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Community News: Southwest

CRENSHAW : School Won't Receive Disputed Tuition

March 20, 1994|ERIN J. AUBRY

The Word of God Alternative School was struggling to stay open last week after the Department of Children's Services refused to pay $15,000 in tuition that Principal Joshua Smith had been expecting since October.

Tedji Dessalegn, a special assistant with Children's Services, said Smith improperly duplicated and distributed a child care agreement contract that the department had sent to him for one student.

"I feel for what Mr. Smith is trying to do for the children, but the fact is he should never have given out those forms," she said.

Dessalegn said that while Smith's school qualifies to be paid as a day care site, the 22 students are not eligible because they are not under the protective custody of Children's Services. The students might qualify for subsidies under other county programs, officials said, but that has yet to be determined.

Smith maintains that he simply acted upon the instructions of an employee within Children's Services' financial department. "If what I did was wrong, I needed to know that up front," he said. "I was led to believe that I was going to be paid for the students." Smith said he recruited the students after duplicating the form, then hired additional teachers and staff.

The school has managed to keep its preschool open with the help of parental support that Smith called nothing less than divine intervention.

"We're going day-to-day here," said Smith at his office, cluttered with copies of letters he has sent to politicians seeking support for his school.

Three weeks ago Smith sent a letter to parents saying he would have to close the campus for good.

In response, 45 parents convened on the Crenshaw district campus to brainstorm about ways to keep the operation going. The non-denominational Christian school, which once served about 120 elementary, junior high and high school students, had shut down by degrees since October until only the preschool was in session. Enrollment has dropped to about 20 preschoolers.

Myra Washington said she and other parents simply cannot afford to lose the school.

"What Joshua is doing is not only educating kids, giving them the attention they need, but allowing mothers on welfare to work at full-time jobs and get themselves off welfare," said the 33-year-old mother of two preschool students. "He is actually doing what everybody else just talks about doing. We had to get involved."

Though many of the parents are supported by government aid, they passed the hat and came up with $500 to help Smith pay overdue gas and power bills. Then they mapped out plans that could help the school get back on its feet: fund-raisers and letter-writing campaigns to business people and politicians.

To begin raising the minimum $10,000 that Smith needs to pay teachers, parents have agreed to donate whatever extra money they can after paying the monthly tuition, which ranges from $150 to $300. They are appealing to local businesses to donate money, books, musical instruments, record players and other supplies.

Washington and other parents are also planning a fashion and talent show fund-raiser April 30 at the South Park Recreation Center in South-Central.

Preschool director Beatrice Kellough said that even though she has not been fully paid since November, she "hangs in there" because she loves the school.

"I've had problems paying rent and other things. I work 12-hour days here. But every weekend I rejuvenate," said Kellough. "I believe in my heart that things will work out."

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