Vail Christian High School board pays off school’s debt, focusing on scholarships
The board raised $4.1 million in a few months over the summer to get in the black
EDWARDS — Debt is bad. The Bible teaches it, and anyone carrying credit card debt knows it’s true.
Vail Christian High School’s board of directors decided that their school’s debt was keeping the board from spending money on more scholarships for local students, so they decided that their debt had to go so that more students could come.
The board raised $4.1 million in a few months this summer and did away with the debt. The school’s board will use the money it was spending on debt payments for scholarships and an endowment.
That’s basically the story, except that it isn’t. People are asked all the time to help pay for a building. You can put your name on a building or a scholarship.
There’s no glory in working a second job to pay off debt.
“It’s not complicated. It’s just work, hard work to get out of debt,” said Kevin Wilson, the board chairman. “There are no plaques, no naming rights. There’s a certain humility to saying we’re going to work to get out of debt.”
We live in a consumer society, Wilson said, and there are always ways to rationalize borrowing more money for some pet project … a pool for a swim team, another gym … the list of wants is long.
“One of the things I’m most proud of is that no one picked a pet project,” Wilson said.
The school is still raising money, but now it’s for scholarships.
“Student scholarships and teachers are better to fund for good educational and ethical teachings than interest to banks and bondholders,” Wilson said.
Despite the consistent braying about a recession being right around the corner, the current economy is good for lots of people. Economies are cyclical and Vail Christian’s board decided to get out of debt while the getting is good — in other words, ask people for money when they might actually have some.
To climb out of debt, a big group of families came up with donations ranging from a couple thousand bucks to a couple hundred thousand. They did not cultivate a sugar daddy donor. That can lead to irresponsible behavior stemming from the belief that someone is going to rescue you, Wilson said.
Debt and drama
Debt leads to drama and drama is terrible, Wilson said.
When the Great Recession pounded the economy in 2008, Vail Christian’s debt at the time almost killed it.
The school pulled back from that abyss and things have been doing well in recent years, said former board member Megan Green, but that debt was always there.
“It’s like a ship with an anchor dragging. We were flying, but we were dragging this along,” Green said. “Being a nonprofit with debt is difficult. Part of the money you’re raising has to go to debt.”
Now, when someone asks about the school’s stability, board members and others are more confident with their answers.
“We think we’re going to be here not just for four years, but 40 years or more,” Wilson said.
According to the National Association of Independent Schools, in the 2018-19 school year, the median debt was $1,054 per student per year in an independent school.
“It’s important that you behave honorably. It’s good to be able to say we’re being good stewards of the money people give us. You want to be sure it’s being spent on kids and not debt. Debt creates stress that causes you to behave in unnatural ways. Being debt free is a better place to be,” Wilson said.
Eagle County Schools added six mental health counselors and the district will add two more school resource officers, according to the school district’s 2019-2020 budget book. The district also aised starting pay and gave staffers a 2.3% cost-of-living raise.