Rincon Valley Christian School will close its doors after nearly 50 years in east Santa Rosa.
Santa Rosa Bible Church board members announced late last week the private school they oversee will close in May. The news came as a surprise to teachers and parents, who just days earlier received a letter from the school highlighting a balanced budget.
Church and school officials said the campus has been wrestling with declining enrollment, and it can no longer rely on the church and foreign students to boost revenue and balance the budget. The 2017 fires also exacerbated the problem after nearly 70 families in the church community lost homes, said Chris Bauer, the lead pastor.
He said the school has struggled to attract students over the years, in part to increasing tuition costs, which they had to raise because of declining enrollment.
Many parents, alumni and former teachers took to social media to express their frustrations, calling the decision to shut down the school abrupt. They also raised questions about why the church board did not seek donations before concluding the preschool- to 12th-grade campus was no longer viable.
Kelly Devries has five students enrolled at Rincon Valley, including two children in its satellite program, an option for those who want to home-school.
“People were optimistic about the school’s future,” she said. “Maybe we were naive, but we didn’t think it was going to happen.”
Students also were shocked and saddened by the announcement.
“This school is a safe place with no violence,” said sophomore Amanda Harrison, 16.
She said attending a school with strong Christian values is important to her. “I heard there is a Christian club at Santa Rosa High School, so I may try to get placed there,” she said.
Families are working to secure placements for their children at other schools for next fall. Teachers also are searching for jobs.
The school opened 49 years ago. However, it started seeing enrollment decline a decade ago and has since struggled to support itself financially, said Steve Peters, who heads the school. In a report, the school stated its student population dropped from 500 to 250 students over the past decade.
Bauer said he and board members looked at how much money they would need to not just save the school but to provide students and staff with the necessary resources moving forward. The numbers were staggering, he said.
“It was not just hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring the school to the level of quality necessary, we were looking at millions of dollars,” Bauer said. “It became untenable for us to think we could have raised that kind of money because there was no guarantee.”
The school has relied mainly on tuition money to stay afloat, as well as financial support from the Santa Rosa Bible Church. The church’s general fund absorbed in the past decade $1 million in shortfalls from the school, Bauer said.
“The school is a ministry of SRBC. We have had to bring funds from the church to underwrite the losses, and we were prepared to keep doing that …,” he said. “But now we have come to a place where that just isn’t sustainable anymore.”