Education

PREVIOUS COVERAGE | Cash-strapped Bradenton Prep still in Dubai

MANATEE — As it fell behind on its mortgage, struggled to pay teachers and was hit with multiple tax liens, Bradenton Preparatory Academy was planning and opening a satellite campus in the Middle East.

Whether there is a link between the Bradenton school owner’s financial troubles and its brand-new campus in Dubai, United Arab Emirates is unclear. School officials wouldn’t say and their attorney says he doesn’t think there is.

“I’m not aware of any connection at all,” Edward Vogler II said. “I don’t know that much about it. I think it’s a license agreement.”

The satellite campus — called Bradenton Preparatory Academy, Dubai — opened in August with about 130 students. It can accommodate up to 900 students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, although it now has students only through ninth grade, according to its website.

The school occupies a small corner of Dubai Sports City, a 1,150-acre mixed-use development currently under construction. The $4 billion project will have a mix of residences, commercial and office space, a golf course, and several sports venues and youth sports academies, according to the project’s website.

“The Bradenton campus spans more than 130,000 square feet and includes a kindergarten, elementary school, junior high school, high school, auditorium, gymnasium, fully equipped science laboratories, a performing arts centre, two art rooms and a media center,” according to a 2009 news release issued by Dubai Sports City.

The school, which caters to international students attending the nearby sports academies, charges annual tuition of 30,000 to 70,790 dirhams, or roughly $8,165 to $19,269 in U.S. dollars.

It is not clear whether Bradenton Prep owns or leases its Dubai campus from the developer, or whether the developer is paying Bradenton Prep to operate the school.

Arun Mani, a spokesman for Dubai Sports City, referred all questions about Bradenton Prep Dubai to school officials in Bradenton.

Officials at the Dubai school did not respond to several e-mails and telephone messages left over the past two months. School officials in Bradenton did not respond to interview requests and written questions submitted through Vogler.

According to Bradenton Herald archives, Bradenton Prep signed a $2 million deal in 2004 to manage the Dubai school. The deal, a joint venture with Dubai Sports City, was potentially worth as much as $20 million over 10 years, the Herald reported in 2004.

The deal came about after a student’s parent, who traveled back and forth from the family’s native Dubai, approached officials about Bradenton Prep operating a school in the Arab nation.

“We were chosen because we run an American curriculum that caters to children of many nationalities,” Lois Gerber, Bradenton Prep’s co-founder, told the Herald in 2004. About 15 percent of the Bradenton school’s students have come from outside the United States, she said at the time.

The Dubai deal was signed just months after Bradenton Prep’s corporate owner, The Childrens Place Inc., avoided foreclosure on the school’s campus at 7900 40th Ave. W. by refinancing the mortgage.

But the school has defaulted on the refinanced loan, and faces foreclosure yet again. GTE Federal Credit Union won a $3.68 million judgment against Childrens Place in April, and the campus is scheduled to be auctioned on July 2.

Another lender, Freedom Holdings Manatee LLC, is seeking a $1.6 million foreclosure judgment against the school. A June 29 hearing on the request is set, court records show.

The Internal Revenue Service also has filed several tax liens against the school, accusing it of failing to pay more than $1.1 million in payroll taxes. The Florida Department of Revenue also has accused the school of not paying nearly $12,286 in unemployment taxes, public records show.

The school’s financial woes don’t end there. Also:

n Several teachers say the school owes them thousands of dollars in bounced paychecks.

n Two vehicles the school was leasing — a pickup truck and a sport-utility vehicle — have been repossessed for non-payment.

n An office-equipment company is suing the school, contending it has not made payments on two leased copy machines.

The money troubles prompted the school to recruit a foreign investor, Hendrik Lamprecht, who has since displaced Gerber as Childrens Place’s president.

Duane Marsteller, transportation/growth and development reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.

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