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Desert Academy suspends operations


em070720a/a/The private school Desert Academy is closing. Photo shot Tuesday July 7, 2020. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Desert Academy, a small private school in Santa Fe, has suspended all academic operations for the 2020-2021 school year, following a vote by the school’s Board of Trustees on Monday night. Officials from Desert Academy were clear about the cause of the closure: COVID-19.

“I couldn’t be reasonably sure that once we started this school year that we’d be able to finish it,” Head of School Pat Preib said in a phone interview Tuesday.

At its peak, Desert Academy had a little more than 200 students, and the school has said it offers a curriculum that is challenging and diverse. Its website lists the colleges that many alumni go on to attend, such as Harvard and Stanford.

However, enrollment had begun to decline in recent years. In 2012, 170 students attended the school, and that number gradually declined to around 125 at the end of the most recent school year.

Those numbers, though, were expected to drop off dramatically. Preib said, based on conversations with families, only around 63 students were expected to attend next year, and many parents had lost jobs due to the pandemic.

“There were a variety of ways COVID has affected families,” Preib said, adding some parents were afraid their children would contract the virus.

Desert Academy has begun preparing for a possible plan to let seniors finish their final year at the school, Preib said. If they go through with the plan, around 10 staff members will be kept on payroll. The rest, about 20 in all, will be laid off.

Problems with finances are nothing new for Desert Academy. Owners of the school’s campus filed a lawsuit in May stating the school owed more than $7 million in outstanding mortgage payments. Problems with the school making mortgage payments began in 2018, the lawsuit states.

Preib said the school has since turned over the deed to the campus to avoid foreclosure. On Tuesday, the administration building sat empty with school supplies piled in the middle of the lobby.

Desert Academy has begun negotiations for a new property, Preib said, although she declined to specify where it was located.

Board Chair Trudy Moon said in a written statement that Desert Academy’s survival was already on thin ice before the pandemic.

“Last year, our board raised nearly $800,000 and even with an enrollment about twice what we are facing, we barely avoided foreclosure and finished the school year just a few dollars in the black,” Moon said. “To take on a much larger fund-raising challenge in an economy as uncertain as this one would put students and faculty at risk of a mid-year collapse.”

Other private schools in Santa Fe have stated they expect to stay open for the next school year.

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