An El Cerrito private school has given parents two weeks to come up with nearly $1 million to stave off a bank seizure that would force its 165 students to find new schools by Oct. 28.
If the families and staff at Windrush School manage to come up with the cash by the Oct. 7 deadline, there is no guarantee they will be able to keep the doors open after this academic year.
And if it closes, despite a legacy of 35 years serving middle-class families, Windrush would land on a long list of private schools to fall victim to the lingering economic crisis.
"A case like the situation at Windrush reminds us of how fragile it is in an independent or private school of any kind - that the outside forces can engulf a school at any time," said Jim McManus, executive director of the California Association of Independent Schools.
The weak economy has hit private schools hard, because, as McManus noted, they are run as businesses that rely on income rather than public funding.
In 2001, California had about 625,000 students in 3,100 private schools. By 2010, two years after the recession began, there were 2,565 schools serving 507,000 students.
Windrush, a K-8 school on the El Cerrito hillside, has lost about 100 students since 2008 as out-of-work parents pulled their kids out and nonprofit funding for scholarship students dried up.
With an annual tuition of about $20,000 per student, depending on the grade level, that's a loss of $2 million annually.
Parents at a private El Cerrito school on the brink of financial collapse have raised nearly $1 million in two weeks to keep the doors open through the end of the academic year.
Parents and alumni raised $867,000 with the help of an unnamed donor who agreed to provide a matching grant of up to $250,000. The total amount was just enough to keep the school open, pending approval by the Bankruptcy Court, school officials said.