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LEAF Charter School in Alstead closing permanently, files for bankruptcy

A charter school in Alstead has filed for bankruptcy and announced its closure, according to documents in federal court and a letter to its community members.

A letter Becky Snow, chair of the board of trustees, emailed to the LEAF Charter School community Wednesday announced the school would permanently close Monday. In a letter last week, she had said it planned to close in June.

“Despite our best efforts, we have been unable to secure the resources needed to keep the school operational,” Snow said in Wednesday’s announcement.

“After exploring all available options, including bankruptcy Chapter 11 Subchapter V, it has become evident that our school has no feasible way forward. … The school building will be open this Monday (April 29) for staff and students to gather and say goodbye.”

This letter came one week after LEAF Charter School, at 6 Baine Way in Alstead, filed for bankruptcy, documents in U.S. District Court in Concord show.

On April 18, Snow emailed the school community announcing the bankruptcy. The letter indicated recipients were already aware LEAF Charter would be closing, and that the plan remained for this to happen at the end of the school year.

“We understand the importance of stability and continuity for our students, parents, and staff, and we are dedicated to fulfilling our responsibilities to the best of our abilities during this challenging time,” she wrote.

The campus at LEAF, which the school calendar indicates is on spring break this week, was quiet Wednesday morning. A phone could be heard ringing consistently inside the main building, and a lone student was waiting outside, confused about why the school was not open.

The sudden closure has left families uncertain of their next steps. A parent of a senior at the school, who asked to be anonymous to avoid negative repercussions against her child, had not been able to reach anyone there since the news Wednesday morning. She is worried about whether her child will be able to graduate on time.

“She’s supposed to go to college this fall, and now I don’t even know if she’ll be able to get the support she needs to graduate from high school,” she said.

LEAF Charter School’s director, Will Gowen, was not reachable for comment Wednesday. Snow asked for a written list of questions that she had not yet answered as of that evening.

Frozen funds

Authorized charter schools in New Hampshire receive state funding.

Documents filed in LEAF Charter School’s bankruptcy case shed light on some of its financial troubles, and also indicate Wednesday’s announcement was preceded by an effort to unfreeze funds for operational expenses.

On April 16, the four-person board of trustees approved filing for bankruptcy in a unanimous decision by those in attendance, with one board member absent, according to minutes attached to the April 17 bankruptcy filing.

According to a list of creditors filed by the school’s attorney, William Amann, the Savings Bank of Walpole holds the largest unsecured claim of a $180,000 loan, followed by the Department of Education, with grant fund reimbursements worth $55,524.

The list, which displays the 20 creditors with the largest claims, totals $329,243.

In an emergency motion April 19 asking the court to compel the Savings Bank of Walpole to unfreeze funds, Amann wrotethat the school planned to use about $110,000 in existing funds in the bank, with an expected round of funding between $40,000 and $50,000 from the state that would be used to pay creditors.

However, the funds were coded as “restricted” and could not be accessed, Amann added. He asked the court to compel the unfreezing of the funds and award the school damages and attorney’s fees, saying it had given “ample notice of the bankruptcy case.”

The Savings Bank of Walpole’s attorney, Eleanor Dahar, filed an objection to the motion Tuesday stating that LEAF Charter School’s last loan payment was Feb. 12 and the bank could freeze the funds based on the loan security agreement.

“As a result of the Debtor’s default on its loan, the Walpole Bank froze the funds in both of the Debtor’s accounts,” Dahar wrote, specifying the freeze occurred before the school filed for bankruptcy. “… As a secured creditor, the Bank exercised its rights under its security agreement to freeze the Debtor’s accounts in satisfaction of its secured debt.”

Amann withdrew the motion, and the next day the school announced its permanent closure.

In an email Wednesday, Amann said he would consult with the school before giving a comment. Dahar declined to comment Wednesday afternoon.

A short history

LEAF Charter School was approved by the state board of education January 2016 and opened a year later in the fall of 2017. The school was founded to supporthands-on learners who may not thrive in a traditional classroom setting, per previous Sentinel reporting.

The motion to unfreeze funds states that LEAF currently has 14 employees and about 60 students in grades 9th through 12th.

Dakota Benedetto, the school’s former director and one of its founders, did not respond to an emailed request for comment Wednesday afternoon. She left the school in July 2023.

In her letter Wednesday, Snow said LEAF Charter School families can contact the admissions office for two area charter schools, Gathering Waters and Making Community Connections (MC2), as potential alternative educational opportunities.

Christopher O’Reilly, the executive director of Making Community Connections in Keene, said in an emailed statement to The Sentinel that afternoon that the school has offered support to the LEAF board of trustees and is committed to working with them and the state education department.

“We will continue to work with the LEAF Board of Trustees and the NHED to ensure a smooth transition for all students and families who wish to join the MC2 community,” he said. The school is accepting applications for immediate enrollment from families and students through May 17. New applicants may apply for the 2024-25 school year afterthat date.

In an email Wednesday night, Gathering Waters Principal Luke Goodwin expressed sadness to hear of LEAF Charter School’s closure.

“We have been working with LEAF administration for the last several weeks to support students that might be interested in transferring to Gathering Waters High School,” he wrote. “We have visited their campus and hosted an open house for a number of guest students.”

Goodwin said the charter school has a limited number of spots in its “growing high school” and advised interested families to contact Kelly Barker, marketing, communications and admissions manager, at kelly.barker@gatheringwarterscharter.org.

Source: NHPR