Editor's note: This article – our first on the Windrush School crisis – has been updated with a list at the top of all the subsequent articles we've published on the subject, with the most recent on top:
Oct. 4, 5:53 p.m.:Bank Says Windrush Hid Cash, Judge Sides With School for Now
Oct. 4, 3:11 a.m.:
Sept. 30, 2011:
El Cerrito's 35-year-old is threatened by imminent closure because of an inability to continue paying a bond debt, school officials confirmed today, Wednesday.
Parents, staff and trustees of the K-8 private school have launched an emergency fundraising drive, and the school plans to file for bankruptcy in the next few days to provide protection against creditors seizing school assets, said Nina McDonald, vice chair of the board of trustees.
School staff and parents were informed of the crisis in meetings late Tuesday, McDonald said.
The progressive education-oriented school occupies an expansive four-acre, hillside property at Elm and Hill streets that once housed the , an orphanage for Chinese boys founded in 1923. Windrush held a 35th-year celebration on Sept. 6.
A letter from the board of trustees sent this morning to "Members of the Windrush Community" said the school will "almost certainly" have to close by the end of the school year in June if not sooner, possibly as early as Oct. 28.
But in an interview with Patch, McDonald said the response since the letter went out has raised new hope for keeping the school open beyond the school year.
However, the hard reality is that the school still needs to raise more funding in a short period of time to avert closure on Oct. 28, the trustees' letter said. The school has an open house scheduled for Oct. 29.
"If we cannot raise the amount needed to fund operations through the end of the school year, then the Board has no choice but to close the school as of October 28, 2011," the letter said.
The trustees estimate the school needs to raise between $800,000 and $900,000 to stay open until June. And it needs to have pledges for that amount by Oct. 7 in order to avert an Oct. 28 closure, the letter said.
The crisis has already generated $241,000 in pledges, McDonald said.
"The fact that we've been able to raise that much and the enthusiasm for doing it has really felt good and made this seem possible," she said. "They (members of the school community) made it clear right away how much it means to them and how much they love Windrush."
The trustees' letter traced the crisis to the $13 million bond debt incurred in 2007 for a new middle school building and refurbished gym. The school's enrollment stood at 259 at that time, with the expectation of future increases, enabling it to pay the principle and interest on the debt, the letter said.
However, the letter continued, "the recession and continuing economic challenges" caused enrollment to drop to 165 since then. When the trustees realized they couldn't make the July 2011 and January 2012 payments, they entered into negotiations in May with the bondholders seeking "a forbearance agreement that would suspend the school’s obligation to pay interest for some period of time and/or to restructure the bond debt," the letter said.
After months of negotiations, it became evident last week that the bondholders would not agree to terms that the trustees believed were necessary to maintain school operations, McDonald said. The bondholders informed the school that they will seek court appointment of a receiver to take control of the school's assets. The school's property is the collateral for the loan.
McDonald said she could not identify the bondholders at this time.
To avert loss of the school's property to a court-ordered receivership, Windrush will file for "relief and protection under chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. This filing will immediately stop the bondholders’ receivership and foreclosure efforts, and will provide the school with a respite in which to plan a resolution of its debt issues, either through a wind-down of operations or a feasible restructuring of debts in a manner that will keep the school operating through the school year," the trustees' letter said.
"We believe that we can raise the $800,000 to $900,000 needed to complete the school year from our community for a number of reasons," the trustees' letter said, noting that more than $500,000 was raised last year through such efforts as the Harvest Fair, the Annual Giving campaign and the Gala.
Those who would like to contribute or obtain more information can contact the school's director of development, Ann Root, at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the school's main number, 510-970-7580, McDonald said.