With $15.7 million endowment, Christ Church Episcopal School got small business PPP loan

Southside Christian School and First Presbyterian Academy have also secured the loans, which do not have to be repaid if stipulations are met. St. Joseph's Catholic School has not returned messages.

Nathaniel Cary
Greenville News

Greenville’s richest and most prestigious K-12 private school, Christ Church Episcopal School, obtained a loan through the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program, and the school plans to use much of the money to pay its 200 employees, officials said.

The private school obtained the loan through the Small Business Administration program that quickly ran out of an initial $350 billion in funding. Congress then replenished it with another $310 billion, with nearly $120 billion remaining May 12. 

Christ Church declined to say how much it received through the program.

John Butler Jr., left, and his younger brother Jordan Butler, middle right, eat lunch with their friends at Christ Church Episcopal School Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2020.

At least 89 private schools across the state have applied for PPP loans, including First Presbyterian Academy and Southside Christian School in Greenville County. By May 8, nearly 56,000 entities in South Carolina were able to secure loans totaling more than $5.8 billion, according to the SBA.

The loans to private schools have since come under fire from President Donald Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin after media reports that schools with sizeable endowments had obtained millions of dollars in loans that they didn't truly need.

The same day news broke that Mnuchin’s children attend an elite Los Angeles private school that had obtained millions through the program, Mnuchin tweeted, “It has come to our attention that some private schools with significant endowments have taken #PPP loans. They should return them.”

Trump’s son Barron attends St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Maryland, which has kept money received through the loan program. Judd Deere, a spokesperson for Trump, told POLITICO, "The president has made it clear that he does not believe private schools with significant endowments should be receiving PPP money, and those that have should consider returning it."

The Trump administration’s criticism put schools in the position of having to consider whether to accept the money or return it under public political pressure even though they met the qualifications for the assistance. 

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Officials at Christ Church — which has 1,100 students, an annual high school tuition of nearly $22,000 and an endowment that in June 2019 totaled $15.7 million — said the school met the guidelines for the loan and sought it only after careful review of finances.

The low-interest loans were designed to allow small businesses to weather the financial shutdown and to pay or rehire employees. The loans can largely be forgiven if used to meet payroll expenses.

“Due to the coronavirus pandemic, CCES faced a certain and substantial decline in revenue and the prospect of budget shortfalls in the coming academic year and beyond,” CCES Head of School Leonard Kupersmith and Doug Qualls, assistant head for finance and operations, said in an emailed statement.

Christ Church has revised its budget to expect fewer students next school year, and school officials have "steeled ourselves for setbacks," Kupersmith has said. 

File photo from 2014 of headmaster of Christ Church Episcopal School, Leonard Kupersmith

About one in five CCES students received financial assistance to attend the school in 2018-19, and that covered 11% of the school’s total tuition, according to CCES. That assistance largely comes from its endowment. 

The school expects the number of students needing financial help to rise. 

The school said economic uncertainty and the “high likelihood that CCES’s students will have increased demand for financial aid support in the coming academic year made the loan a necessity if CCES was to continue its current operations in ways that were not significantly detrimental to the school and its nearly 1,100 students.”

An endowment is a donation of money to a nonprofit that allows the organization to draw from the investment income of the gift to use it for specific expenses, usually while leaving the original donated amount intact. 

Christ Church's endowments were made up of nearly four dozen separate funds, some controlled by the school, some by individuals, with some earmarked for needs-based scholarships, some for operations and some for funding specific activities such as the arts. 

Kupersmith and Qualls said CCES’ endowment isn’t the size of endowments of many of its peer schools. The school has budgeted a draw on its endowment “consistent with prudent fiscal management and applicable donor restrictions that do not permit endowment funds to be used to offset annual operating shortfalls.”

St. Andrews, where Trump’s son attends, reported a $9 million endowment in 2017, according to The New York Times. Brentwood School in L.A., where Mnuchin’s children attend, reported a $17.4 million endowment in 2017, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Christ Church has by far the largest endowment of any of Greenville’s private K-12 schools, according to a review of available tax filings. Some of the other local private schools did apply for PPP loans. 

Patti Wilusz, communication coordinator with Shannon Forest Christian School, which merged with First Presbyterian Academy last year, confirmed the school received a PPP loan. 

Southside Christian School superintendent Sam Barfell said his school has also received a PPP loan in the second round of funding. He declined to share the amount of the loan but said it will be used for payroll and other expenses that meet the federal guidelines to be 100% forgiveable. 

The News called and emailed questions to St. Joseph’s Catholic School but didn’t receive a response.

Bob Jones Academy did not seek a loan through the PPP program, said Randy Page, a school spokesman.

Christ Church said it is confident that its loan is consistent with the rules and guidance of the Paycheck Protection Program “as well as the intention underlying the law.”

Kupersmith and Qualls said the school is grateful for the loan funds that will allow the school to support its employees “and continue its mission of preparing young people for college and ultimately to be productive participants in our local community.” 

– Ariel Gilreath contributed to this report.

Nathaniel Cary is an investigative reporter for The Greenville News. He can be reached at ncary@greenvillenews.com or @nathanielcary on Twitter.