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Pathfinder School to close in June

TRAVERSE CITY — Interlochen Center for the Arts will close the Pathfinder School in June, citing declining enrollment and financial losses.

Pathfinder's current enrollment includes 100 full-time students in the first through eighth grades and 44 students in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten.

The decision to close came seven years after Interlochen took over Pathfinder, a private school located on a 22-acre campus several miles north of Traverse City along M-22.

Jeffrey Kimpton, Interlochen's president, said recent projections of future enrollment and private giving showed that keeping Pathfinder open wasn't financially feasible. The school receives no tax dollars and relies primarily on tuition and donations.

"This is a multi-year trend we saw,” Kimpton said. "The Traverse City Area Public Schools have an excellent reputation. Add parochial, religious or charter schools and parents have far more educational options today than they did a few short years ago, all either free or considerably less expensive than Pathfinder,” Kimpton said.

Paul Montie, father of two Pathfinder students, said parents were "surprised and angry” and hadn't been directly informed as of Wednesday evening about the decision to close. He said Interlochen officials in November established target dates for enrollment and fundraising, but those deadlines haven't passed and supporters haven't been given the chance to meet them.

"I honestly believe that Pathfinder will exist,” Montie said. "People love the school.”

Arthur and Nancy Baxter founded Pathfinder in 1972 as a private K-12 private school, and the institution struggled with financial deficits since its beginning. The school removed grades nine through 12 in 1986 when it was facing $1 million in debt.

Since merging with Pathfinder in 2000, Interlochen invested more than $850,000 for capital improvements and debt reduction and also lost more than $850,000 in operating the school. Projections showed the school would lose another $250,000 in 2007-2008.

This year's tuition for full-time students is $8,900 and was slated to increase to $10,500 next year.

Most of Pathfinder's 22 employees will be laid off, although attempts will be made to relocate some staff to Interlochen's main campus, Kimpton said. He said Interlochen's board of trustees will soon begin exploring future uses for the campus.

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