Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Trinity Byrnes: 6th No More?

UPDATE: Looks like it was just a typo.  Trinity remove the errant post and replaced it with the text of their press release.  So, looks like there will be a 6th grade next year.  According to Hoffman's comments to local media, this will be only be for one year after which TB will revert to 7-12. 

Greetings all,

Trinity has added a new header to their website where they say TB will be 7th through 12th grades.  None of their text or forms mention 6th at all.  Was this dropped due to lack of interest?  Other conflicts?  Just a typo?


If you know anything, hit me up in the comments or by email at byrnesbk@hotmail.com.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

10,000 views: A Look Back

In honor of BSBS crossing 10,000 views, here's a sampling of things that were said leading up to the school closing its doors.  From our very first post, we stood firm in our belief that the board and administration were not telling the truth, and those who chose to believe them are now paying the price.  Thankfully, whether of their own volition or heeding our warnings here, families found other schools for their children a year ago and we saw Byrnes' enrollment drop by more than 50 students. 

So without further ado, a look back at some memorable quotes:

"We will not close down. We have a viable business plan. We're going to continue to educate the children of the Pee Dee for the next 50 years,"
---John Isgett, former board president
Feb 2011
[apparently "viable" meant using future year's tuition to fund current year operations.  Court documents showed us that this is why FC would not extend any more credit.  Looks like they were right all along.]

"I think we hung tough for a year without losing enrollment."
--former Byrnes headmaster John Colby
March 8, 2012
*Enrollment before bk = 241
*Enrollment last year = 190

“John [Colby] brought years of experience to the school and he leaves Byrnes in a good situation."
--Tom Goodson
President of the Board for Byrnes School
March 8, 2012, ~90 days before announcing the school's closure

"words like “school closing” and “bankruptcy” are now flying through the Florence community, alighting amongst friends and neighbors and croaking out their message like birds of ill omen. Never mind that the words are not true. Never mind that Byrnes has not closed, will not close, and is enrolling for next year even as those birds croak out that sensational word “closed”....Byrnes is here to stay."
--Kevin M. Ferguson
The Byrnes Schools
Upper School English Department Chair
Printed in the Morning News Feb 7, 2011 a week after officially filing for bankruptcy

“We’re definitely on track for a more financially stable school, long-term. This bankruptcy was an unfortunate thing, but it did financially assist us to becoming bigger and better in the future.”
--John Isgett, former board president
August 2011

"Nobody’s going to buy this school.”
--John Colby
Jan 2011
[he may be right, there might be a 'for sale' sign there for years]

“It hasn’t affected the school one bit"
--John Colby on the Byrnes bankruptcy
Summer 2011

"I feel that the current board that the school has right now has everything under control,"  "I'm not really worried about it because Byrnes is not going to close. My kids are going to graduate from it." 
--Meg Ryan, an alumna of The Byrnes Schools and parent of kids at the former school
Jan 2011

"[Dear John,]
As admirable as the plan is to raise $800,000 to see the school through the remainder of the school year, the fact remains that the bank does not feel over the long term additional debt alone will place the school on the solid financial footing it seeks. 

I think it's fair to say we see additional borrowed funds as a temporary fix and not a lasting solution.  The school's existing debt load has apparently been a heavy burden and more debt will not make that servicing problem any easier.  This, coupled with the difficulty of the school to meet its payroll in the past couple of months and the suggestion that it may have to suspend operation in the near term, points to deep and profound issues that may involve some tough decisions for both of us."

--Michael Blakely of First Citizens Bank in an email to John Isgett
Sept 16, 2009

Monday, July 9, 2012

Byrnes Closing: More Updates

Just a short post with a few updates.

Looks like Brandis Winstead is taking an asst headmaster job at Trinity after all, so 6th will likely go to Clanton and Geddings for English and Math, respectively.  Also, the 6th grade at Trinity will exist for only one year before being dissolved.  For anyone who thinks this is odd, there are some Byrnes board members with children going into 6th grade so this was clearly worked out with them in mind.  In 2013,-14, Trinity reverts to a 7-12 school like they've always been, so if you have a child starting 5th grade this fall, he/she will have to wait 2 years until 7th grade to start trinity. 

