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International school: Financial problems too great to overcome

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The International School of Columbus will close at the end of the week, an ending brought on by financial problems and one that concludes the school’s nearly five-year existence.

The gut-wrenching decision to dissolve the school’s charter with Ball State University came during a board meeting Wednesday that was thick with emotion but drew only a dozen people — including school board members — to the school’s National Road location.

Students and teachers will wrap up their time at the International School on Friday, and only a few administrators will continue to be paid by Ball State to help children with special needs who need extra time finding a new school, board President Rich Wagner said.

‘Breaking my heart’

Kim Sutton, special education and middle school coordinator for the International School, said it was the best school she has worked at in 25 years of teaching.

“It’s tragic that we just couldn’t do it,” she said about the effort to keep the school open. “It just kills me. It’s breaking my heart.”

Sutton cried quietly as Wagner read the motion to dissolve the charter. Wagner himself had to pause a few seconds to gather himself as he read the motion to close.

Sad goodbye

Previously: The International School of Columbus, which is just two months into its fifth year of existence, announces Monday it likely will close because of a lack of funds.

Now: School board members make the closure official with a 5-0 vote Wednesday at an emotional meeting.

Next: The school will close after the end of the school day Friday, forcing parents to find new schools for their children. Some administrators will stay on as long as it takes to find new schools for students with special needs.

But even before the 5-0 vote, students already were transferring to schools in the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. — a bittersweet migration expected to increase starting today with the official news.

Switching schools already

John Quick, superintendent of the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., said 48 International School students already had enrolled in BCSC as of Wednesday.

That’s nearly half of the almost 116 students who had been enrolled at the International School this school year, before news of a possible closure spread.

Quick said the rest of the students will need to enroll quickly into its 11,000-student population to miss as little school as possible as the second quarter of the school year gets underway. He stressed that Bartholomew Consolidated welcomes the students and has plenty of room for them.

Also affected are 13 teachers and four staff members who will need to scramble to find new jobs.

Nowhere near enough money

The closure of the International School, which serves students in Grades 7 to 12 and teaches the International Baccalaureate curriculum, comes on the heels of a fund drive that raised only $18,000 of the $268,000 it would have needed to remain open the rest of the school year, Rich Wagner said.

Wagner and Head of School Jonah Sims had blamed the school’s financial difficulties specifically on a general withdrawal of donor support, unexpected costs at its previously planned new location at 51 N. Brooks St. in East Columbus and declining state funds related to a declining enrollment.

They held out hope for a massive 11th-hour pledge to overcome those difficulties. However, Wagner said before the meeting that any windfall was a longshot and that the school likely would close its doors.

Wagner said he was surprised that practically no one from the public showed up for the meeting. He speculated that people said what they wanted to say at an equally emotional parent meeting Monday and considered the Wednesday vote to close a foregone conclusion.

Some parents Monday had tearfully expressed gratefulness to the school while others expressed disappointment and displeasure with how poorly the school communicated its financial situation.

That emotion continued Wednesday as school personnel and board members decided once and for all to close.

“It’s been a wonderful experience,” said Wagner’s wife, Julie, whose two children attend the school. “The teachers did a wonderful job, and I’m so happy that my kids had a chance to experience what it’s about.”

Sims said he was thankful for the opportunity to come to a wonderful city like Columbus and lead the school.

“I will always remember the school,” he said.

Sims said after the meeting that his decision last month to resign was made partly because of the struggle to stay open, which he said wore him down. He had pledged to stay on until Nov. 15 to assist with the transition to a new head of school.

Sims said charter schools are hard to sustain, in general. He said he will miss the school culture, which he considered nothing less than a family.

“It’s hard,” Sims said. “I find it ironic that a school with very good results has to be closed down because of finances. I think we’ve affected students in a very positive way.”

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