The Circle School Is Strong. And Here To Stay.

April 13, 2020
Dear Circle Schooler,
     In the midst of COVID-19, a long school closure, and a world turned upside down, we hope you and your family are safe and well. The two of us are writing to assure you that The Circle School is in a strong position to weather this storm. And to remind you that, in this time of uncertainty, you are part of a vital and dependable community — 36 years of supporting children, teens, and families. The Circle School is here to stay, and to remain a beacon in the world of education.
     Over the last few weeks, the Financial Security Committee has analyzed potential financial vulnerabilities for the school and taken steps to address them. This letter lays those out.
     First and most important, the school is committed that money will not stand in the way of holding our community together. Extra financial aid will ensure that every student who wants to return in the fall will be financially able to do so. Students who planned to graduate are missing the climax and closure that this spring would have brought. We especially hope they will return in the fall for at least some of the school year.
     Next, an update about the success of the Meadow Campus project. In our new campus we have built a sturdy foundation for the future and achieved important goals. Enrollment is up 20% over pre-Meadow days. Eight acres of outdoor space, including three acres of woods, has been well used — and will be again. The spacious indoor Commons has made possible numerous large gatherings of the school community and enabled new kinds of school-day events. (Jim says: The Super Smash Bros. tournaments this year are among my favorites. I am soooo looking forward to being back in the Commons.)
     Next, about financial strength. 150 loyal Meadow Campus pledge donors made the new campus possible and continue to fulfill their pledges through monthly donations. (If you aren’t yet among these angels, please join them (here) to the extent your own finances make it possible.) The school’s savings were drawn down to build the new campus, but have since been replenished, positioning the school to meet its expenses now. Here are some of the concrete steps taken so far to keep the school financially strong:
    • Applied for Federal relief in the form of a “forgivable loan” — which means the school will not have to repay it to the government — in the amount of $77,584.
    • Applied for what amounts to a grant of $10,000 from the Small Business Administration.
    • Negotiated with Fulton Bank to defer the school’s mortgage payments for three months.
     Next, other notable steps:
    • All staff members have been retained full-time without lapse, working from home.
    • As mentioned above, School Meeting pledged extra financial aid for affected families, prioritizing keeping the community together.
    • The search for two new staff members, and other succession plans, were put on hold for now.
    • The recently hired Development Officer was redirected to focus on mitigation efforts.
    • The school office continues to operate through online methods.
     In addition, the school has a talented pool of brain power engaged and active. School Meeting, the Board of Trustees, and the Trustees’ Financial Security Committee are all working hard to plan several steps ahead of events, even while recognizing how rapidly things are changing. (Ellen says: We are all becoming more familiar with online platforms than we imagined just a few weeks ago — like it or not!)
     Next, about potential financial vulnerabilities. The school office has had to cancel 15 admissions visits that were scheduled for March and April, and has been unable to schedule visits for other families who would like to visit. Some of these visits may later be conducted online and others may be rescheduled during the summer or into the fall. But it seems likely that the school will enroll fewer new students for the fall than usual. We may also lose some of our currently enrolled students, although extra financial aid will mean that reduction in family income will not be the reason. Lower enrollment will mean less tuition income for the school. In addition, charitable donations may be reduced because of family financial hardship. And some of the businesses supporting the school through EITC donations may suffer financially, leaving them unable to continue their support. Finally, the school relies on income from rent and financing the sale of the school’s old campus, and both of those sources of income are potentially at risk.
     The Financial Security Committee has estimated the possible financial impact of these potential vulnerabilities and is planning for dealing with them. They and we are confident that the school will (a) award sufficient extra financial aid to allow every family and student to return in the fall, and (b) continue to meet the school’s financial obligations.
     Last, and to end on a bright note, our community of students, staff, and families remains vibrant and active. Here’s some of what’s been happening (online, of course):
    • Sessions of School Meeting (25 attending last week)
    • Daily student-staff sessions, such as drum lessons and reading classes
    • Committee and corporation meetings
    • Weekly get-togethers with other democratic schools around the world (including one in Russia)
    • Evening social gathering of families (about 50 attending)
    • Two book discussion groups continue to meet monthly
    • Pandemic-related blog post by a student, and another by a parent
    • Daily staff discussions in a forum with hundreds of other democratic school staff in America and around the world
    • Biweekly email newsletters
    • Presentation about The Circle School to an Elizabethtown College class
    • Lots of chatter and more on Zoom, Discord, Facebook group, “Skoomee” (student-staff email group)
     Thank you for being part of The Circle School community. We look forward to seeing you, and all of us, back at school.
On behalf of School Meeting and the Board of Trustees,
Ellen Abbott, Staff Member & Trustee
Jim Rietmulder, Staff Member & Trustee