(WBIR-Knoxville) Parents and teachers at a Farragut learning center are banding together to try and save their school after they say they were blindsided by a letter informing them the church was shutting down operations.
"I was so overwhelmingly angry I had tears squirting sideways out of my face. And ultimately from there I kind of wanted to proactively do something!," said Susan Bennett Lopez, whose son is enrolled at Faith Early Learning Center, or FELC, off Campbell Station Road.
Faith Lutheran Church, which moved to a bigger facility next door, owns the building, half of which is occupied by FELC. In a letter handed out to teachers and staff during a meeting on Wednesday, the church council explained it is closing the school on May 23rd: "Faith Early Learning Center teachers and carefivers are sincerely thanked for the excellent dedication and support they have provided our students and to Faith Lutheran Church."
The letter went on to source financial issues, along with competition from private schools and the public schools expansion of full day kindergarten, as the reasons for closing FECL.
"If the problem is truly, as the council has said, a financial problem, we would like to be able to attempt to save the school. And keep our children here," said Bennett Lopez.
The letter, signed by Samuel Howard, Council President, said the FECL had an operating loss of nearly $135,000 in 2013, and stated the council is not in a financial position to continue to operate and support the school with these kinds of losses.
"They're charging so little for us to be here, that it really is just about the kids," said Bennett Lopez. "So there are a lot of people who might have chimed in and done something."
Bennett Lopez started a facebook group, "Save Faith Early Learning Center," which had nearly 80 members by Friday afternoon.
"All of the parents I feel, would really have liked to have the opportunity , a meeting, to get together and say hey, we're in this financial bind. What can we do?," said Bennett Lopez.
Teachers said nearly 100 students, ages 2 through Kindergarten students, are enrolled at the school.
"I feel betrayed. I feel very betrayed. Especially if they knew it. You know we have these kids, we love these kids," said Marlena Engstrom, a teacher at FELC.
Engstrom said she had no idea the school would be closing until Wednesday's meeting.
"It completely blindsided families. Especially with such short notice. Especially after they allowed families to register. If they knew they were going to close they should have done that before families registered."
Families were told their money would go towards their May invoices, instead, and parents of newly enrolled students would receive a refund check.
"I don't know what I'm going to do now," said Bennett Lopez. "There are other places in this community, but there is no where like this. This is not a daycare, this is somewhere where our children become little kids."
"Teaching preschool, it's never about the money. It's about the families. It's about the kids and the families," said Engstrom.
10News talked to the pastor, Dr. Robert Stelter, who did not want to comment. 10News also reached out to Howards, but did not receive a response.
A congregation town hall meeting is scheduled for Monday, April 28th.
"The council said it's a done deal, so I don't know the point of the meeting," said Bennett Lopez. "But if we can save our school, we need to save our school. Because this goes beyond just my family, it's a lot of families and the community."