Parents unlikely to get tuition money back from bankrupt private school

The Wisconsin International School in De Pere as seen on Friday, June 27, 2014. (WLUK/Ben Krumholz)

GREEN BAY – Parents who pre-paid tuition to a now-closed private school in De Pere will likely not see any of that money back.

That news comes after a federal bankruptcy hearing in Green Bay Thursday afternoon.

The Wisconsin International School filed for bankruptcy last month. Court filings show it owes more than $500,000 to 118 creditors.

The school opened its doors in 2008, serving children from 18-months through 8th grade. It closed in late June of this year and filed for bankruptcy in Wisconsin's Eastern District Federal Court about two weeks later.

In a letter to parents at the time, the school cited the reason for the bankruptcy filing was that next year's enrollment – as well as donations – was down 30 percent.

With about a dozen former teachers and parents filling a conference room in the Wisconsin State Building in downtown Green Bay Thursday, the school’s former board president, Todd Thiel, met with the court-appointed trustee, Paul Swanson, who is handling the case.

“It was clear that the school was out of money,” said Thiel of the realization of the financial situation, shortly after he became president in June. Court documents show the board membership turned over on June 10, 2014.

Thiel told Swanson he had previously served as an “at-large” board member, prior to taking the leadership role.

“We would get brief financial updates,” Thiel said, “and there weren’t any red flags.”

A week-long auction is now set for next month to sell off the school’s remaining physical assets; financial records show the school had $18,799 in its checking account, at the time of its bankruptcy filing.

Swanson – who declined to talk on camera – said the money made from the auction would first go towards back pay for employees, up to $10,000. The bankruptcy filing shows among the debts are wages for 30 employees, totaling more than $166,000.

If there is any money left from the auction, it could go towards non-priority claims, like tuition deposits and outstanding bills, up to $1,800.

However, Swanson said it's unclear if any money will be there for parents - some of whom are out tens of thousands of dollars.

More than 60 parents pre-paid tuition to the school, totaling about $319,000, according to court documents. The school also owes more than $64,000 for various bills and services.

The court is now accepting claims from those who are potentially owed money.

Both former teachers and parents did not want to speak on camera after the hearing.