Huntington Learning Center's closing feels like betrayal to Spring Hill mother

SPRING HILL — It's painful to watch your child struggle with school. Homework is a nightly battle, often ending in tears, and reports cards and conferences are dreaded.

For one local family, what seemed like a solution to those problems brought another round of grief after the Huntington Learning Center on Spring Hill Drive closed. The family says it is still owed about $3,000 in services for which it had already paid.

Gail Denny took out a $7,000 Sallie Mae loan in May to enroll her elementary-age son. She was happy with the program and was shocked when the center shut down Feb. 6.

Denny feels betrayed by franchise owner Lawrence Stellato Jr.

"I gave him a gift for Christmas," she said. "I just can't believe he was in the works of closing down."

Stellato would not comment on the details of the situation.

"My particulars are unique, and for legal purposes I cannot say anything about them," he said last week.

While Stellato would not comment publicly, Denny said he did speak with her, saying he was sorry, but that there wasn't anything he could do. He told her he was losing everything.

Russell Miller, vice president of business development for Huntington Learning Centers, said his New Jersey-based company has been frustrated over the situation and is working to find a purchaser for the franchise.

"The business got the better of him," Miller said, referring to Stellato. "It didn't end the way we would have liked."

Miller said another franchise was willing to honor agreements with about 20 Hernando County families affected by the closure. They would have to commute to centers in Land O'Lakes or New Port Richey for classes.

"We appreciate the faith that families had in us and hopefully we can restore that," he added.

"I can't refund any of their money, but I can certainly provide the tutoring which they have already paid for," said Art Stoutenburg, franchise owner of centers in Land O'Lakes and New Port Richey. He said he would like for any parents who haven't been contacted yet to call one of his centers.

Denny said it's been a sobering experience to learn that even a national company like Huntington can experience failure of one of its centers, and parents who opted for a student loan might lose thousands of dollars.

"I'm (still) making my loan payments," Denny said. "I don't want to ruin my credit."

News researcher Will Short Gorham contributed to this report.

Huntington Learning Center's closing feels like betrayal to Spring Hill mother 03/01/09 [Last modified: Sunday, March 1, 2009 7:37pm]

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