Still no word on which upper school teachers will have jobs at TB aside from Amell for football.  The Trinity faculty is very strong making it hard to figure out who they would need from Byrnes.  If enrollment goes high enough they may have need, but Byrnes never had that many in high school to begin with and it's unlikely 100% will want to transfer considering that after next year they will be paying Trinity's full tuition. 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Byrnes Closing: Latest News

First for those who haven't read it, a slightly less flattering news story on Byrnes' closing.


 Looks like they couldn't get a comment out of Byrnes as to why they were closing.  Also, we get a better timeline here from Trinity who says they began integration talks 3 weeks ago (maybe when they ran out of money?).  Summers have always been tough for Byrnes -- when they had spent all the prepaid tuition but hadn't started collecting fall tuition -- and they would even fail to make payroll or pay insurance premiums.

So what was different this time?  The bankruptcy settlement clearly stated that any default in payment would result in FC taking over the property, and Byrnes waived their right to future bankruptcy protection.  Clearly this is what happened and we warned of this possibility a year ago.

In other news, Byrnes' athletic director looks confirmed to be the new head of the athletic program and Trinity's current coach will remain on staff as well.  No word on whether he keeps his same salary that was 2-3x what other teacher made.

So far we can't find any confirmation that any other Byrnes upper school teachers have been offered positions.  We're still awaiting word on the 6th grade.  It's almost certain that Clanton will stay since her husband is on the board.  There will be at least one other slot and it's still unclear who will get it.  Either Geddings or Winstead, the current Byrnes headmaster will get it (her husband is also a board member).  There are no admin positions available at Trinity and they just announced a new outside hire for director of academics a few days ago, so if she is going to have a role in the new school it will have to be as one of the 6th grade teachers.

Anyone with updates is encouraged to post here in the comments.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Byrnes Schools Closing

Well, it happened.

We wrote extensively here about the mismanagement and financial problems at the Byrnes Schools.  We chronicled their bankruptcy case and used the opportunity to peer into their records and see just how poorly managed it had been.  Despite the deal worked out with First Citizens, nothing was done to change the underlying issues.

Like many others, we were not suprised to read the story of Byrnes closing and working out an arrangement with Trinity to take its upper school students, a few faculty, and a few board members.  The article in the local paper was kind in its wording, but Trinty's headmaster made it clear in his statement that this is no merger. 

We continued to follow Byrnes' financial records until they were no longer required to file them with the court.  It was unclear how they were going to remain solvent in the spring.  They would certainly get an influx of capital from families that prepay, but it would not be enough to pay expenses through the summer and into the fall.  There were probably attempts to find a bank willing to loan them the payoff value on their note with FC, but apparently none were willing.

So what now?  Byrnes faculty and staff are SOL save for the well-connected few.  Coincidence that the new Trinity-Byrnes school will be adding only 6th grade, the grade taught by the wife of a board member who will undoubtedly get a position at T-B?  The athletic director will have a position too, though maybe not at the outsized salary he commanded at Byrnes.  The paper reported that some board members from Byrnes would join the new school -- our guess is that it will be the same people who wrote those $100,000 checks to prop of Byrnes right before the bankruptcy.  Look for Isgett, Goodman, Clanton, and maybe one more to be a part of T-B.  The Byrnes headmaster will probably find some sort of position, although Trinity has no need of more administrative staff. She is well connected, however, and a kind a charming person; she will certainly land well.  The other faculty who jumped ship last year must be thankful to have found jobs before all this happend. 

And what of the families who prepaid for the next year?  Especially the lower school families?  This is hard to say.  The prepaid amount is usually pretty substantial and will not be easy to simply pay back.  Remember, they've spent it all already so they can't just cut everyone a check.  They may have worked out an agreement with Trinity to finance a repayment, but Trinity had the clear upper hand in any negotiation and probably didn't agree to this unless it won them something else.  Odds are good that they will simply not pay at all and those families will be left to eat the cost.  They would possibly have a case of negligence against the board if they took the money while knowing they were insolvent and would be shutting down over the summer. 

Sadly, they're probably just going to lose their money. 

