An illegally-constituted board of directors making financial decisions without appropriate input and support from the membership – namely the construction of a new daycare facility and the hiring of new administrators for the 2019-20 school year – could “jeopardize” the fiscal future of Lee Christian School, a group of parents has alleged in a lawsuit against the private organization.
“It’s been years and years since there was a meeting of the members,” said April Stone, one of the parents listed on the lawsuit as a plaintiff. “Nobody even remembers a time when there were meetings.”
The lawsuit, filed on April 29, alleges that Stone and several other parents – Joel Johnson, Curtis and Amy Holden, and Tyson and Chelsea McKoy – have on multiple occasions requested LCS’ current board of directors provide information about the daycare’s construction and copies of the organization’s current bylaws.
“Pursuant to its Articles of Incorporation … Lee Christian School, Inc. was formed as a member based nonprofit, with Article V providing that ‘all current members of Lee Christian School, an unincorporated association, shall be members of the corporation,” the lawsuit by attorney Jonathan Silverman reads. “The Articles of Incorporation … also provide that at each annual meeting the members shall elect two directors for a term of three years to replace the directors whose terms are expiring.”
An attachment to the lawsuit shows a letter from Lee Christian’s counsel stating simply that “the Board … believes it is composed appropriately and legally.”
The lawsuit additionally claims that the construction of the daycare center – estimated to cost around $2 million – “was instituted at a time when Lee Christian School, Inc. was running a deficit and without the school having financing in place to pay for the project.”
“These Plaintiffs are also informed and believe that those designated as directors failed to undertake any formal analysis or feasibility study as to the demand for daycare services, potential enrollment and the ability of Lee Christian School, Inc. to pay for such structure and operation, thus jeopardizing the K-12 school operated by Lee Christian,” the lawsuit reads. “Such conduct was not undertaken with the care an ordinarily prudent person in a like position would exercise under similar circumstances.”
The lawsuit closes by demanding that the board produce its bylaws and Articles of Incorporation, as well as a complete membership list dating to the school’s 1994 founding, minutes of board and membership meetings, and financial documents pertaining to the daycare’s construction. It also requests that a restraining order and injunction be filed “to prohibit the current Board of Directors from taking any further action on behalf of or relating to Lee Christian School, Inc. until such time as a properly constituted board is seated,” and that a hearing be held in Lee County Superior Court on May 20.
Stone, the first parent named in the lawsuit, said her son has attended Lee Christian for the last two years because she and her husband believed his special needs – including autism, dyslexia, and more – would be better addressed in that environment (she also has a daughter who attends the school). And on that front, she’s been pleased, telling the Rant that her son has made significant progress that she doesn’t think would have been possible in another setting. But she also said she’s seen a drastic reduction in the number of kids attending the school in recent years, which has made her fear for the school’s financial future.
“Right now there are only 150-some students re-enrolled for next year, and there are 322 students right now,” Stone said. “There were 470 or 480 kids there a few years ago. We absolutely love our school and just want for it to be the best it can. Not just for our kids, but for everyone.”
Still, Stone described the current culture among the school’s membership right now as one of “rumors,” and said she hopes the hearing on May 20 will give other parents the confidence to come forward with issues they’re having.
“We need people to come (to the court hearing) and let us know if they’re having problems too,” she said.
The earliest version of the lawsuit names William Heppding, Lee Christian’s registered agent, as a defendant. An attempt at serving Heppding, though, was unsuccessful according to court paperwork because he is “deceased and no other registered agent” has been named.
Bruce MacInnes, a pastor at Turner’s Chapel in Sanford, is the current chairman of Lee Christian’s Board of Directors, and is named as a defendant in an amended version of the suit along with his fellow directors and LCS Headmaster Don Payne.
MacInnes declined to comment directly about the litigation, saying that he hasn’t been served with the lawsuit. He said he’d heard “rumors” and that “we haven’t done anything that’s in violation of the bylaws.”
MacInnes did say that his understanding was that “board members have always been selected by other board members for the school’s 25 year history,” and that there were amendments made to the bylaws in 2017. He said he believed the provision listed in the lawsuit about members electing directors to two year terms was meant to apply to when the school was first starting in 1994.
A letter from MacInnes to the school’s membership dated Feb. 27 and obtained by the Rant indicates that he and the board were at least aware of some parents’ concerns.
The letter references “recent misunderstandings” and “information being disseminated that is not factual.” It goes on to say that “the cash reserves of the school are strong and adequate for our future needs” and that “the Board of Directors is currently working on a detailed financial plan to keep LCS on solid financial footing going into the future.”
“Once we have a more detailed plan for the future, we will call an all school meeting to share it with everyone and entertain pertinent questions,” the letter reads. “In the meantime, we would ask that if you hear someone sharing something that is not true, please inform them of the truth, and let them know that they can always ask us any questions they have about school policy and finances.”