April 7, 2014 10:12:29 AM
Immanuel Christian School is no longer affiliated with Immanuel Baptist Church.
Church members on Sunday voted to accept a proposal from eight local businessmen that relieves the church from all obligations to the 35-year-old school and effectively severs the connection between the two, Pastor Charles Mullins confirmed.
"Our church in the majority agreed to this decision," Mullins said. "We had no dissenting votes. Of course, we have very special ties to (the school), and while we love it very much, we want this to be what God wants it to be. It's the end of a chapter but it's what we need to do now."
Billy Thomas, a former basketball, baseball and track coach at Immanuel, is one of the local businessmen who helped arrange the deal.
The school was never in danger of closing, Thomas said. "No one ever said the school was going to close," he said. "That was just a rumor."
Thomas, who has one child enrolled at the school and another who graduated from Immanuel, said the purchase proposal came about in the last week after the school's headmaster Joe York resigned unexpectedly. Internal issues between the school and the church led to rumors that the school would be closing and parents began enrolling their children at other schools, Thomas said. To stop the exodus of students leaving for other schools, Thomas said he and seven other area businessmen decided to step in.
York could not be reached for comment.
Immanuel currently has approximately 250 students and 30 school personnel. The school is for grades Pre-K through 12.
While Thomas and the other businessmen -- who will be named publicly Tuesday -- will help guide the school as advisors the school will operate independently.
"These are successful businessmen that are going to help us with the school," Thomas said. "Not run the school, but they're going to help in the decision making process. We have tons and tons of equity in the school. We really don't owe that much on the school at all. The school is actually borrowing the money itself. It's not a group of men that's going to write checks to pay off the loan. The school is going to be owned by the school."
Thomas added that each of the local businessmen involved are all Christian men who have ties to the school.
Issues between the school and the church began in late February when the church voted to remove all non-church members from the school board and sports booster club. During that time, Evangel Church approached Immanuel Church about possibly buying the school. The two churches could not reach an agreement, Mullins said. After the headmaster resigned last Monday without explanation, a group of parents and faculty held a meeting to pray and fast.
On Friday, Mullins met with teachers but did not give them an answer on the school's future. Sunday's vote all but sealed the fate of the school. While a title check must still be performed, Thomas said he is certain the deal will go through. Mullins agreed, saying, "If the fullness of the proposal continues as they stated, we will have a clean break of responsibility and obligation from the school in all ways. It will be it's own entity."
Thomas will meet with teachers today and parents Tuesday, when he will announce members of the newly formed nine-member school board.
While the school will remain a Christian school and maintain its accreditation, its name will change, Thomas said. However, he added that the official name has yet to be decided and parents will likely vote on the new name. A new headmaster must be decided upon as well. Sandra White, who served as principal of the elementary school, has been serving as headmaster since York's departure.
Thomas said the main goal for the school is to continue to grow while offering an affordable Christian education. Tuition will likely stay the same but the school will be expanded, he said. Tuition this school year is $4,470, including books.
"Money is tight," Thomas said. "Our families at Immanuel are hard working parents that are doing everything they can do to put their kids through a school that they can afford to do so...we're going to try to do a lot of things to keep that down.
A new athletic facility is in the works, as well as the possible addition of foreign language classes. A new outdoor science lab is scheduled for construction. The church, which has been using the school's gymnasium for worship services, will relocate to the chapel across the street.
"If we have to make room and build, do whatever we have to do to keep the school growing and going, we are willing to do it," Thomas said.
While the takeover has been swift, Thomas said he is confident God was leading the way.
"I'm at total peace with it," he said. "I'm not nervous about it. I'm not anxious at all because I feel like this is something that we're supposed to be doing. I'm a Christian man so I believe that God has this plan and He's going to put the right people in place to make things go."
The response from parents has been tremendous, he said.
"As soon as I started trying to put something together, it was like an enormous flow of people who came forward and said, 'We can help you. What can we do to help?' I get those phone calls every day."
Antwann Richardson is one of the parents who called Thomas to see what he could to do to help save the school.
"We didn't want to see the school close so we got together and we brainstormed to figure out a good way of going about it," Richardson said. "We felt like this was the best way, to get business people together who had a common goal to want to see the school survive and make it a school that would serve the community."
Richardson said he hopes the school will continue to benefit the community.
"My hope for the school is to become a resource for the community where if you want an alternate school to send your kids, you get not only a great Christian education but a school that also gives back to the community," he said.
Thomas said the school would not be where it is now without the leadership of Immanuel Church.
"I really feel like that school has affected this community for 35 years in an extremely positive way," Thomas said. "Immanuel has had that baton for a long time. Now it's time to pass that baton on, not so we can change everything, but so we can continue to go faster and stronger and quicker than it ever has before."
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.
1. Gregory resigns from Partnership leadership position STARKVILLE & OKTIBBEHA COUNTY
2. Columbus police department prepares house of horrors COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
3. Leroy Brooks pushes county pay raises COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
4. Are ghosts haunting the Golden Triangle? COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
5. Starkville organizers readying annual Pumpkinpalooza STARKVILLE & OKTIBBEHA COUNTY