Of course, if they had read this blog they would have known better...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Final Post For Awhile: Byrnes Settlement Agreement with First Citizens

Greetings all and many thanks to all of those who have participated in the discussion here.  I know that emotions have often run very hot, but I appreciate the contributions and dissenting viewpoints that have been put forth here by others. 

It's only fitting that this blog should wrap up as the bankruptcy saga now comes to a close, although I would argue that the odds of Byrnes surviving even this settlement agreement are not very good.  I think all those at Byrnes, either as parents or employees, should read this closely and be aware of the terms of the settlement and hold the management team accountable for their actions going forward.  While this agreement does get them out of bankruptcy, it opens the door for even more serious trouble in the future.

For anyone who wants to read the filing yourself, go to www.pacer.gov and search under "bankruptcy" and "south carolina" and do a search for case number 11-00538.  Click on "History/documents" and scroll to the bottom and click on the filing labeled "Addendum" filed on August 4th 2011.  There are some charges to use Pacer, but they are negligible and if you use less the $10 worth per 3-month quarter, they waive them entirely, so it should cost nothing to get this document yourself if you'd like to read it.  I suggest that anyone with a vested interest in Byrnes' future give it a good read as it may prove vital in the months and years ahead.  Part of the settlement includes a press release with wording agreed to by both FC and Byrnes, but even so, everyone should read the terms for themselves and consider them in light of Byrnes' past financial history.

So, in a nutshell, here's the settlement agreement:

  • FC retains the full value of their secured claim (~$1.6million)
  • Byrnes will pay $11,000 a month for 1 year
  • After that, they pay $13k a month
  • The loan matures(due in full) by August of 2017, ie. six years
  • If they can pay it in full earlier, Byrnes can have a substantial part of the debt forgiven (for example, if they pay up by 2013, they only owe $1.2 million instead of $1.6mil.
  • If Byrnes defaults again, FC can immediately take possession and sell the property
  • Byrnes waives the right for bankruptcy protection in the future until the FC loan is paid
That's the deal in a nutshell, and FC's attorneys would have been insane to turn down such an offer.  I'm curious to read a transcript of the hearing if one ever gets released, because this deal represents very thin ice for Byrnes and they must have been backed into a corner to agree to such a thing.  Granted, it's better than having the school shut down and sold, but it leaves that as still a very real possibility.  In fact, it's an even greater possibility than before because this deal basically waives all of Byrnes' rights for protection should they have financial troubles in the future!

Nowhere in any court filings have there been any hints as to austerity measures being enacted at the school, but that is exactly what will have to happen if it is to survive (barring the board members all chipping in enough money to pay off the 1.2 million dollar early payoff value).  None of this changes the documented fact that the school was and is hemorrhaging money and carrying a payroll that they don't need and can't afford.  Unless the donors keep chipping in 200-300k per year, there is no way they can make these payments and make payroll.  Lets not forget that the year before the bankruptcy they had to borrow nearly $700,000 just to make payroll and at the time were not even making payments to FC. 

For those who want to see the school survive, here's what I would suggest:
  • Demand a complete upper management change over the next 1-2 years, bringing in a brand new board, headmaster, and financial manager.
  • Demand a grand cost-cutting package that eliminates 200-300k in salaries and possibly more from other areas.  Too much money is frittered away and the school can't afford it.  If the board won't do it, replace them with those who will. 
  • While hiring a dean of academics sounds nice, the school can't afford another salary at a time like this.
  • Demand that free tuition for recruiting athletes be eliminated.  Remember, not only are these kids not generating revenue, but they are incurring extra costs associated with the team that the school is writing off (travel, uniforms, free lunches, etc.)
If the school can't make the hard choices needed, they don't deserve to survive.  I know, they like to use the smoke and mirrors of using next year's money for this year's expenses and claim that their income meets or exceeds expenses every year.  In response to that, everyone should quote what the Bankruptcy judge said when they tried it on him: "So what are we doing here?"

I would again like to thank the readers and contributors to this blog.  I would like to think that together we've brought to light many unpleasant truths that would otherwise remain the domain of rumor and innuendo.  Perhaps now that more of the truth is in the open, steps can be taken to address it.  I'm removing older posts since at this point they are no longer as relevant and we should all be focused on the future.  I am personally not optimistic about their chances of surviving the next couple years given recent economic trends and their lack of future bankruptcy protection; however, since they can't again be in bankruptcy for this particular debt, we can safely say the bankruptcy saga is at an end.  There may be a "Byrnes Defaulted Again and Now They're Closed" saga in the near future, but that is another story for another day. 

