data that every other private school was using. " It is unclear to me - and may never be clear - whether it was a decision based on poor data or a poor decision that did not take into account risks and the economy. The basic question of whether to expand or build was always one that Windrush grappled with, but previous trustees and heads deliberately chose a different path. And it probably doesn't matter any more, at least not for the students and teachers who will suffer the most here.
mr. potato head October 04, 2011 at 03:10 PM
If you have access to a copy of this letter would you be willing to scan and make available? Thanks.
Christina Slamon October 12, 2011 at 09:08 PM
Is the anonymous donor going to honor their pledge? Is there any other information about this? Any strings attached etc??? I'm assuming this is part of the 800 K that was raised to keep the school open through the end of the year.

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