by Cheryl Splain, KnoxPages.com reporter
MOUNT VERNON — Unless Mount Vernon Academy comes up with a significant amount of money in the next two months, it will close its doors in May.
The academy must raise $3 million by March 10 or it will cease operations at the end of the 2014-15 school year. The Ohio Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, meeting in special session on Sunday, issued the ultimatum after accepting the recommendations of an Ohio Conference Blue Ribbon Committee and the Mount Vernon Academy Board of Trustees.
Benchmarks for raising the money are $1.5 million by Feb. 10 and an additional $1.5 million by March 10. According to a statement issued by Ron Halverson, Jr., president of the Ohio Conference, it takes $3 million annually to operate Mount Vernon Academy. If the money is raised by the March 10 deadline, the school will enter the 2015-16 school year debt free and with the necessary working capital.
Financial issues surfaced when the school was unable to make its August 2014 payroll. In an update to conference members on Dec. 9, 2014, Halverson said that “financial reports presented to committees did not accurately portray what was really happening, showing a more favorable asset balance while minimizing liabilities. The turnover of five business managers over the past six years did not help. Tuition and fees from international students was spent prematurely to help cover immediate operating expenses, creating a shortfall for the start of this school year.” A subsequent audit by the General Conference Auditing Service did not find any evidence of impropriety.
In October, the Ohio Conference applied for a $700,000 loan from the Columbia Union Conference to cover the immediate financial needs of the academy. A Blue Ribbon Committee was established to look into financial issues and determine what it will take for the academy to become financially stable and self-sustaining.
In addition to meeting the financial benchmarks, the school will explore the sale of real estate assets. Money received from asset sales will go toward debt reduction and capital improvements, not to meet current operating expenses. If the academy meets the benchmarks, school officials will develop by March 15 a long-term action plan to ensure sustainability of the academy. The Ohio Conference Personnel Committee will assess current administration and faculty members and recommend continued employment or any changes that may be necessary.
If the benchmarks are not met, the school’s board of trustees will start the process to close by the end of the school year. The Ohio Conference will develop alternate options for the continuing secondary education of academy students.