From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
TRUSTEES' PLAN TO SELL BUILDINGS CREATES STIR
05 May 1996 07:34:43
95089 TRUSTEES' PLAN TO SELL BUILDINGS CREATES STIR
AT PRESBYTERIAN SCHOOL OF CHRISTIAN EDUCATION
by Jerry L. Van Marter
RICHMOND, Va.--A plan to ease the financial crisis at the Presbyterian
School of Christian Education (PSCE) by selling off at least one and
possibly several campus buildings is threatening to rend the usually
tight-knit community of supporters of the 81-year old school.
Faced with an annual deficit of some $500,000 and deferred maintenance
estimates of at least $1 million, the 29-member PSCE board of trustees
agreed March 13 to sell Watts dormitory to the Baptist Theological Seminary
at Richmond (BTSR), which has been renting space at PSCE since 1989.
The agreement also includes a possible joint-use agreement for Lingle
Hall, which currently houses a dining facility and bookstore, and the
purchase of PSCE-owned faculty houses by BTSR as they become available.
The BTSR board approved the agreement March 21.
No one contacted by the Presbyterian News Service denied the
seriousness of PSCE's financial plight -- the board reduced the school's
operating budget by 25 percent in February of 1992 to ease the crisis --
but many are concerned that selling off property endangers the school's
In an opinion column scheduled for publication in the April 10 edition
of The Presbyterian Outlook, longtime PSCE supporter and former Outlook
editor Aubrey Brown writes: "There is fear and apprehension that PSCE is
about to become a shadow of its former self. ..."
Former General Assembly moderator and PSCE professor Isabel Rogers
agrees. "The facts are incontrovertible -- we are desperate for
maintenance money," Rogers said in a March 21 interview. "Christian
education is in transition and PSCE could give leadership to the church,
but if we give up space, many choices are foreclosed."
PSCE president Wayne Boulton counters that the school is "property
heavy." In a March 22 letter to "alumni/ae and friends," Boulton and
trustees chair the Rev. R. Jackson Sadler cite a recent study commissioned
by the board: "The results of the study revealed that PSCE owns more
property than it needs to fulfill its mission -- and more than it can
afford to maintain."
Sadler said the study, by Stonebridge Associates, concluded that only
65 percent of PSCE's space is currently being used. "This [excess space]
is costing us faculty and program," he said. "And if the choice is
buildings or faculty and program, I think we should choose faculty and
program. The board is strongly behind this plan."
Though Sadler insists the board "has thoroughly investigated all
avenues," others disagree.
"There has been inappropriate secrecy," said Sara Little, who has
taught at PSCE in various capacities for more than 40 years. "Involving
the church at large would have been beneficial," she said. "The board
should have explored all options before selling off PSCE piece-by-piece to
Rogers agrees. "I don't believe there has been serious effort to tell
Presbyterians about our problems here," she said. "I am distressed that
we're turning to the Baptists before we even ask Presbyterians for help."
Sadler bristles at such criticism. "What did the church think when we
cut $1 million out of the budget two years ago? I think that sent a pretty
Mary Jo Clark, president of PSCE's alumni/ae association, disagrees.
In a letter to trustees prior to their March 13 meeting, Clark wrote: "The
actions of the PSCE administration have circumvented all efforts to
adequately and honestly inform both the church and the alumni/ae."
She charged that the Stonebridge study "only looked at current use of
facilities" when it should have been a "study of PSCE's future and how it
can best serve the needs of the church." She criticized the PSCE
administration for "frequently making BTSR's needs a higher priority than
serving the mission of PSCE."
Describing BTSR as "a buyer we can trust," Boulton said solving the
property problems had to be done now. "With a more manageable physical
plant," he wrote in his March 22 letter, "we can focus on our programs and
mission, continuing to find better ways to prepare the church's future
Sadler agrees. "The way we were going, we had no future, so this will
position us to meet the future creatively." The deal with BTSR is "a small
step toward a final solution of PSCE's financial problems," he added.
"We're trying to get our fiscal house in order so we can embark on a
capital campaign that will ensure the school's future."
But many remain unconvinced that the property sale is the right step.
In his Outlook essay, Brown concludes: "In view of the rough times
through which this school has come in the past -- and there have been
plenty of them -- it would be a pity to settle for a possible temporary
monetary gain and forfeit the school's longtime well-being and destiny."
Clark is even more blunt. Her letter concludes: "The current options
would eviscerate PSCE and leave it as a fast-food quickstop and home
delivery service for tricks and techniques for Sunday school teachers. You
would no longer have a true graduate school of educational ministry."
# # #
For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
phone 502-569-5504 fax 502-569-8073
E-mail PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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