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School saved from closure - for now

July 30, 2008 9:30:33 PM PDT
Emotions ran as hot as the temperature in the air-conditionless gym."You need to come up with a better solution for those of us paying tuition," said one supporter of keeping Lutheran South High School open.

Parents, students and alumni of the half-century old school on the city's Southwest Side pleaded for more time. But with more than $2 million in debt, declining enrollment and unpaid bills piling up, a representative of Lutheran Church said time is not on the side of this school.

"It's not that I think it should close, it's that I think it cannot stay open," said Pastor Dan Gilbert, Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod.

In its heyday, Lutheran South was home to more than 1,200 students. With a $7,000 annual tradition, the principal, Anthony Rainey, says it's simply not enough to pay the bills.

Still, he pleaded with the church and school board for an extension. And then came the vote - 23-6 in favor of staying open - an answer to the prayers of many in the room.

"I didn't want to be separated from my friends, we got to stay together!" said Priscilla Davis, Luther South student.

But the celebration may be short lived. There's still the very real possibility the church will essentially foreclose on Lutheran South. And for teachers who haven't had health insurance in nearly a year, there's concern about promises without a means for payment.

"We've not had health insurance, and I had a baby since then. It's not covered. I had a bill of $25,000. The school's staying open but can't pay the costs," said Kristen Lindbeck, Luther South teacher.

The school board at Luther South High School had said it's time to close the facility after more than 50 years of educating students in the city's Ashburn and Wrightwood neighborhoods.

For six decades, Luther South High School, 3130 W. 87th St., has been serving its community. School officials say that they needed to raise mroe than $400,000 by Wednesday night.

Parents, faculty and students of Luther South were notified that after 50-plus years, the school is facing closure.

"Tonight will be the final decision. I pray to God that they say that the school will remain open," said Chelsea Aldridge, senior, before the meeting.

Rainey says the school is plagued by rising costs, a deficit budget and mortgage issues totaling over $700,000. He added they were given a month to raise at least $400,000.

Rainey says the school has signed contract with a developer to purchase the west side of the building and a commitment from church developers to purchase the east side for homes.

The private Lutheran Christian school has graduated more than 7,000 students. Lessie Hill, the single mother of two Luther graduates, says the school has provided a positive atmosphere for her family.

"When I found out about it, I was really heartbroken. My daughters are, too," said Hill.

The school now serves 200 students. Aldridge said she was praying for a miracle to save it.

"I think it's a tragedy because I'm a senior and the last thing I will want to do is try to transfer to another school and start over," said Aldridge.

If the decision were to close, the principal said the students could be asked to come back to get their transfer papers. There are more than nine schools that have agreed to take them. The district would have taken over the building, the mortgage and the debt.


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