Mt. Vernon Academy Must Raise $3M by March 10 or Cease Operations


(Spectrumbot) #1

The Ohio Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, in a special constituency session today, voted to give Mt. Vernon Academy until March 10 to come up with $3 million or begin taking steps necessary to cease operations.

After the meeting, Ohio Conference president Ron Halverson, Jr. issued a statement calling the decision “by no means easy,” and saying that the 340 delegates in attendance “courageously and prayerfully voted to accept the December 2, 2014, recommendation of the Ohio Conference Executive Committee.”

Mt. Vernon Academy, the oldest boarding academy in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, traces its roots back to an 1893 message from Ellen White:

Let the building be converted into a seminary to educate our youth in the place of enlarging the college at Battle Creek. I have been shown that there should…be located, school buildings in Ohio which would give character to the work” (Ellen G. White letter K35).

For Ohio Conference pastor Loren Seibold, Ellen White’s statement raised the stakes significantly. In a December column entitled The Boarding Academy Crisis, Seibold wrote,

Many of you have been at these crisis constituency meetings, and you know how they go. The brethren explain the situation, which amounts to, “We don’t have enough paying students to keep this school open.” People queue up at the microphones to say, “You’ve got to keep it open, Ellen White said we should”; or, “My great grandfather graduated here and you can’t close it now”; or, “Adventist youthdom will completely crumble without it; or, we’ve invested too much in the buildings to let them go unused.”

Constituents today allowed financial considerations to supercede what Ellen White was shown, perhaps part of the reason President Halverson called the decision courageous.

Serious talk of shuttering the school began on October 22, 2014, the day after the SVA Board of Trustees and alumni association heard detailed reports on the school’s finances. The news was not good. Halverson wrote on the conference website, “Many of you reading this may be shocked to learn the situation is worse than you realized. I was as well.”

Details emerged of serious mismanagement. Halverson noted that the academy was unable to make payroll in August. The school’s financial reports did not accurately portray the financial situation, giving the impression of a more favorable asset balance than was warranted, while minimizing liabilities. The school went through five business managers in six years. The school prematurely spent tuition and fees from international students to help cover immediate operating expenses, creating a shortfall for the start of this school year. The school had no working capital, and had significant debt.

The October meeting of trustees and alumni yielded two important outcomes:

First, the Ohio Conference applied for and received a loan from the Columbia Union Conference to help cover the school’s immediate financial needs. The loan served as a stopgap measure with oversight from the Ohio Conference treasury department. The MVA Alumni Association agreed to pay monthly interest on the loan.

The second outcome was the formation of a Blue Ribbon Committee comprised of Seth Bardu (Columbia Union Treasurer), Ham Canosa (Columbia Union Vice President for Education), four Ohio Conference Executive Committee members (including two MVA alumni), two Mount Vernon Academy trustees, and Vince Waln (chair of the Ohio Conference Finance Committee). The committee was tasked with making the school financially stable and self-supporting in the 21st century.

On December 1, MVA Board of Trustees voted a recommendation to the Ohio Conference Executive Committee including raising $1.5M by February 15, 2015 for short-term expense, having six months (approximately $1.5M) of working capital in place by April 1, 2015, and exploring the sale of assets.

The following day, the conference Executive Committee voted to recommend to the January 11 constituency session approving the board’s recommendations with the added stipulation that “any sale of real estate assets be restricted to debt reduction and capital improvements, not current operations.”

By a vote of 257 to 82 against, constituents overwhelmingly approved the Executive Committee’s recommendations, giving Mt. Vernon two months to raise $3 million dollars.

Meanwhile, MVA principal Daniel Kittle took to social media to appeal for help. Kittle reposted on his SVA Facebook page a post he originally shared in 2011 while he was the principal at Fresno Adventist Academy in Central California. Fresno had suffered its own financial difficulties at that time. Kittle wrote,

“Today we must not shut our eyes to a matter of such great importance.” - the importance of the role that Adventist Education plays in forming the life of a child and the resulting blessings to our churches and to the kingdom of God. We must find a way to not only maintain but to grow our presence in this vital ministry. Now is the moment of legacy! Now is our time to stand! Now is our chance to build the story of our faith and the capacity of our churches and our school to reach this generation for God. This is not the time of demise! This is not the time that we curse the day in which we live! This is not the day that we struggle with broken relationships! This is not the day we leave this place filled with murmuring and complaint! [...] This is our day to unite! This is our day to do something! This is the day that we choose to sacrifice our pride - sacrifice our selfishness - sacrifice our bitterness and choose to build a spiritual asset for our children. This is the day we choose to make the best spiritual decision we can for our children.

