Over 30,000 Mississippians get stories like this delivered to their inboxes for free.
Sign up for The Today, our daily newsletter, and continue to read this story.
“I have a passion for amplifying the voices of those in our state that need the most help.”Anna Wolfe, investigative reporter
A private school district in Mississippi has terminated the contracts of all teachers at two of its schools and failed to pay them for days already worked, a signal that their doors will close for good and leave dozens of children without specialized education they struggle to find at public schools.
Both Oxford University School and the North New Summit School in Greenwood are members of the New Learning Resources School District, which has struggled financially since its owner was accused of defrauding the state and federal government.
Last week, Mississippi Today reported that New Summit School in Jackson, which also missed paydays for its teachers, was working on a court custodianship to take over operation of the school. But the custodianship does not apply to the other New schools.
The parents of students at New Summit School in Jackson worked to have the school placed under a custodianship, legally approved on June 1, in an effort to keep the school operational. Gary Herring, the court-appointed school custodian, sent an email to New Summit staff saying that the custodianship would begin without any funds to make payroll and he could not guarantee their success.
Nancy and Zach New originally stepped away from the New Learning Resources School District following their arrest for an alleged welfare embezzlement scandal, Clarion Ledger reported, but a federal grand jury also indicted them for defrauding the Mississippi Department of Education through the New Learning Resources School District.
The New Learning Resources School District focuses on providing specialized services for students with behavioral or learning disabilities. As a private school group with public accreditation from the Mississippi Department of Education, schools in the district are funded through a combination of tuition payments and Education Scholarship Accounts, a voucher that allows public school dollars to follow special needs students to private schools.
Teachers at North New Summit, New Summit, and Oxford University School are all owed six paychecks for work already completed, according to four teachers who did not want their names printed for fear of retaliation. Teachers at Oxford University School estimated that the school district owes them between $3,000 and $6,000 for work already completed, depending on the teacher’s yearly salary. Oxford University School and North New Summit teachers received their termination letter on June 11.
While New Summit School in Jackson did not begin experiencing paycheck uncertainty until March, the Oxford University School has paid their teachers late almost every pay period since late September. Three teachers confirmed that the school consistently delivered their paychecks 3-5 days behind schedule.
When one teacher attempted to report this to the Department of Labor, the department told her that a claim for non-payment would become void once the teachers were paid each time.
The Oxford University School, founded in 1984, was not acquired by the New Learning Resources School District until 2019. Mississippi Today previously reported that the owners defrauded the Mississippi Department of Education through invoices from New Summit School and North New Summit, but the indictment did not name Oxford University School as part of the scheme.
One teacher from the Oxford University School pointed out that while this partnership was intended to help the school thrive, it is ultimately the reason that they are closing.
Several teachers voiced concerns about what happened to the tuition money that parents paid if it was not being used to pay their salaries. Teachers interviewed from the Oxford University School were also frustrated by the lack of communication from administrators.
“It was so dishonest for [New Learning Resources] to take advantage of a situation where you still had money coming in and people who really cared [at the school] not making much money anyway and to just not say anything,” one teacher said.
Teachers were unsure if parents had been informed that the schools would be closing.
The letter terminating Oxford University School and North New Summit teachers did not specify whether the schools would be closing for the upcoming school year, according to a copy obtained by Mississippi Today. The letter did say New Learning Resources would not have the funds to make further salary payments.
Keith Davis, the principal of North New Summit School, could not be reached to discuss the future of school. Roy Balentine, the interim director of New Learning Resources, and Nancy New also did not return calls or text messages to Mississippi Today.
Nancy and Zach New have both pleaded not guilty to all charges and are awaiting trial.