Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

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May 29, 2014

Board member: Closing Jacksonville Christian School a tough decision

JACKSONVILLE — A local private school whose roots trace back 40-plus years to the founder's backyard recently shuttered, a victim of a cratering economy, according to one board member.

Jacksonville Christian School board member Ray Beall, whose wife, Bunny, launched the school “in our backyard,” said the school “has always done an excellent job in educating children in a good, safe environment,” but “since the economy cratered a few years ago, we've had fewer and fewer students enroll because people just couldn't afford to send them.”

During this period, board members looked at alternatives to hiking tuition but were unable to find a viable solution. Thus, the May 22 letter to parents announcing that the Pre-K through seventh grade program was closed.

The school year had ended just the day before.

“The Jacksonville Christian School Board met this week, and the decision was made to close the school,” the letter stated. “Due to the low number of students, the school could not financially support itself any longer. In order to keep the school open, we would have to double tuition which would not be practical for our economy.”

Beall said students traditionally scored high on national tests, so the quality of education offered was never in question, only the larger question of how to keep the school open without passing on costs to parents, who paid a monthly tuition ranging from $295 for kindergarteners to $350 for students in fifth grade and above.

“It was this recent economic decline,” Beall said. “We had to close down if we were to be financial responsible, because we couldn't get the students if we suddenly doubled tuition to meet our expenses.”

The Jacksonville Christian School's program is rooted in a 1971 kindergarten class taught in the home of Bunny Beall, who passed away Dec. 14 in Jacksonville. It was transferred under the umbrella of a new Christian church that opened several years later, operating as a ministry of the church, her husband said.

However, when the congregation disbanded several years ago, the school became responsible for expenses once covered by the church.

“When it operated under that umbrella, it helped keep expenses low because the church was paying the utilities and other expenses,” Beall said. “It's been a struggle to keep the school open for the past few years, but we managed to come out of it every year and not have to increase tuition.”

The program was a boon for local parents who wanted quality, faith-based education for their little ones.

“We didn't go into high school, but we gave a real good basis for those kids who came through, to where they could move into the public schools and do well,” he added.

“It's a school where Christ has always been honored – that's what all our principals taught those kids – so hopefully, in the long-term, we'll have had a positive influence on our students,” he said.

The board's decision was a difficult one, one “we didn't want to make, but had to make,” Beall said.

They implemented a policy stating the school's debt could not exceed the value of a  $100,000 rent house whose monthly income helped support the school, and chose to  close the school rather than double tuition.

“We didn't see any way to make improvements in the school academically, or even in areas of safety that would encourage more participation – in other words, we kind of felt hog-tied as to give people more reasons to come, because we were already doing those things,” he said. “The school has always been reliable financially, but it just didn't work out.”

People have expressed their disappointment about the announcement, he said, “because a lot of have been impacted by the school in their own way. It was a sad occasion for a lot of people, and the board was disappointed, too.”

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