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Parents, Staff and Students at Donahue Academy Upset by Recent Staff Cuts

Many parents and staff at the Rhodora Donahue Academy in Ave Maria have lots of questions – but few answers – about recent actions and deliberations of the K-12 Catholic school's board of directors.

The board sent shock waves through the Donahue community in late April when it was announced that due to a need to "reduce its administrative costs" the school would be parting ways with three popular and highly regarded employees – Dean of Formation and head football coach Rich Scanlon, Assistant Athletic Director and PE teacher Janet DeLiso, and art teacher Mary Stuller.

"I consider faculty and staff of this caliber essential to the mission of Donahue Catholic," said parent Melissa Burke, echoing an opinion expressed by several other parents. "I have seven children enrolled for next year and I can't imagine sending them if the board is willing to so easily fire such fine people. Who knows who might be next?"

Brian Lawe, a Donahue parent who has served on the Donahue board, told board President Michael Schwartz that parents have offered to contribute enough money to the school to keep the three affected employees working there next year, but the board, after a meeting May 24, issued a statement that did not acknowledge the offer.

"We are disappointed in the response we got from the board and their actions," Mr. Lawe said.

One of the questions on many parents' minds is what will happen to Donahue's highly successful 8-man football team once Mr. Scanlon departs. "I was told I could remain as coach" as a volunteer Mr. Scanlon said in an interview, "but it all depends on what will happen with my future job situation."

In a statement following the May 24 meeting, the board acknowledged "concerns from some Donahue parents about the Board decision to reduce Academy expenses by reorganizing and eliminating some positions," adding that the board would meet again June 6 to finalize the 2016-17 budget.

The board that meets June 6 will have some new faces following the resignation of directors Deacon John Jarvis and Carole Carpenter. The directors voted 4-1 vote on May 24 to add two employees of Ave Maria University to the board – CFO Bob Farnham and Athletic Director Kim King. The one dissenting vote was cast by Mrs. Carpenter, a former AMU vice president who led the university's fundraising efforts for many years. "I disagreed with the decisions made and could not stand behind them based on the means and methods used for making them," Mrs. Carpenter said in a statement to The Ave Herald.

The board's statement said that the Donahue Academy has never operated in the black, and that for the last two years, "Ave Maria University has provided the necessary financial support to keep the Academy afloat." In recognition of this, the board said, AMU was increasing its representation on the Donahue board. All five voting board members now have close ties to AMU. In addition to Mr. Farnham and Mrs. King, who are on the university staff, the three other board members – Mr. Schwartz, Michael Timmis and Paul Roney – also serve on the AMU board.

Although the operation and financing of AMU and Donahue have been intertwined since Tom Monaghan founded both schools, they are separate 501(c)(3) charitable organizations.

The Donahue board also said in its statement that it would be turning to the AMU Education department, chaired by founding Donahue Headmaster Dan Guernsey, for "important input and support to the Academy in the years ahead."

The statement did not elaborate on that nature of the involvement of the AMU Education department or Dr. Guernsey and Mr. Schwartz, reached by telephone, declined to answer any questions about the board's statement or its actions. He said that he might have more to say following the board's June 6 meeting.

"Part of the problem with the board's response is that it is completely inadequate in explaining anything," Mr. Lawe said. "The inadequacy of the response is leading to just more uncertainty. We're not giving up."

The transition from Dr. Guernsey's leadership has not gone entirely smoothly since he moved over to AMU at the start of the 2014-15 academic year. His successor, Regina Code, left after her first year on the job and Mark Jahnke was promoted to assume the position of headmaster on an interim basis. Mr. Jahnke appears to have won the respect of parents and students, and the board said in its first statement about the current situation that it made the decisions on staff changes itself and did not ask Mr. Jahnke to do it.

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