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Church sale won’t disrupt prep school

BRADENTON -- A Bradenton private school wrestling with financial woes will not lose its makeshift campus at a local church despite the property’s pending sale.

But a host of other loose ends remain on The Prep Learning Academy’s books.

The former Bradenton Preparatory Academy has lost its national accreditation, seen enrollment dwindle among its student population and faces a court hearing later this month in a joint lawsuit by former teachers seeking back pay.

There are hints that The Prep may be either launching a sister school or in the middle of a rebranding. Its website, mentions Pembridge Prep, using the same logo as The Prep.

Hendrik Lamprecht, a South African investor who took over the school this year from The Children’s Place Inc., declined to explain details regarding Pembridge Prep.

“That’s none of the paper’s business,” Lamprecht said Friday.

Lamprecht gave the same reply to all questions asked by the Bradenton Herald pertaining to the school’s new rental agreement, its student enrollment, allegedly unpaid teachers salaries and what the school was doing to regain accreditation.

The National Independent Private Schools Association on June 30 revoked The Prep’s accreditation, according to Executive Director Jim Williams.

“There were a number of things we asked them to perform that had to do with much of the things that had gone on there and they did not do what we had asked,” Williams said.

The school has maintained its regional accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, according to its website.

The private, for-profit school -- whose former students include Andre Agassi 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 the Internal Revenue Service. A lender won a $3.68 million foreclosure judgment and repossessed the school’s former campus on 40th Avenue West.

Lamprecht has attributed the school’s problems to the previous owner, The Children’s Place Inc.

The Prep has hosted classes at a number of locations this year as it pursues county permits to hold classes at a commercial location off Cortez Road West.

The school started the school year with classes at Bridge Church at Palma Sola Bay’s fellowship hall, then moved to a Cortez Road West hotel and most recently has held classes at Braden River Baptist Church.

The Source Ministries, based in Sarasota, now has a sale pending on that church at 5412 S.R. 64 E., said Ralph Hoehne, a minister for The Source.

Hoehne said Friday he will allow The Prep to continue its classes at the church, but would not disclose terms of the rental contract.

“We’re assuming them as a tenant,” Hoehne said. “We just want to do whatever we can community-wise.”

Jim Freeman, pastor of Braden River Baptist Church, estimates about 50 to 60 students from The Prep were taking classes at his church, which is now relocating to 1001 Manatee Ave. E. to reduce its overhead. Freeman said The Prep compensated the church by donating an undisclosed amount for monthly utility costs.

In September, Lamprecht said The Prep had 127 students enrolled for the fall semester and 20 staff members, of which 16 were teachers.

Edison Academic Center, a Bradenton private school, has seen some transfers from The Prep this year, according to Ron Moss, operations manager for Edison. And Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School has received four transfers since the start of this school year, said Dave Samler, director of community relations for Saint Stephen’s.

When The Prep will get a more permanent campus location is unclear.

According to Bob Schmitt, planning services division manager for Manatee County, the school’s applications to hold classes at 7700 Cortez Road are still pending.

The school is seeking an administrative permit for K-5 classes and a special-use permit to hold classes for grades 6-12.

County planners submitted comments, based on their initial review of the applications, to the school about three weeks ago, but the school has not yet responded, Schmitt said. Until those permits are granted, they can’t use the 7700 Cortez Road W. building for classes.

There is no deadline for the school’s response to the initial comments. The special-use permit will require a public hearing before a hearing officer, but it has not yet been scheduled.

In the meantime, the 12th Judicial Circuit in Manatee County has scheduled a Dec. 16 hearing for the joint lawsuit filed by 12 former Bradenton Prep teachers who claim they’re owed $229,105 in accrued wages.

Sarasota attorney Tommy Meyer, who represents the teachers, declined to comment on the pending hearing.

-- Herald Staff Writer Duane Marsteller contributed to this report.