Good luck to all in this coming year. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Free Tuition For Many Athletes Inflates Enrollment

Since this topic has been coming up repeatedly in the comments on other posts, we felt it deserved its own full-length post. 

It's not much of a secret that a few years ago, Byrnes started recruiting student athletes from local public schools and offered them free tuition at Byrnes in exchange for play.  Considering the record of the football and basketball team before this practice started, perhaps this wasn't such a bad idea!  What many have also come to realize is that some of these players' siblings were also given free tuition along with somewhat of a carte blanche as far as behavior is concerned.  More than one person has already commented here that this has become a safety concern for them and prompted them to remove their children from the school. 

All the details and numbers after the jump

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Byrnes Schools of Florence: Enrollment Still Down

Before we begin, the BSBS blog would like to thank all of those who have posted and/or emailed their support in recent days.  We're already number one in search engine rankings for anything related to Byrnes and bankruptcy, finances, salary, sex offenders, etc., and we're on the first or second page in most other searches.  For those who wish to help, link to our site from your site or your Facebook and help continue to drive traffic and search rank so we may continue to spread the word. 

Also, for those who've asked how they can help, a request for information:  In 2004, current Byrnes headmaster John Colby was headmaster for Patrick Henry Academy in Estill, SC.  From their financial documents, it looks like Mr. Colby's employment was terminated in the middle of his contract and he left the state immediately afterwards.  This is highly unusual and financial documents don't tell the whole story, so anyone who does know, please hit us up in the comments or in an email.  It may be nothing and totally innocuous, or there may be a story that goes with it that parents and faculty would be interested in hearing. 

A number have asked about our investigation into parents and others at the Byrnes School.  While this will be the subject of future posts as we gather more information, we can say that we've already found a number of parents who have filed for bankruptcy themselves, some very recently and not people you would expect.  We've found a current board member dodging the IRS and actually being sued by the IRS, not to mention his being sued for legal malpractice and other such things.  And we haven't even gotten to the juicy stuff yet!  Look for a larger post in the future as we lay out our findings and show the other parents what sort of people are sending their kids to Byrnes.

Enrollment at the school for next year continues to be down substantially.  March 31st was the deadline for early enrollment, so we should now have a good idea of what enrollment looks like for next year.  In perusing their most recent operating reports and tuition reports per their cash collateral settlement, it is clear that enrollment is still down well over 50% over where it needs to be.  Depending on how they've done their accounting, the number could be anywhere from 50-60% down.  Of course, when your finance director's only qualification is a degree from an online-only college, you have to allow for some fluctuation in the accounting.  She's already had to resubmit a number of forms to the court because they were missing something, so this may not be completely reliable either. So, while some students will probably trickle in over the summer, it's hard to believe that more than half of the entire student body will wait til the last minute to renew.  Clearly, people realize that the school will probably not be here much longer and don't want their kids left without a place to go, though about half are still believing the lies and the spin proffered by the board and administration.

A strong piece of evidence for this is a name missing from the enrollment list for next year: Ashby Gregg.  Mr. Gregg has been a long time Byrnes supporter and even president of the board at one time, but it looks like he has chosen to remove his children from the school for next year.  We noticed this omission back in March, but now that it's May and he still isn't on the list, we can assume that he's decided to send his kids elsewhere.  When a major supporter who is in the know takes his kids out, other parents need to evaluate their own decision and ask themselves what Mr. Gregg knows that they don't know.  Just like a restaurant where the owner won't eat the food, be careful what you swallow.

Maybe he realizes the just how precarious their financial situation is at this point.  Perhaps he doesn't want his children playing so close to a convicted rapist or one of the only convicted child sex predators in the county.  Maybe he got tired of being lied to by the lies of John Isgett and Tom Goodson, men whose lies and spins are well documented here in previous posts. In any case, Mr. Gregg's choice to pull his kids from the school should weigh heavily in parents' minds as they decide where to send their own children next year.