By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
A financially troubled Temple Hills Christian school filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Monday, staving off the sale of the property in a foreclosure auction that was scheduled for Tuesday, according to the auctioneer.
The Progressive Baptist Church owes $2.86 million on its mortgage and at least an additional $1.88 million in overdue state and federal taxes, according to foreclosure documents filed in Prince George's County Circuit Court by an attorney for M&T Bank, which holds the mortgage, and federal and state tax liens filed with the court.
Progressive's bankruptcy filing is its second attempt in recent years to come up with a plan to satisfy its creditors. The first was dismissed after the church failed to follow through on its payment plan.
Auctioneers were scheduled to sell the Progressive Christian Academy's Temple Hills campus to the highest bidder Tuesday afternoon, even as classes continue there.
It is unclear how much longer the school can remain open. Parents have begun to pull their children out of the school, and teachers have complained about missing and partial paychecks. But Pastor Don deJuan Massey, who runs the church and the school, has vowed to keep the school open.
Christopher Wedding, a teacher at the school, said that at his August job interview for an after-school martial arts class, the school's principal asked if Wedding could teach the health curriculum as well. He was told that there was "some financial trouble" and that enrollment was down -- not that the school was months into foreclosure.
"It was actually kind of a good situation for me going into it, because I had never taught in my life," he said.
Wedding said that after a bank refused to cash his most recent paycheck, Massey paid him in cash out of his own pocket. The principal, Melvin Blount, and his wife, another top administrator, have since resigned, saying in an interview earlier this month that they needed "to seek out opportunities for income."
Since then, other teachers and administrators have left, according to Wedding and additional employees who spoke on condition of anonymity because the school had not authorized them to speak to the media. Those employees also spoke of bounced paychecks or partial payments.
The school also has lost its third-party accreditation. Although the school's Web site says Progressive is endorsed by the National Accreditation Agency, a representative for the organization, Deborah Bryant, said in an e-mail Monday that the school "is no longer accredited" by her agency. Because the school is registered as affiliated with a church, it is exempt from many state education regulations, and the loss of third-party accreditation does not affect it legally.
Calls to Massey were not returned Monday.
If the property -- which includes a church, a school building, a gymnasium and a four-bedroom house -- is eventually purchased at auction, the buyer could continue to operate it as a school. However, if there are other plans for the property, Progressive would have at least 30 days to vacate. Depending on the courts, it could be longer.