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School's shaky future hits family

Published Sep. 13, 2005

(ran NTP edition)

If you want to know the effects of the chaos at Carrollwood Day School, ask the Albergos what will happen to their child next year. Or their other child. Or the other one.

Or three of their other kids.

Of the family's seven children, all but 1-year-old Tahoe go to the financially shaken school _ for now, at least. The family has no idea where the children will go in the fall.

"There are no guarantees about the school," says Caryl Albergo. "That's the bottom line."

Still, she'd like to send her kids back there next year, if she begins to feel more secure about the place _ and "if I can talk my husband into it."

Caryl Albergo says she wants the kids to continue in the only school they have ever known, where 10-year-old Trevor has gone since he was 3 and where the family had expected to send Tahoe when he gets past the drooling and crawling phase.

But like many other families, the Albergos are looking at other schools. Nick Albergo might want to send the older kids to Seven Springs Elementary, the public school nearest their Odessa home, and to try to keep the younger kids at Carrollwood Day School. But under that scenario, Trevor would have to move again in the sixth grade, for middle school.

Caryl Albergo has looked at the public school and likes it. But even though she attended public schools, she says they are foreign territory for the family.

"I don't even know that much about public schools," she says. "You just hear the horror stories."

If they do return to the day school, it won't be cheap. For the school to stay afloat, the interim board running it is requiring parents to pay $1,000 to enroll their kids next year _ in addition to tuition costs. Already this year, when owner and headmistress Kathy Gentner abruptly announced the school was close to insolvency, parents were asked for $1,000 per child to bail out the school.

For most families, that would mean a couple thousand dollars beyond tuition costs. For the Albergos, the money could buy a midsize automobile.

Here's a breakdown: The Albergos paid $6,000 for the bailout.

"And that money's gone," says Nick Albergo, a chemical engineer who makes $125,000 a year.

Before they knew the school was in financial crisis, they paid $600 per child for deposits on next year's tuition _ a total of $3,600.

"And that money's gone," he says, shaking his head. The deposit will not be credited toward next year's tuition.

If they re-enroll their children, a decision they will have to make in the next couple of weeks, they will be required to pay another $6,000. That comes in addition to the more than $30,000 it would cost for tuition for the six children _ $6,100 each for the older kids, less for the pre-schoolers.

The Albergos are trying to decide whether Carrollwood Day School is worth that kind of money.

"I want to make sure that if I do pay more money, I won't get less quality," Caryl Albergo says. "I don't want all the extras taken out."

For the rest of this year at least, some of those extras have been taken out. Resource teachers who help the classroom teachers have been let go, as have some administrative employees. Members of the interim board that is running the school say they want those staffers to return, but they don't know how much the school can afford next year.

"That's what we're paying for. That's the Cadillac," Nick Albergo says. "And now we get _ what? _ a Volkswagen."

He says he is furious with headmistress Gentner, whom he holds responsible for his family's dilemma. "I take it very personally," he says, echoing statements from some other parents.

Calls to Gentner at the school were referred to her lawyer, Leslie Barnett. Barnett could not be reached for comment.

Both parents say they are worried about the effects on their children, especially if they must transfer to new schools.

Ten-year-old Trevor, now in fourth grade, rattles off some of the reasons he likes the school.

"It has lots of trees and animals. Woodpeckers. Squirrels," he says, looking up from his homework, wearing a big grin. "And a pig."

Caryl Albergo says the kids cry when they think about leaving. "I think it really affects kids more than we know," she says.

A few minutes later, Trevor volunteers more information about things he likes at the school.

"It's not like a public school cafeteria. We can eat lunch outside," he says. "You can get pizza or nuggets from Chick-fil-A or from Subway, you can get a whole bunch of stuff. I get ham and cheese."

Caryl Albergo wants the kids to be able to return next year to the woodpeckers and pigs and the ham sandwiches.

But she knows that whether the school succeeds depends on how many families return next year. Trouble is, she wants to know how many other families will sign up before she re-enrolls her kids, and that is information she probably won't be able to get.

"We're all afraid to jump," she says. "We don't want to jump alone."