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Discovery school may close for good

Summer camp ends abruptly; parents get phone message

A Spokane private school in operation for 27 years suddenly closed its summer camp program Wednesday, and may not reopen for school in the fall.

The Discovery School, an independent private school, contacted parents via phone on Wednesday: “The school is closing immediately, and will not be holding any further summer camps.”

A meeting in May involving teachers, parents and school leaders indicated the school may not open in September due to financial issues, but bankruptcy was not mentioned, said Nicole Simon, a Discovery School teacher and summer camp director.

Teachers were told they would not be paid in July and August, she added. “But then June 30 came and went without a paycheck.”

The school, at 323 S. Grant St., was founded in 1984 with a mission of “building an education as unique as each child from preschool to sixth grade,” according to the school’s website. A teacher had about 12 students per class – half the size of a public school class. As of January, about 105 students were enrolled in the school, a decrease of 35 students since 2008, according to the Discovery School’s annual report.

Tuition cost about $10,000 per academic year. However, about 54 percent of the students were receiving a $5,000 scholarship, according to the Private School Review website. A majority of the school’s revenue was generated by tuition, based on its 2009 filing with the Internal Revenue Service.

The summer camp was in its third week, and parents paid tuition months ago – a separate tuition from the regular academic year. As far as recouping the money, the school’s message on Wednesday continued: “Any funds that have been received are being recognized by the legal counsel and you will be receiving confirmation of our filing for bankruptcy, the procedure to follow and the procedure to follow to file a claim if you so desire.”

When reached, board member Debbie Brinker-Cutter, confirmed Wednesday’s message, but said it was still unclear if the school would actually file bankruptcy. “We’re exploring all options,” she said. However, Brinker-Cutter did not explain further.

Meanwhile, a Facebook page devoted to the school has supportive messages from parents: “Thank you Discovery School and the awesome teachers and staff! Very sad to see it close. We will miss you!!” Teachers also posted comments.

Simon said the school has faced financial problems in the past, but had always managed to stay open.

The school operated on a tight budget, according to tax records. Its revenue in 2009 was $1.2 million, which included tuition and about $30,000 in grants and fundraisers. After expenses, the school was $5,241 in the red. In 2008, the school ended up about $73,000 in the hole.

“It’s this economy,” Simon said. “When money is tight, spending $10,000 on your child’s tuition is too much.”

Wednesday’s message to parents ended: “I’m very sorry for your loss as well as mine, 27 years of educating children. Bye.”