In late April administrators at The Learning Tree Cultural Preparatory School in Williamsbridge learned that they had four months to vacate their location more than 21 years at 801 Bartholdi St., threatening their ability to open in time for the start of the school year in September.
Lois Gregory, who 42 years ago founded The Learning Tree — an independent, tuition-based pre-K through eighth grade school — said that their current landlord received an offer from prospective tenants that he could not refuse.
“We only pay $30,000 a month. And the offer received from the new tenants is $90,000 a month,” Gregory told the Bronx Times. “We’re going to court … to plead for extra time. He will not grant it. We would ask until May 2023. We hope to be able to find something by December 2022.”
The landlord has started an eviction process giving the school until Aug. 31 to leave the building. A hearing was held at Bronx County Civil Court, in the Landlord and Tenant Division, on Monday, Aug. 22 with conversations between the parties ongoing, according to Gregory.
“That’s the part that is so disheartening,” said parent Aisha Gomez, whose daughter has recently graduated eighth grade as class valedictorian. “We just haven’t been given time to make the moves that are necessary to make.”
The school has a GoFundMe page, which was launched on June 13, but it has struggled to raised nearly enough to purchase a facility of their own. The campaign has collected just $16,335, to date, through 133 donations toward a goal of raising $1 million. If the school were to close, then approximately 300 students and 42 employees would be displaced, according to the fundraising website.
Raina Braboy, the president of the student council who has a son in sixth grade and a daughter in third grade, said that many parents have written letters to the state hoping to bring attention to their cause.
In response, the Bronx Times reached out state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, whose district includes the Bronx, for comment.
“The Learning Tree Cultural Preparatory School has had a long history here in our district, providing a well-rounded education for many students,” Heastie said in a prepared statement. “The organization reached out to us to inform us of their financial situation regarding the increased rent requested by the landlord.
Heastie said the problem is that Learning Tree is a private school — although they do have a public pre-K program — leaving his office limited in its ability to give direct financial assistance.
“Our office, led by our secretary of ways and means, had a discussion about options to deal with the situation. We are still awaiting follow up from that initial discussion,” he added.
Gregory said that the school has suffered tremendous financial loss, losing $91,000 over the summer due to its decreasing parent population amid fears of closure.
Trudi Russell, whose daughter will be entering preschool this year, said that it would be a huge disservice to the community if the school were to close because it encouraged its demographic of students to learn about financial literacy and entrepreneurship.
“The school fosters that type of thinking and instills that in our children. I don’t know of another school that sounds like The Learning Tree,” said Russell.
-Christian Falcone contributed to this report
For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes