And it isn’t the only prep school saying so. Private school officials across the region said this week that they applied for, and weighed the ethics of taking, money from the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, which has allocated $600 billion to businesses to prevent them from laying off employees.
Some applied but declined the money. Sidwell, St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, Landon School and others accepted the federal aid, officials said, because they’re losing out on crucial revenue and can’t tap their endowments.
“We recognize that our decision to accept this loan may draw criticism from some quarters of the community,” Sidwell’s board wrote in a statement, “but are fully united in our decision.”
Across the country, businesses and nonprofits have come under scrutiny for accepting the money. Shake Shack returned its funds amid backlash. Ruth’s Chris Steak House, the Los Angeles Lakers and Potbelly returned theirs. Elite universities returned money from a different stimulus program under pressure from the White House and the public, with critics pointing to the schools’ billion-dollar-plus endowments.
Anticipating the backlash, board members at Sidwell, which has a $52 million endowment and counts presidents’ children among its alumni, announced last week that it intends to keep the money.
“The Board determined that accepting the loan was appropriate and fully consistent with its fiduciary responsibilities, as well as our Quaker values,” Sidwell board members wrote in a letter to the school community.
Sidwell parents and graduates school didn’t buy it, penning scathing letters and posting on social media their disappointment that the school would take aid when businesses were closing and millions of workers were losing their jobs.
“I will always be disappointed that they did this,” said Stephen Batzell, a 1967 graduate of Sidwell and wealth manager in Boston. He accused the school of taking on too much debt, forcing it to take bailout money when others might need it to survive. “Sidwell got caught up in the materialistic world, like many schools do.”
Maryland state Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) said the interests of large corporations and private schools with substantial endowments should not be put ahead of small businesses and the unemployed.
“There has not been a lot of thought in vetting who gets the federal support and who doesn’t,” he said. “It seems incongruous.”
The Trump administration piled on, too, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin echoing the criticism his Cabinet mate, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, had leveled at Harvard before it returned its federal bailout money from a separate fund meant to aid colleges and universities.
“It has come to our attention that some private schools with significant endowments have taken #PPP loans,” Mnuchin tweeted last week. “They should return them.”
Mnuchin didn’t mention that the private Los Angeles school his children attend accepted funding, as the Los Angeles Times reported.
Private school officials insist that their hefty endowments, high tuition fees and deep-pocketed donor bases don’t make them immune from the pandemic’s financial toll.
Sidwell officials said tuition, which runs about $45,000 a year, covers just 83 percent of what it pays to educate each of its more than 1,100 students. A quarter of its students share in $8 million in financial aid, officials said, and the school has budgeted $200,000 extra for financial aid, anticipating that more students will need assistance next year. The school is also anticipating fewer students will enroll next year.
As for its endowment, officials have stressed to parents that it’s restricted in how it is used. The fund accounts for 4.5 percent of its annual revenue. Twelve percent of its budget comes from fundraising, camps and other programs. Fundraising is down and programs are canceled, the school said.
The school sent a second letter this week, explaining its finances in more detail, including the more than $60 million it accrued for facility upgrades and expansions. It plans to cut $2 million from its budget, the school said.
Amy McNamer, executive director of the Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington, which supports 76 private schools in the region, said other schools have similar financial outlooks, relying on a mix of revenue streams that may be disrupted by the pandemic — including tuition, donations, facility rentals, summer camp and after-school programs.
“The idea that the schools are all these tony, elite schools in the suburbs is just not accurate,” McNamer said. “Every school has a different financial picture.”
It’s unclear how many of the region’s private schools received PPP funding. McNamer said anywhere between 20 and 50 private schools in the region applied for the loans.
St. Andrew’s Episcopal, the Potomac, Md., school that President Trump’s youngest son attends, was one of them. Officials there confirmed that it received a $2.2 million loan and would use it to pay its employees, including coaches and hourly staffers.
Landon, the all-boys prep school in Bethesda, said in a letter to community members that its loan will be used solely for payroll expenses and would mean “we are able to avoid for now furloughing employees, reducing hours, and reducing compensation and benefits for our faculty and staff.” The school has been using its limited reserves, the letter said, and “our modest endowment is restricted in how it can be used.” It did not include the amount of the loan.
Our Lady of Good Counsel in Olney, Md., recently received $3.3 million in federal loans, which President Paul Barker said will enable the college-preparatory Catholic high school to continue to pay its 180 employees.
The school’s $1 million endowment, small by private-school standards, doesn’t generate operating funds, Barker said. Typical summer camps are canceled, and it has $30 million in bond obligations. More than 70 of the school’s families have requested emergency financial aid in the past 10 days, since a new fund was created.
Nearly half of the families at Good Counsel receive assistance with tuition, which runs about $25,000 a year, Barker said.
“Closing out this school year is challenging, and the fall is a mystery to us — how many families are going to show up, how much tuition they will pay and how much additional help they will need,” he said.
“Those three questions are keeping every head of school awake at night,” Barker said. “For everybody, it’s a tough, tough time.”
The Field School in Northwest Washington also confirmed that it received a loan.
Georgetown Preparatory School, Bullis School, Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart and Academy of the Holy Cross did not provide information or declined to comment. Gonzaga College High School, Edmund Burke School, the Madeira School, Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School and DeMatha Catholic High School did not return requests for comment. St. Albans School in Northwest Washington said the school did not seek federal aid.
Trustees at Holton-Arms, the prestigious all-girls school in Maryland, met Wednesday night and decided not to accept the funds “due to the lack of clarity in the evolving guidance from the government, particularly as it pertains to the definition of the term ‘necessity,’ ” Head of School Susanna A. Jones wrote in a statement.
A spokeswoman for Maret School in Northwest Washington said the school considered applying but decided it was “not appropriate” for the school to receive the funds.
Georgetown Day School said it was approved for a loan but told families in a letter that it declined the money because “small businesses face greater need than ours.” The Potomac School in Northern Virginia said it was also approved for a loan but decided to withdraw its application.
“Based on our sound financial position,” the school said in a statement, “we did not want to accept funds that we didn’t currently require and possibly deny funding to those with more urgent needs.”
This story was updated to reflect the decision by the Holton-Arms School governing board.