April 24, 2024

Records show JJ Legacy’s financial struggles leading up to closure

MINNEAPOLIS — The last day of school is supposed to be in June and not in January.

“We lost a very special community,” Kristel Porter, whose son attended JJ Legacy Montessori School, lamented to WCCO. “This was a family. A very unique family.

Students and teachers said goodbye on Friday as the school must shut down due to mounting debt, which administrators report is roughly $710,000.

“I don’t have a lot of bitterness and anger,” Benny Roberts, another JJ Legacy parent, explained to WCCO. “I have a lot of gratitude for what was instilled in our daughter during her developmental years. This is something she can take on her journey going forward.”

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WCCO Investigates uncovered new information about the abrupt circumstances leading to the school’s closure, which was voted on by the school board on Jan. 5. Less than two weeks earlier, the school received a letter from the Minnesota Department of Education warning administrators that JJ Legacy was operating in statutory debt.

Financial statements also show a steep decline in revenue since 2021-2022, presumably because of the ending of COVID relief funds. Administrators and state officials confirm, however, much of the debt is due to the discrepancy between enrollment projections and the actual number of students who attended JJ Legacy this year.

“Had we been able to have borrowing power, we would’ve been able to at least ride along on that until we could do fundraising we needed,” Tonisia Abdur Salaam, the Head of School, explained. “If we can’t run the program in a way that really serves children and gives them support they need, then we can’t fulfill our mission as our school.”

Abdur Salaam, who founded the school with her husband, Jamaal, blamed the drop in enrollment on an abrupt move from their previous location to a new building over the summer. She personally also had to take a leave of absence to care for her husband’s illness.

As for the mounting debt, which balance sheets show was not solely based on enrollment, Abdur Salaam stressed it’s more of a reflection of the financial challenges of education than any impropriety.

“It takes money to educate children and it takes money to supplant all of these things that children experience in neighborhoods including the one we’re in.”

At least three other charter schools have offered to enroll JJ legacy’s students.

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