MANATEE — The former Bradenton Preparatory Academy began a new school year Monday with protesters, security guards, barbed-wire fencing, and its students sequestered in a nearby church building.
Almost two months after losing its west Bradenton campus to foreclosure, the private school re-opened as The Prep Learning Academy inside a leased commercial building on Cortez Road.
“Our first day has gone very well, and we look forward to many more wonderful days,” said a woman who answered the school’s phone. She identified herself only as Bonnie and said she was the school’s registrar.
But it was far from a normal day.
Three former Bradenton Prep teachers briefly picketed in front of the school, hoping to draw attention to theirs and others’ claims that they are owed tens of thousands of dollars in back pay. The teachers say they plan to sue.
An unarmed Allegiance Security Group guard manned the school’s front gate, which — along with a fence surrounding the parking lot — was topped with barbed wire.
And there were no classes in the 5,000-square-foot building. Instead, an undetermined number of students spent their first school day inside The Bridge Church at Palma Sola Bay’s fellowship hall, also protected by Allegiance guards hired by the school.
Those guards ordered reporters off church property.
Amy Dove, an administrative assistant at the Baptist-affiliated church, said the school was using the hall at no charge. The school also has reserved the church hall for Thursday, but Dove said that reservation had not been confirmed.
Where the school will hold classes on other days is unknown.
The school does not have a required Manatee County permit to hold classes inside its leased building at 7700 Cortez Road. The school had not applied for the permit as of late Monday afternoon, a county planner said.
County officials said it would take a minimum of three weeks to issue the permit, and only if grades K-5 were offered. The permitting process for a school with a sixth grade or higher could take months because public hearings would be required.
The private, for-profit school — whose former students include Andre Agassi, David Beckham and Monica Seles — has been beset by numerous financial problems in the past year.
It owes more than $1 million in federal payroll taxes, according to Internal Revenue Service liens. A lender won a $3.68 million foreclosure judgment and repossessed the school’s former campus on 40th Avenue West. Several creditors, including a Tampa attorney who once represented the school, have sued over unpaid debts.
School officials recruited a South African investor, Hendrik Lamprecht, in a bid to remain solvent last year.
But his arrival didn’t prevent the foreclosure, and at least 15 former teachers contend Lamprecht — now the school’s majority owner — owes them up to four months’ back pay.
Duane Marsteller, transportation/growth and development reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.