Update, 5:15 p.m., Oct. 11, 2011. The school posted an announcement about the board's decision on its web site this afternoon. The text is at the bottom of this article.
Thanks to $867,000 in new pledged support, the board of trustees of the El Cerrito's 35-year-old Windrush School announced tonight, Monday, that the threatened school can remain open the rest of the school year, assuming the school can remain under bankruptcy protection, board member Lucy Aghadjian said.
The board announced the news at a 6 p.m. meeting with parents and staff in the school gym, Aghadjian said. The trustees reached the decision at a board meeting shortly before the meeting in the gym, she said.
The trustees announced two weeks ago that the K-8 private school faced an unprecedented crisis and could not make payments due on a $13 million bond issued in 2007 to build the new library/middle school building and refurbish the gym. If the school didn't raise between $800,000 and $900,000 by Oct. 7, the school would have to shut down Oct. 28, the trustees said at the time.
The trustees also voted at their board meeting late today to form three committees — tentatively on communications, adminstrative restructuring and strategic partnerships — to develop a restructuring plan for the school's future viability beyond this school year, Aghadjian said. The plan would be presented in the upcoming hearing on Oct. 28 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, she said.
The school entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Sept. 30 after Wells Fargo Bank, trustee for the bondholders, moved to seize school property in Contra Costa County Superior Court. School property was put up as collateral on the bond debt.
Chapter 11 bankruptcy shields the school from creditors, but whether the school can remain under bankruptcy protection remains to be decided by the Bankruptcy Court, whose ruling will depend in large part of whether the school can show that it has a feasible plan to return to financially solvent operations.
Parents who packed the school gym last night were relieved at the news and felt hopeful about the future, said one parent who preferred not to be identified.
"It was a really positive meeting," he said. "I think the mood coming out was much more upbeat than it was coming in."
"The fact that we raised the money made people hopeful that we can make this work," he said.
The board decided that it could finish the school year based on the $867,000 in pledges and the number of students enrolled, Aghadjian said. Seven children have left the school since the crisis began, she said. The trustees said two weeks ago that enrollment had dropped from 259 in 2007 when the bond was issued to 165 this year.
The three committees developing the plan in the next two weeks will consist of community members, including parents, as well as trustees and faculty and staff, Aghadjian said.
Options for restructuring of the school after the current school year could include a merger, a major program change or a minor program change, she said. "That's part of the committee's work that will get filled in in the next two weeks before we go before the judge on the 28th," she said.
Aghadjian credited the school community for its "extraordinarily positive" and "wildly successful" fundraising drive.
"It's a community that's rallied in a financial effort that it's never done before," she said.
Update: Here's the text of a notice posted on the Windrush web site Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 11:
Dear Windrush Community and Friends,
Windrush School will remain open through June 2012 providing it can remain under bankruptcy protection. This good news was announced Monday night, October 10 at a meeting of parents, guardians and staff. By the October 7 fundraising deadline, the school had received $866,000 in pledges to support school operations through June.
The board authorized formation of three committees to work together to develop a restructuring plan to present to the Bankruptcy Court on October 28. The committees will focus on marketing, administrative restructuring and strategic partnerships. Trustee Troy Tyler is heading up the formation of the committees. Please send requests to volunteer for Project Phoenix to SaveWindrush@Windrush.org. The school will continue to accept pledges for support through October 28, 2011. To download a pledge form, click here.
Since 1976, Windrush School has educated thousands of students, sparking a joy of learning in children and sending them into the world academically prepared and with a strong sense of who they are as human beings. As we have built our vision of 21st century Progressive Education, the continuing Great Recession has greatly impacted our families and school. Despite wonderful students and parents, a superb faculty, strong leadership and careful planning, we face an unprecedented fiscal crisis at this very moment. We ask for past and present members of our school community, and stewards of education throughout the Bay Area, to help us secure our future. Learn more and pledge your support here.
Editor's note: We are keeping our original story about the Windrush situation, "," in the top section of our homepage because the reader comments section has become an ongoing community forum for discussion and information about many issues involved.