Officials at Maine Girls’ Academy in Portland informed parents last week that the 90-student high school will cease operating after July 15. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

Maine Girls’ Academy officials told supporters that the recently closed school is $250,000 in debt and any effort to reopen it would be “starting from scratch,” according to supporters who met with school officials at a private meeting Monday.

That didn’t dissuade alumnae and others who are vowing to reopen the school and started raising funds immediately after the closure was announced late last week. Over the weekend, young girls raised $4,000 at a lemonade stand outside the school, a GoFundMe effort has raised over $13,000, and on Tuesday alumna Cara Biddings reached out online to celebrities like Oprah and Stephen King – and even President Trump – asking for help.

Alumnae supporting the Maine Girls’ Academy gather for Monday night’s meeting at the school. Staff photo by Noel K. Gallagher

“Our main goal is to make sure those doors are open this fall,” said Amie Earley, a 2000 graduate of the school, then known as Catherine McAuley High School. Earley attended and live-tweeted the private meeting to share information with other alumnae who could not attend.

“At Maine Girls’ Academy, we don’t ever give up,” she said Tuesday. “We’re going to make this happen. Maine needs it and women need it and these girls need it. We can’t fail at this.”

The school has released all of its teachers, shuttered its summer program, refunded money to parents and plans to close for good this Sunday. Head of School Amy Jolly told The Forecaster that the school would likely have until the end of July to fully vacate its building on Stevens Avenue.

At the meeting, Earley said, school officials told parents that there have been financial challenges for years, and a recent drop in enrollment indicated the school’s revenue would only last about half a year, prompting the decision to close now instead. Among the factors in their decision: Fall enrollment would have been 76 students, costs of long-deferred maintenance are growing, and the school only has one more year on its lease before having to decide between extending it for 25 years or purchasing the building – both very expensive options.

“They’ve been fighting month in and month out at a losing battle,” Earley said of the board’s situation. “I understand it can be very demoralizing. I totally get that.”

But she said supporters are prepared to raise money, present a business plan and reopen the school. She said it was unknown if the lease had already been terminated, but it didn’t matter.

“As much as we love that building, what’s more important is education and empowerment,” she said. “As one mom said, if we have to go and rent strip mall space, we would do that.”

‘TELL ME HOW MUCH WE NEED TO OPEN’

A representative for the leasing agent did not return calls for comment Tuesday on the status of the lease.

At Monday’s meeting, Biddings got a standing ovation when she told school officials: “What I want, and all I want, is for you to tell me how much we need to open (the school) in the fall so I can get it.”

“She set the tone,” Earley said. “The entire room stood up. That’s how everyone felt.”

School officials had sent emails to parents and posted a notice about the closure Thursday, saying the 90-student high school will cease operating after July 15 because of low enrollment and financial reasons. The school was refunding tuition for summer programs and offering parents the option of enrolling their students at North Yarmouth Academy in the upcoming school year.

School officials have declined interview requests since they announced the closing.

Board members and Jolly had said they were optimistic about opening this fall right up until late spring, Earley said. She said they were not clear about what changed financially in recent months, but indicated it had to do with revenue declining as students left the school.

As for school finances, Earley said officials told parents that the school had a $250,000 deficit and that repairs and improvements over the next year could cost $3 million to $7 million. Just the operating costs for the school year, including salaries and rent, are between $1.5 million and $2 million. Under the lease, the school is responsible for all upkeep and repairs, they said.

In addition, 80 percent of students had subsidized tuition and the average cost is $12,000 a year per student. That means that even with 100 students – more than this school year – tuition revenue would be about $1.2 million.

ACADEMY’S FINANCIAL DATA NOT PUBLIC

Financial information about the academy is not publicly available because it is a private school, and although it is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, the Internal Revenue Service’s online database does not list any financial disclosure forms, known as 990s, for the organization. The Portland Press Herald has requested the 990 information, a public document, from the school directly.

The building and school have a long history at that site. The school opened in the late 1880s as Saint Joseph’s Academy, then was Cathedral High School from 1909 to 1969, when the Sisters of Mercy established Catherine McAuley High School.

In 2015, the Sisters of Mercy sold the 12-acre campus, including the school and neighboring convent, for development. Today, temporary metal fencing separates the school from the area where nearly 250 units of senior housing is planned for 7½ acres that include the convent and athletic fields used by the school.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: noelinmaine

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