Kittle also posted a link to a student-led initiative on YouTube called #DOSOMETHING MVA. Junior Kayla Davis created the campaign asking Ohio Conference members to intervene on behalf of the school. Speaking directly to viewers, senior Alyssa Thompson said that MVA was there for her when her father died last summer.

“Some of you have heard that our school is closing,” Thompson said. “That’s not true. We’re still here. We’re still fighting.” Thompson asked viewers not to close their eyes to the school.

The appeals students made in the video campaign are passionate and compelling, but will their efforts be too little, too late?

Vince Waln, chair of the Blue Ribbon Committee told delegates that this year there are 85 students enrolled at Mt. Vernon, 36 from Ohio. It costs $3M to run the school annually, and if the school does raise the money needed by March, the questions that have haunted the school will be asked again the following year.

"We need to ask ourselves, what is our mission?" Waln said. "Significant measures must be taken in order to secure MVA for the long term.

Title image courtesy Ohio Conference of Seventh-day Adventists on Facebook.

Jared Wright is managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6558

(Allen Shepherd) #2

I have been on the IN K-12 board in the past. There were shortfalls that were covered by the conference, but nothing to the extent of 3 M. The academy is doing better now, but has the advantage of a very good voucher system in this state. IL has also closed their boarding academy a few yrs ago. I think the answer is industry at the campus site, combined with a good voucher system. But that is a hard combination to get together. Our people are not willing to send their kids away for a variety of legitimate reasons, so the academies suffer. Harrison mills were a real blessing.


(Rheticus) #3

The fact that anyone considers EGW’s advice given circa 1900 to have binding impact on a business decision in 2015 is a problem in itself. She did not consider her blanket statements about health to be binding in another location contemporaneously! She would probably have been dismayed about people taking her business advice 100+ years out of date.

This is fraud, Who were the auditors and why did they not detect this?

That alone is very suspicious - it shows the problem is higher up the organization.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Just think of the quality that could be offered via an online program to tens of thousands of students worldwide with that budget…


(Thomas J Zwemer) #4

has anyone done a study of young people staying in the church–comparing staying home and attending public school vrs Boarding Academy? What happens to the monies raised if they don’t reach their goal? How long will 3 Million keep the school open? Do academy teachers earn tenure? With Kettering in the Conference, money shouldn’t be a problem. so the issue is the distribution of fubpnds! not the lack of funds? Tom Z


(jeremy) #5

i think the demise of battle creek, once the center of our work - not to mention the many derogatory statements of our prophet against it leading up to its demise - shows that nothing by way of infra-structure in our church can be assumed to be permanent, just because god’s providence was in it at one time…if the issue for mva is chronic mismanagement and a lack of market interest, i hardly think a quote from egw encouraging its founding changes this…a $3 million immediate fix and annual budget is steep, but it is doable if conditions that justify the school’s existence exist…if these conditions don’t exist, closing the school would be the correct thing to do…


(Thomas J Zwemer) #6

if one were to heed EGW, then, all academy teachers and staff should be paid out of tithe. T Zwemer


(P Kevin Wells) #7

Stop it. We only use her writings selectively.


(Andreas Bochmann) #8

Indeed… While everyday business issues generally speaking are run by business people in our church, a loss of that many business managers suggests that non-business people have made some important decisions here. While I would not want to speculate, apart from (unlikely) incompetence there seem to be two options: 1. the business managers have not been honest enough. 2. the business managers have been too honest. Both would be a shame for the system as a whole.

Having said that, I believe, the issue of closing down old institutions always is painful. When it comes to historic buildings and institutions (“oldest”) there may be more at stake than a school. But if so - other funds than the school should be utilized to help save the institution.


(Rheticus) #9

$3M/yr for 85 students is about $40,000 per student per year. That is an absurd waste of money.


(James J Londis) #10

This is an astute and courageous decision by the new president and the executive committee, ratified by obviously thoughtful constituents. For decades the NAD has ignored the negative trends in Adventist education. Elementary schools in small churches are struggling, boarding academies are barely surviving and college enrollment is down and going down. The model for SDA education is no longer viable. By model I mean: (1) Local churches support elementary schools, conferences support academies and unions support colleges and universities while the GC itself supports GC institutions of higher learning (Andrews and LLU at the moment). (2) It is almost impossible to work your way through either boarding academy or college in four years given the requirements of education in the modern world. Combine this with the inability of most SDA families to afford the admittedly low tuitions rates compared to other “private” schools, but still beyond the reach of most. (3) More and more relatively affluent parents who can afford educationally superior private schools are sending many of their children to them. When our schools existed primarily to train workers for the church, we did not worry about their competing in the larger marketplace for work or career. Now parents do worry. So, while a few SDA colleges, for example, have first-class programs (engineering and Walla Walla and others at other schools), many do not. Those Adventist youth who attend other private high schools or colleges are often forgotten by the church, since “they should not be there.” As one SDA official told me many years ago: “If we provide a significant ministry to those students to keep them tethered to the church, it will negatively impact our own educational system.”

