Maine Girls’ Academy walked a financial tightrope before deciding to close

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The soon-to-be-closed Maine Girls’ Academy was limping along financially in its second year of operation, spending slightly more than it took in, according to federal financial disclosure forms.

School officials said last week they were closing the school because of declining enrollment and related financial problems. Despite an immediate surge of supporters coming forward trying to save the school, officials sent out a notice Wednesday night reiterating their decision to close.

That blindsided Cara Biddings, who led the charge to reopen the school.

“Right now, because the board has refused to even do us the favor of handing us the legal shell of the school, they have essentially put a complete end to any effort to save this school,” Biddings said Friday. She is an alumna whose daughter attended the school.

“I think I could walk in there with a $5 million check and they’d say, ‘Nope.’ ”

According to a financial disclosure form covering July 2016 through June 2017, the school had about $1.6 million in assets while spending about $2.74 million and receiving about $2.69 million – including $1.6 million in tuition from 94 students.

At the end of the year, the school had $1.5 million in assets, according to the Internal Revenue Service document required for nonprofit organizations, known as a Form 990. Expenses included $1.2 million in salaries and wages, $140,896 in rent and $515,500 in scholarship grants. Financial information for the last school year has not yet been filed with the IRS.

School officials did not respond to a request for comment on more recent financial information.

However, school and board leaders who met with Biddings and other supporters this week said that while the school is not currently in debt, they anticipated a $250,000 funding gap if they operated next year.

Tuition revenue would have declined as they anticipated about 74 students, down from 90 this year. Each student brings in an average of $12,000 a year, after scholarships and subsidies. In addition, the leased building on Stevens Avenue in Portland was due for millions in repairs and improvements.

Biddings said supporters were poised to meet with another school to see if they could co-locate Maine Girls’ Academy on the grounds of that school when Maine Girls’ Academy officials sent out the final closure notice. It surprised Biddings, who said she left the meeting thinking they had more time.

“Whatever their reasons, the board is adamant about closing the school. We don’t understand or have any sympathy for their decision,” Biddings said. “(They’ve) dropped this bomb, made this life-changing decision for all these girls.”

The school has released all of its teachers, shuttered its summer program and refunded money to parents. Staff members were packing up boxes and moving out of the building this week. Members of the school community are hoping to do a final visit to the school sometime next week. Head of School Amy Jolly has said they will have until the end of the month to vacate the building.

Alumna Amie Earley said she’s still holding out hope to reopen the school somehow.

“There’s a lot of energy still. None of that has been lost,” said Earley, who graduated from the school in 2000, when it was Catherine McAuley High School. “We are all trying to figure out what direction to take. … This week feels like a year.”

Officials at the Maine Girls’ Academy anticipated a $250,000 funding gap if they operated the all-girls high school next year. (Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald)

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