From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 05 May 1996 07:34:43


                      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 
the Baptists." 
     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 
clear message." 
     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 
Christian educators."   
     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  
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