What a dilemma we face. More and more of our schools will face what Ohio and Mt. Vernon are facing. It is, sadly, almost inevitable,


(Thomas J Zwemer) #11

You hit the point. What is a child worth to the church? Would increased enrollment reduce the per capita costs to a reasonable level.

I sent all three of my children to boarding academies. all three told me the environment was anything but Christian. Dorm life was cruel the faculty indifferent or overtly prudish. One graduated from the academy, one from high school, and one because of illness from home study. two now have doctorates, and one has an M.A. In History and economics… all are Christian, none are SDA like their dad.

My point is there is no there anymore. what Ellen White saw was the impossible dream. Tom Z


(efcee) #12

There is an alternative to simply closing a school that has become too heavy with burdensome assets and an administrative structure that cannot be supported by its constituents. This is to cease operations, liquidate the assets and then begin again with a new institution that is sized and conceived for the actual student body that remains and with the constituency that remains. New schools are chartered constantly in the city where I live, some are successful and some are not. But if the goal for each institution is to be self supporting, there is no surer way to test it’s ability to be so than to release it of the burdens of the past and give it a fresh start. Most of our educational institutions began with less students, less faculty, less assets, and less constituency resources than they currently have. If there is resolve within the current community, they can do it again. If the resolve is not there, it becomes, at that point, a waste of resources to resuscitate that school.


(Winona Winkler Wendth) #13

Kettering has nothing to do with this, unless you want to (try to) tally employees’ tithe and its journey north. Not their problem, and they have an academy close at hand, anyway. One aphorism in fundraising is that “If money is your only problem, you don’t have a problem.” As was the challenge at AUC (albeit a different kind of one), someone could drop $100 million on the school, and that would not fix the problem—it would maintain and eventually re-occur. We are trying to solve a widely systemic problem with local human and material resources. Someone/s on the Division (not the Union) level needs to revamp both the institutions and the thinking behind how and why they are run.


(Elaine Nelson) #14

Relying on what was written more than 120 years ago as still pertinent today has more problems. It is simple: there are no enough funds to operate, so close the school and stop subsidizing falling finances.

If no study shows the retention of students graduating from SdA academies compared to public high schools, why hasn’t there been one to substantiate the importance of such schools? But such statistics are called irrelevant to those who protest closing, but cannot put up the money,


(Elaine Nelson) #15

My two children were at dinner with me, as usual last weekend and watching “Jeopardy” questions on Shakespeare and Literature, reminisced that they were never introduced to either Shakespeare or the world’s great literature at the SdA academy; one had one college course in Shakespeare.

My granchildren attended public schools and one graduated from U.C., the finest state university system in the nation. There is no earthly, or heavenly reason to send a young student away from home on the outside chance that he will remain and SdA. Christianity is never limited to one denomination that is as exclusive as Judaism with its many rules.


(Elaine Nelson) #16

But first: $3 million debt must be paid before any such plan is even considered.

If Adventists were only content to offer a Christian non-denominational school, it would be much more attractive to parents. There are a number of Christian high schools where I live with growing students and are chosen by many parents over the public schools.


(Loren Seibold) #17

I thought Ron Halverson and his team did a good job presenting the situation—as good as one can do. My only disappointment was when a leading layman on the conference finance committee, got up and protested that it wasn’t his fault, that he had no responsibility for what went wrong, it was the leaders of the school and conference who had mismanaged everything and dropped it in their lap. He is a friend of mine, but I thought this was neither helpful nor gracious. It set the stage for people coming to the microphone to complain about the school leadership team, some even suggesting that they all be fired before they’d give money. As though it were that simple. Who would accept their jobs right now? Besides, it isn’t clear to me that it is their fault. They were asked to make bricks without straw. It would have been far better to simply say, “All of us have some responsibility for what wrong here, including those of us in conference governance.”


(Loren Seibold) #18

Sadly, @efcee, this isn’t valuable real estate like you’d find near a metro area like Boston. It’s on a country road north of the town of Mount Vernon, Ohio, an hour north of Columbus, two hours south of Cleveland. Not an area where businesses are fighting to find space. It would be nice if it had more value. It could even be argued that the existing plant being there drags down the value (compared to, say, farmland), rather than enhancing it. If it were valuable, it could be used as an asset to build something better elsewhere.


(Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13) #19

At my academy we studied Shakespeare & many of the world’s other great writers.


(Loren Seibold) #20

The auditors said very clearly that they had looked for evidences of fraud, and found no sign of it. This was simply a case of running out of money, because the school is neither fully used nor fully funded.