Auburn private school closes; director resigns, accused of mishandling funds

Auburn Gateway, a private school, abruptly shut its doors this week. - Robert Whale/Auburn Reporter
Auburn Gateway, a private school, abruptly shut its doors this week.
— image credit: Robert Whale/Auburn Reporter

Auburn Gateway, a private school operating out of Messiah Lutheran Church in Auburn, abruptly closed its doors Tuesday night, surprising parents and students alike.

The sudden closure followed hard upon allegations that the school's former director, Emily Gomes, had mishandled funds, media reports say. Gomes resigned last Friday, and the school canceled classes indefinitely, Q13 FOX News reported Wednesday.

Teachers' paychecks were bouncing because the money had disappeared, staff told Q13 FOX News. Lisa Monto, Gateway's acting director, is not sure where the funds have gone, Q13 FOX News reported. Many of the teachers told the station that they intend to stay on the job and work for free as long as possible. Many parents said they have already paid tuition through the end of the school year – as much as $700 a month, Q13 FOX News reported.

Gateway – an independent, nondenominational Christian-values school established in 2009 – has offered hands-on, experimental learning for kids who excel, and at their own pace.

Cal Hunzicker, chairman of Messiah Lutheran Church's lease committee, noted that the church and the school are not affiliated, other than as lessor and lessee.

School officials, reported to be meeting with attorneys Friday afternoon, were unavailable for comment.

"We've been told that eventually they will try to resurrect their school under new management, new ownership," Hunzicker said. "For now, the children are being dispersed to other schools. Kip Herren, superintendent of the Auburn School District, was very gracious in phoning and offering to take the kids."

Monto recently sent the following letter to parents:

Gateway Families:

It is with much sadness that I tell to you tonight. I don't know very many of you very well, because that has been part of Emily Gomes' role at Gateway up to this point. My main role at Gateway the past three years has been to work with your children and their teachers and the curriculum.

I know you have received Emily's resignation letter.We received her resignation Friday, so we started to group a new leadership team to carry on the school with as little impact to the students and their families as possible. We also met with Emily's husband, and let him know the situation and what we needed in terms of cash to keep the school going. At that time, he was cooperative and had the school's best interest in mind and was going to help us get through this transition with a financial backing.

Our leadership team worked round the clock for the last couple days, trying to determine the best course of action. During this process, the Gomes' stopped returning phone calls and told us that our communication needs to go through their lawyer.At this point, we sought out a lawyer ourselves and met with him today. Talking with him today, it became apparent that we were not going to be able to save the current company started by Emily.

So it is with much sadness that I inform you all that the school of Auburn Gateway is closed, effective immediately. The church has graciously agreed to let us use their building and we will have volunteer staff here for the remainder of the week and we will be running "Beauty and the Beast" rehearsal for all students pre-K and older. This will take place from 8-5 p.m. and they will need to bring a sack lunch.

As we move forward we would like to discuss our vision for a new school with similar educational values. We're conducting a meeting tomorrow night at 7 p.m. to give you all more information and to provide a format for you to express your ideas.The promises we can make are that we will be working as diligently and hard as possible to rebuild what we have started. We want you all to know that we have a deep passion for the education of your kids and are dedicated to them.

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