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Charter school purchases property

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Doris Whitehead, left, writes Carles Ponce, 8, name on his notebooks Wednesday on the first day of school at North East Carolina Prep School in Tarboro.

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BY JOHN H. WALKER
Staff Writer

Thursday, August 8, 2019

TARBORO — North East Carolina Prep School has made a move that allowed the Tarboro charter school to buy the buildings and property it previously leased from Utah-based Highmark School Development.

The move will save the school about $30,000 per month, or $2.52 million over the seven-year life of the bonds. The school sold $23 million in bonds and also took out a $1 million subordinate loan due in five years.

North East Carolina Prep Executive Director William Etheridge said the financial moves will place the school “in a better position when we refinance in seven years. The sale of the bonds means we pay less in rent and have more money to spend on the instructional side as well as on salaries.”

Etheridge said the school does not have to follow the state salary schedule and is open to recruit teachers and negotiate their respective salaries.

“One of the things we are working on is to develop a salary schedule for employees,” he said.

The school received its charter from the state on March 1, 2012, and opened its doors for its first classes that August.

As enrollment grew, so did demand for classroom space, prompting the prep school’s board to look at options to accommodate the growth. That is when Highmark entered the picture.

Highmark purchased the property, which was the former Mary Frances Center, a privately owned adult recovery center for women that operated under contract with the state Department of Corrections.

Additionally, Highmark designed and built what now is the Grades 7-12 building in addition to adapting the existing buildings to the school’s needs. The total project, which entailed more than 110,000 square feet and 52 acres, carried a $16.4 million price tag.

The move was made possible when, on June 10, the Tarboro Town Council held a public hearing about the school getting up to $22 million in bonds to finance and acquire the school.

The town has no financial obligation in the matter and the council approval simply was a step required by the Internal Revenue Service code so the school can borrow money on a tax-exempt basis to purchase the facilities it already occupied.

A former board member said the school teamed up with Highmark because “they were the (only) one doing it. They were the ones you went to and through, because they did it all.”

The school, which looks to go over the 1,000-enrollment threshold this fall, is high-performing and ranked No. 54 out of more than 2,500 schools in the state this past year.

New for this year, and not connected to the sale of the bonds, is a pre-K program.

“It’s the first time we’ve offered it,” Etheridge said, explaining that the school had to climb out of a low-performing classification and also had to show financial stability through successful audits.

“We have nine students and a teacher’s assistant with a degree in early childhood education,” he said. “When we get to 14 (students) we will add another assistant and we can take up to 18.”

Etheridge said the pre-K program accepts vouchers and offers an after-school program. People interested in the pre-K program can call 252-641-0464 for more information.