by Cheryl Splain, KnoxPages.com reporter
MOUNT VERNON — Financial issues facing Mount Vernon Academy will not curtail current student activities. Principal Dan Kittle said there are no plans to cancel extracurricular activities such as basketball games and mission trips.
“We are fully funded for operations through June 30,” he said.
Financial problems became known when the school was unable to make payroll in August 2014. Findings of a Blue Ribbon Committee established to look into the problems showed assets were more favorably portrayed while liabilities were minimized. In addition, tuition and fees from international students were spent prematurely on operating expenses. A subsequent audit by the General Conference Auditing Service showed no impropriety.
The Blue Ribbon Committee presented its findings to the MVA Board of Trustees and the Executive Committee of the Ohio Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. The MVA board recommended a plan of action to the executive committee, which accepted the plan with a few minor modifications. In a special session Sunday, the Ohio Conference voted to require the academy to raise $3 million by March 10 or cease operations after the 2014-15 school year.
“Three committees studied and discussed the issues facing MVA and each committee came to the conclusion, with few differences of opinion, that this was the most plausible way forward,” said Ron Halvorsen Jr., president of the Ohio Conference. “We then held three town hall meetings to allow members across our state to discuss the situation, ask questions and offer suggestions. At our special meeting Jan. 11, 340 delegates representing our statewide membership spent nearly four hours discussing and praying about the recommendations. More than 25 spoke at the open microphones and, in the end, two-thirds voted for the process we reluctantly adopted.”
The school must raise $1.5 million by Feb. 10 and the remaining $1.5 million by Mar. 10 in order to be debt-free and enter the 2015-16 school year with the necessary working capital. School and conference officials declined to say how much money has been raised to date because new fundraising campaigns continue to emerge.
“Our fundraising drive is in its early stages and is open to all supporters. We’ll share progress updates periodically,” said Kittle.
“There are many reasons why the school is struggling financially,” said Halvorsen. “Boarding academies across the country are struggling, including those not affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The cost of education is rising in America. The U.S. Department of Education projects that private education enrollment across the USA will decline from the current 11 percent to 9 percent by 2021.”
Demographics play a large role in that declining enrollment. According to statistics from the Ohio Conference, 30 percent of Adventists who have eligible school-age children send their children to Adventist schools. Although this percentage has remained constant throughout the years, the number of eligible students has significantly declined. Currently, 26 percent of Adventists have eligible school-age children; in years past, 68 percent of Adventists had eligible school-age children, which provided a larger enrollment pool. Nationwide, the average age of Americans is 37; this compares to an average age of 56 for Adventists in the North American District and 62 for Adventists in Ohio.
The trend toward declining enrollment is evident locally. The average enrollment for Mount Vernon Academy over the past five years is 104; present enrollment is 85. Opening enrollment records show a 50.6 percent decline over the past seven years.
Established in 1893, the academy is the oldest existing Seventh-day Adventist boarding high school. MVA employs 19 full-time and three part-time faculty and staff.
“We are also concerned about the potential impact on the community. It is not lost on us,” said Halvorsen. “We’ve been a part of this community for over 100 years and we value the relationships we’ve formed here. So many thousands of students have matriculated our program and gone on to make a difference in the world, and we’re thankful that their journey began here in Mount Vernon. We all want that for this generation as well.
“This shared legacy is one of the reasons that the delegates struggled to make this decision,” he continued. “But the reality is that long-term declining enrollment, lack of ample finances and aging infrastructure are among the challenges we’re facing.”
If the academy fails to raise the $3 million by Mar. 10, a next step could be selling real estate assets held by the school. According to the Knox County auditor’s website, in addition to the acreage associated with the campus, the school owns land around the school, nearly 155 acres of vacant agricultural land and 19 acres at 645 Wooster Rd. Halvorsen said there are no immediate plans to sell academy acreage.