PHILADELPHIA — A judge has ruled that a Philadelphia school founded more than a century and a half ago to serve disadvantaged students cannot suspend its high school and boarding programs to help solve its financial problems.
The Philadelphia Inquirer (http://bit.ly/1p6xYf6 ) reported that Orphans Court Judge Joseph O'Keefe said those programs were critical parts of the 1831 bequest that created Girard College.
On that basis, O'Keefe denied a petition by the board overseeing Girard College seeking permission to amend the will of merchant-banker Stephen Girard to make the planned changes for the fall of 2015.
The Board of Directors of City Trusts, the entity that oversees the school, had petitioned the court last summer to allow the change, calling it crucial to stabilizing its finances. Board spokesman Kevin Feeley said the decision "only prolongs the financial uncertainty that now threatens the future of Girard College."
When the board petitioned the court, it warned that unless the changes were permitted, the funds to support Girard could be depleted within 25 years and the school forced to close.
"The reality is that if Girard continues to spend beyond its means, ultimately it will be unable to replenish the trust so that it can continue to serve children in need," said Feeley, a 1973 Girard graduate who said it was too soon to say whether the board would appeal.
Girard students, parents, staff and alumni had mobilized to protest the plan. Current student body president, 17-year-old Brandon Dixon, said he was elated.
"Words can't even express how excited I am about this," he said. "All day I've been jumping around."
Joseph Samuel, a 1988 Girard graduate and president of the Girard College Alumni Association, said O'Keefe "recognized the fundamental elements of Stephen Girard's vision for residential education through to graduation for whatever number of students who could be educated and housed there."
Under the board's plan, students in ninth through 12th grades were to be moved to nearby public, charter and private philanthropic schools, with those from first to eighth grade consolidated into a day school. The school would no longer provide dinner to the students, with after-school programs ending at 6 p.m.
School officials said income from the Girard estate had dropped by nearly a third since 2008, and enrolment has also dropped from 620 in 2010 to just over 400 currently.
Girard College was originally established in 1848 as a boarding school for fatherless white boys. It began accepting minorities in 1968 and girls in 1984. It provided full-time housing to its students until the board cut weekend housing in 2010.
Information from: The Philadelphia Inquirer, http://www.inquirer.com