Lowell terminates lease in order to move forward
By Jay Seidel
La Habra Journal
The Lowell Joint School District was forced to take drastic action in an effort to help students at a local Christian school. The district submitted a legal order to terminate its lease agreement with Whittier Christian Elementary School’s Maybrook campus, which is owned by the Lowell District.
The emotional move to end the 23-year-old agreement with Calvary Baptist Church, which operates the Whittier Christian School, was due to questionable practices and breaches of the lease by a school management company, Carnegie Schools, that was brought in to help run the schools.
Dr. John Ploog, pastor and head of schools for Calvary Baptist, explained Monday at the district meeting that the operation of the schools, the campus at Maybrook and the church’s main campus in Whittier, were becoming more challenging financially for the church. They were looking at various options, and that’s when he said Carnegie approached them.
Ploog explained that Carnegie said they wanted to help Christian schools maintain and operate successfully. The offer was the help that Ploog felt they were looking for. So, last year, Carnegie took operational control of the Whittier Christian Schools.
Since then, according to Terry Tao, attorney for Lowell Joint School District, several breaches of the lease agreement and questionable practices prompted them to terminate the lease agreement.
Tao explained that the arrangement Calvary Baptist entered in with Carnegie violated the terms of the original lease because it doesn’t allow for subleasing. Further, according to Tao, Carnegie’s plan to expand the Maybrook campus to include seventh and eighth grade students was in violation of the preschool-6 grade only agreement.
Also, Carnegie’s business operations caused concern for the Lowell District landlords. Carnegie fell behind on its rental payments to the district.
Darin Barber, board president of the Lowell Joint School District, explained that in order to remove Carnegie, the district must terminate the lease with Calvary Baptist.
Tao echoed this sentiment, explaining that the original contract was between Lowell and Calvary Baptist and that lease had to be terminated before anything else could occur. The school board approved termination of the lease on July 31. The notice of termination letter was sent to Calvary Baptist on August 1.
Ploog and the church leaders had been in communication with the district, as these issues were becoming apparent. He explained they understood the violations, including their arrangement with Carnegie, and agreed that the lease should be terminated.
The church informed Carnegie on August 2, about the termination of the lease. In an August 4th letter to Calvary Baptist, Carnegie stated that it sees the Lowell District as a “third party” and will not allow a third party to “run a school at the Maybrook campus.” Further, they took a defiant stance stating Carnegie “intends to remain at the Maybrook campus for the foreseeable future.”
According to the terms of the termination letter, the district was to have its property turned back over to them by 5 p.m. Monday.
According to Ploog, Barber and Tao, some main concerns are about the students and the families who have paid tuition.
Tao explained that he requested enrollment information, including paid tuition, from Carnegie, but said he didn’t think he was going to get it.
Lowell Board member Staci Shackelford had to pause to hold back some emotion as she shared her children went to Whittier Christian Schools and credits their educational success to what they learned at the school.
“This whole situation is so hard,” she said thinking about how the children and families could be impacted by proceedings.
Claud Lamar, president and CEO of Heights Christian Schools, said that they would like to come in and operate a Christian school at the Maybrook campus to help ensure the approximately 288 students will continue with their education. He said that they are willing to waive registration fees and credit those who have paid tuition in an effort to get things set up this year. He encouraged parents to call the Heights Christian office. Heights Christian schools start on August 29 and they would hope to start classes at Maybrook then as well.
Lowell District Superintendent Jim Coombs said he was grateful to see Heights step in and want to operate a school on the campus. However, he explained that they are open to entertain any proposal.
However, the timeframe is short. Carnegie had classes set to begin August 24.
According to Tao, the district will now take steps to regain its property, the Maybrook campus, and move forward. He said they are working to minimize the disruption for the students, parents and staff for the coming school year.