On Your Side Investigation: Money problems at one Springfield private school

Published: Apr. 23, 2020 at 7:46 PM CDT
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Teachers at one small private school on Springfield's southside tell On Your Side their paychecks sometimes bounce and a few are late.

Perspectives Preparatory Academy, or PPA, has about 20 students and 10 teachers. It has students with special needs and those who are academically gifted.

PPA is a non-profit and funded by grants and donors. Before closing it's doors for COVID-19, money problems were discovered. New leadership is stepping in with the goal to become stable and keep the school open.

Laurel Smith works at Perspectives Preparatory Academy. She says two of her monthly paychecks bounced.

"Just like the first thing you have to do with any mistake is to acknowledge that an error has been made and then shine that light on it. Fix it," she said.

Catherine Krepinevich is a teacher and says she didn't get paid last month.

"When things financially started going downhill. I think my mindset went to, you're hurting the kids. You're not just hurting me," she said.

KY3 was there when Josh and Courtney Ungaro started PPA a few years ago. Until recently, Courtney Ungaro was both the Executive Director and Board President.

Wendy Jackson is the Interim Executive Director. The board asked her to help, and she has experience running nonprofits.

"We are looking at how things are being run. We have identified some issues. We wanted to take this opportunity to reorganize," she said.

On Your Side pulled the most recent available tax records. In 2017, after expenses, PPA had more than $300,000.

"From 2017 things were going really well. So where did it fall apart? Or start having difficulties? And how can we correct that because we don't want that to reoccur," Jackson said.

After declining an interview, Courtney Ungaro then decided she would talk.

"We won't hide behind the fact that mistakes were made. We should have asked for help sooner. Should have made changes sooner. My husband and I started this with a passion for student with differing abilities. We spent three years trying to figure it out. Honestly, two years ago figured out it wasn't sustainable," she said.

She also says teachers are paid up.

"Any employee who had money owed to them has been paid," Ungaro said.

But Jackson tells us otherwise.

"It's our priority to get that matter resolved," said Jackson.

Courtney stepped down as executive director and president.

"When I stepped into the executive director role, it was out of necessity. We didn't have anyone at the time. I don't have experience in nonprofit and very quickly realized this is so much bigger than the ten kids we thought it was going to be," Ungaro said.

"Often times when you have a non-profit started you have somebody who is very passionate about something and they get it going and at what point do they step back and what is their involvement level? I think that's where we are at," said Jackson.

The plan is for classes to start again once the COVID-19 threat is over.