Folsom private school was set to close, but parents fight to keep it open on their own

After a Folsom private school abruptly announced that it will close over the summer, parents are scrambling to keep it open on their own.

Folsom Preparatory School, which has operated for 25 years, surprised parents and administration with an email its corporate office sent to families last Friday announcing it will close its doors Aug. 9.

The school’s parent company, Cadence Education, made a similarly sudden announcement in April that it was closing grades 6, 7 and 8 at Folsom Prep.

Head of School Candis Murawski said Cadence Education cited low enrollment and inability to cover costs as the reasons for its decision to close the elementary school. Folsom Prep has 87 students in kindergarten through fifth grade registered for the upcoming school year, but Cadence Education expected enrollment of 120. The Cadence preschool adjacent to the elementary school will remain open.

“We were surprised,” said Murawski. ““We are definitely doing everything we can to stay open.”

Since Friday, parents have launched an effort to keep the school open as an independent nonprofit private school, and cut ties with Cadence Education. Parents applied for a business license, hired legal counsel and are working to change ownership of the school and all of its operations. Their newly created school board met with parents in front of Folsom Public Library on Tuesday to help hash out an emergency action plan.

To secure the funding the school will need in addition to tuition, parents hope to raise funds among themselves and attract more students. Also, they plan to request matching donations from Intel Corp., which has a satellite campus in Folsom, through its Matching Gifts Program.

“We have a plan to keep the school open for another year,” said Rebecca Neilon, who has two children at the school and was recently appointed as a school board member.

Cadence has more than 15 schools in the Sacramento region. The company was known as Phoenix Children’s Academy until 2015, when it changed its name. The preschools in the region still carry the original name. The company is based out of Scottsdale, Ariz., and has schools in 13 states, including California.

Folsom Preparatory is one of three elementary schools that Cadence Education acquired nationwide in recent years, but it’s the only one that announced it planned to close. Tuition is $1,000 per student.

“That was not an overnight decision,” said Neilon. “It seems like they were waiting to see the enrollment numbers. But these students already missed charter schools [enrollment periods] and have given up spots in their home schools.”

Parents like Jaya Badiga know that some schools in the Folsom Cordova Unified School District have hit their enrollment capacity. As a contingency plan, she’s enrolling her children in the district, but doesn’t expect them to attend their neighborhood school.

“For us to have to do this with such short notice is ridiculous,” Badiga said.

The news comes several months after Brighton Schools closed its preschools in Folsom and Granite Bay, leaving families scrambling to find care for their young children in Folsom. Brighton Schools was also open for more than 25 years, and served infants to pre-K. Its elementary school in Folsom remains open.

But closures like Brighton add to the uncertainty about the fate of Folsom Prep. Murawski is concerned that families will leave to ensure they will find an opening at a nearby school.

“So far, Cadence is saying they will do everything they can to help,” Murawski said. “Local control would be a huge bonus.”

The details of the ownership transfer are still being ironed out, but according to the school board, the school’s accreditation and lease will transfer over. It is unclear if the school will need to move after the 2019-20 school year.

“We are aware that a group of parents is exploring the possibility of keeping the school open and we are supportive of their efforts,” read a statement from a Cadence Education representative.

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Sawsan Morrar covers school accountability and culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumna of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She previously freelanced for various publications including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.