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Finance Problem Sinks Elliott-Pope Private School
By Gail Wesson
The Press-Enterprise

Friday, November 30, 1990

A failed attempt to raise some quick cash led Elliot-Pope Preparatory School officials to the decision to close the 60-year-old college preparatory school next month.

The non-profit prep school recovered from past financial adversity with the assistance of benefactors, but a fundraising appeal to alumni and school supporters this time led officials to believe a fix was not forthcoming.

Monday, the school's board of trustees "decided the school would cease its normal operations December 31," said Headmaster David Goodsell.  The school is one of the few private secondary schools in Riverside County with no religious affiliation.

Goodsell announced the closure Tuesday. The staff and students will finish the semester December 19. Meanwhile, both groups are studying other enrollment options for the students.

The school has about 100 boarding students and 30 day students. About 45 percent of the students are from foreign countries. Tuition is $16,800 per year for boarding students and $8,750 per year for day students. About 25 percent of the students receive financial aid, Goodsell said.

The school's staff of 35, including 18 teachers, will be jobless at the end of the year. Goodsell will oversee an inventory and work with attorneys and others to liquidate the assets, pay creditors and sell the facility.

Community opinions differ about the effect of the closure on the Idyllwild economy, but there is agreement that there will be a loss in cultural programs it offered.

Idyllwild also is home to the Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts, which is a performing arts high school offering a summer program for all ages and an Elder-hostel program.

The Elliott-Pope facility could lure a buyer for another school but current economic conditions and declining enrollment at private schools across the nation make that unlikely.

There is wishful talk about converting it into a secondary public school so Idyllwild students can avoid long bus trips to Hemet, but the prospects appear dim. Hemet Unified School District does not have the money and state money is not available for such an acquisition at this time, said Marvin Feir, the district's assistant superintendent for business services.

Word spread of Elliott-Pope's financial difficulties in early October when letters went out to parents. A second letter appealed for money, but Goodsell described the tone of both letters as positive.

News of the closure came as a shock to people on campus and in Idyllwild.

Goodsell blames the closure on cash-flow troubles and lower-than-expected enrollment. He became headmaster in July, not knowing details of the school's financial situation.

"There was just an accumulating debt that had been rolled forward that became unmanageable," he said. In April, a bank notified the school that it would not extend a letter of credit that had been available. This fall, enrollment fell 35 students short of what was budgeted.

"We raised approximately $200,000 in pledges from the board," the headmaster said. A small amount came in from the fundraising appeal, but Goodsell said $500,000 to $700.000 was needed to keep the school going. The school also had an almost $1.5 million mortgage secured by the school property.

Paula Fredericks, school switchboard operator, dorm mother and transportation coordinator, said, "I just feel the community knew we had been in financial trouble before and they thought we're going to pull it around."

Fredericks and some Idyllwild parents of students still hope for someone to rescue the school.

"We're not giving up. Now I know the school and administration are working to definitely place the kids and the teachers elsewhere, but we think there's definitely some possibilities," said Mahri Kintz of Idyllwild, who helped send out the fundraising appeal letters and has two children at the school.

Kintz and parent Susan Pahl of Idyllwild describe a family atmosphere at the school where the staff puts the students first and individual students are respected.

"It's just such a special place," said Bambi Brock, 17, who may attend ISOMATA or return to private school in Hawaii. She describes herself as a responsible, disciplined, well-rounded student, changed from the day she arrived as "a spoiled brat" last school year.

"This school has educated and nurtured students for 60 years and the fact that the school will no longer be around to do it breaks my heart," said Sharon Adams, dean of the faculty. "The first priority is to help students and parents find the right placement for the second semester," she said. Then she and her husband, Dick Adams, assistant dean of admissions, will look for jobs.

Some seniors interviewed expect to be able to finish a class or two in a home study program.

There was hope earlier in the community that the Idyllwild Arts Foundation, which operates ISOMATA, would come to the rescue. But that prospect was dashed November 16 when the foundation's executive committee voted to "decline the offer with deep regret," said William Lowman, foundation executive director and ISOMATA headmaster.

The proposal by Elliott-Pope to ISOMATA called for a cash infusion to allow the school to finish the school year and assume the mortgage debt, Lowman said. ISOMATA officials knew that offered an opportunity to expand but "we felt it involved sufficient financial risk that it would have been difficult for us to assume at this time," Lowman explained.

ISOMATA offers special arts education and academics to its 117 students. Elliott-Pope students can apply and audition for spring admission.

The loss of Elliott-Pope is tragic to the community, said Annette Bork, an Idyllwild property owner for almost 20 years and current president of the Idyllwild Board of Realtors. "Economically it's very important because they (employees) owned and rented dwellings. They made purchases at local stores."

When students go home "they do put Idyllwild in the minds of other folks in other areas. They are an asset to the community in that way," said Ron Caron, Idyllwild Chamber of Commerce first vice president.

Copyright: The Press-Enterprise

Copyright 1998 David Gotfredson