Texas Conference of Seventh-day Adventist’s executive committee voted Feb. 26 to close Valley Grande Adventist Academy, a 100-year-old boarding school in Weslaco, Texas. This seems to be the final chapter for an institution founded in 1911 that has long been a feeder school for Southwestern Adventist University. This decision was taken despite a 39 percent increase in enrollment at the K-12 educational facility, from 121 students last year to 168 students in the current school year.
Texas Conference President Carlos Craig and president of the academy board Stephen Gifford could not be reached for comment.
In a letter to parents reposted in part on clubadventist.com, it mentions the school is in debt to the conference to the tune of 1.1 million and the school needed to be financially sound to continue operations.
But in a petition on thepetitionsite.com, alumni and friends of the academy said they believe funds were imprudently used by officials at the conference on risky and unnecessary legal battles. They said their goal was to make the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists and General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists aware they are distraught with the business decisions of the current leadership in their conference.
Specifically, they said, they question the conference’s use of money from the Valley Educational Fund, Inc., for legal expenses instead of using the money for running the academy operating expenses, which they said was the original intended use of the money. They would like to see the lost money recuperated for the academy from the Texas Conference. The petition was signed by 248 people.
A 1990 graduate of the academy and president of its alumni association Julio Ochoa reports the academy’s constituency does not accept the conference action. The academy was recently reorganized as a constituent school with its own constitution, which requires the school constituency to vote for closure by a three-quarters super-majority. Ochoa argues that because of this constitutional provision, the conference cannot unilaterally close the school.
In concern over the conference vote, many students and parents attended the academy board meeting March 2, which was also attended by Texas Conference Education Superintendent William Reinke.
“I’m here to report that it was voted by the Texas Conference Executive Committee to close the school down,” Reinke said.
According to Ochoa, who is also on the academy board, all members were present and there was standing room only in the academy chapel. Each board member spoke in turn to protest the conference action, and many upset parents and students conveyed their feelings.
President of Southwestern Adventist University Ken Shaw said he was aware there were financial issues at the academy, but was out of town when the decision was made.
“We have students from Valley Grande Adventist Academy who attend Southwestern Adventist University,” said Shaw. “I have been impressed with the quality of education these students have received from VGAA and how they are involved in many activities here at the University. I know this is a very difficult time for students, parents, teachers, staff, and church members who support VGAA. My prayer goes out to all of them.”
Mary Hilde contributed to this report.