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Rent struggles close Goddard School in northeast Charlotte

By Elisabeth Arriero and Steve Lyttle
earriero@charlotteobserver.com

A northeast Charlotte preschool center was shut down Monday after the school fell behind on rent payments, leaving parents scrambling to find replacement childcare.

The Goddard School on Back Creek Road, off East W.T. Harris Boulevard, was closed because the operator owed more than $60,000 in rent, according to Mark Walters, CEO of MW Properties, which leases the building.

Officials of Goddard Schools – which has 10 Charlotte-area centers operated by individual franchise-holders – contacted parents and family members of children enrolled at the Back Creek center on Sunday, telling them of the closing. Goddard Schools said in a statement that the school was closed because of a dispute between the franchisee and property manager.

In the statement, Goddard Schools said it “is currently working with the Charlotte community and other Charlotte-area Goddard Schools to make the transition for the parents and children as smooth as possible.”

John and Anna Monbarren, the school’s directors, also sent an email to parents on Sunday evening.

“Due to circumstances beyond our control, the school will be closed on Monday, March 11, 2013,” the email read. “We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.”

A number of teachers began arriving at the school after 7:30 a.m. Monday. Several women could be seen carrying items to their vehicles nearby. A door to the building was propped open, with a trash can nearby.

One staff member, asking not to be identified, said she had expected the shutdown. The woman, a teacher at the Goddard School, said some staff members’ checks had bounced in recent weeks.

She said up to 75 children had been enrolled at the center, but enrollment had dropped in recent months.

About 8:45 a.m., three sheriff’s deputies arrived at the school, followed a few minutes later by Walters, who spoke with reporters. A number of teachers and some parents of children who had been enrolled at the center stood nearby and watched.

Walters said that when he took over the location in July 2011, the Monbarrens were more than $28,000 behind in payments.

Walters said he started the couple on a payment plan but then they began intermittently missing their $13,000 monthly rent as well – falling into debt an additional $33,805.

As early as January 2012, the company started eviction proceedings. But every time the conviction was nearly finalized, the couple made a payment.

“This time, we refused to accept just a month’s rent,” Walter said. “I wanted the complete amount of money they were behind. I refused to do another payment plan.”

At this point, Walters said he wouldn’t accept the money from the Monbarrens to keep the school open.

Walters said the school is licensed to have 149 children. All students are charged roughly $1,000 a month.

Eviction proceedings have been filed in court against Goddard three times since August 2012.

Meanwhile, the Goddard School location has maintained an A rating with the Better Business Bureau – although the school has received three complaints in the last nine years. Those complaints – occurring in 2004, 2008 and 2012 – were eventually resolved.

Janet Hart, spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau, said parents will have a better chance of getting a refund on tuition if they paid with a credit card. Those who paid with check, cash or a debit card may have a harder time.

One parent, who identified himself as John, said he had been impressed with the school since he enrolled his 2-year-old son six months ago. He never expected the closure.

“The Goddard was an excellent school and we hate to have to change our child’s daycare, but we have no choice at this point,” he said.

John said he last paid tuition on March 1.

He added that Goddard Schools has offered to transfer tuition to other schools in the area. But the nearest franchises are far away.

By Monday afternoon, Walters said he had already received five inquiries from daycares interested in taking over the location.

He also remained at the school throughout the afternoon to tell any parents or teachers who arrived that he would work out a way for them to retrieve their belongings inside the school.

Observer photographer Davie Hinshaw and researcher Marion Paynter contributed.

Arriero: 704-804-2637;On Twitter: @earriero
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