Hannibal Christian Academy signs still stand at both entrances to the school’s campus at 245 N. Levering Ave. HCA’s Web site still advises that pre-enrollment for the 2012-13 school year is ongoing. And the school’s principal, Elva Light, was still answering the telephone Wednesday morning. But the academy, located on the former St. Thomas Seminary campus, will not be opening for a fourth year this fall.
A looming budget deficit prompted HCA’s Board to close the school late last month.
“The deficit we were facing was nearly triple what we were facing in previous years,” said Dr. Jim Woychuk, board president. “The amount that we would have needed to raise in our fund-raising efforts was about three times what we’d raised.”
While enrollment has steadily grown, the growth rate hasn’t been fast enough. According to Light, when the decision was made June 28 the school had 23 full-time students and three part-timers. Based on past trends more students would have enrolled through the summer, but the growth just wasn’t going to be enough.
“We would have taken that 23 and more than likely added six or seven, but that would not have gotten us to the 40 we needed to balance the budget,” said Light.
An upward bump in enrollment was expected because HCA planned to offer classes to fifth through 11th graders in 2012-13. In 2011-12 the school accommodated students in the sixth through 10th grades.
“We had five fifth graders ready to go,” said Light.
While HCA’s $2,500 tuition was competitive with other private schools in the community and less than many outside Hannibal, according to Woychuk it was still more than some families could shoulder.
“People over and over again said, ‘Yeah, we’d love to be there but we just can’t afford it.’ It cost us much more per student to educate them,” he said. “As the student body size grows the burden is shared by more, but we were really dependent on our increased enrollment to meet that (budget) gap.”
The decision to close came to a head quickly.
“Although we could see the clouds on the horizon earlier in the spring, we had anticipated an enrollment bump that we had gotten in previous years and we were depending on that. But the lack of that enrollment increase along with just a softness in our fund-raising efforts made the situation pretty drastic, pretty quick. We had done some asking and investigating and realized we were heading in the wrong direction financially,” said Woychuk.
The school closes without any outstanding debt.
“The Lord has provided graciously every year. I always knew it would be tight, but we always got all our bills paid,” said Light.
Page 2 of 3 - But the board, once appraised of the debt the school would face, was not willing to take another leap of faith.
“There is such a thing as Jesus saying, ‘Come walk on the water.’ But when the water is deep you want to make certain he is the one saying, ‘Get out of the boat,’” said Woychuk. “We had grown each of the first three years and this year it (enrollment) was looking like it had plateaued and we just saw a bigger gap than we thought we should wisely undertake.”
Since the decision to close the school was made, Light has been preparing the academic records of each student. Light reports that some students will transfer to other private schools in the community, while others will enroll in the public school district. Some families have yet to advise her of their plans.
Also impacted are the 10 faculty members, not all of whom were full-time.
“We had not issued contracts yet, but the teachers knew what their assignments were supposed to be. I’m concerned about them not having employment for the fall,” said Light. “This has displaced a number of families. It’s not just 23 students, that’s 23 families, with teachers on top of that. This put everyone in a tail spin as to what the fall is going to bring.”
Light, principal at the school for 2 1/2 years, believes HCA was just what some students needed.
“We have been a place of peace for a lot of kids who came to us after being disheartened with their school experience for one reason or another,” she said.
An educator for approximately a quarter century, Light admits the school’s closing has weighed heavily on her.
“In many ways the death of a dream, of a passion, of a vision is much like a death in the family. You go through denial and anger, and then recognize the fact that God is in control. The day HCA opened he knew the day it would close. I must put my faith in his kindness and compassion, and that he will take care and provide for the students, families and faculty of HCA,” she said.
Woychuk has tried to look beyond his disappointment to what was accomplished in the lives of young people.
“The disappointment is mitigated by the sense of the good things that the Lord accomplished in these three years. I’m extremely grateful for the level of commitment and sacrifice that Mrs. Light and the teachers put into it. They were here for the Lord and students,” he said. “We saw good things spiritually and academically, and so I think the school’s mission of training students to understand God’s world through God’s word and the love of God’s Son was fulfilled in the lives of a significant number.
Page 3 of 3 - “Would we have liked to have seen that gone on and grown and expanded? We would have, so yes there is a sense of submitting ourselves to plans other than what we’d had.”