Judge: Boarding school at Girard College stays

 Girard College, founded more than 150 years ago to serve disadvantaged students, cannot suspend its high school and boarding programs to help solve its financial problems. (AP file photo)

Girard College, founded more than 150 years ago to serve disadvantaged students, cannot suspend its high school and boarding programs to help solve its financial problems. (AP file photo)

A Philadelphia judge has put the brakes on plans by Girard College to suspend its high school and boarding programs next year in order to restore the school’s finances.

Girard College is a unique institution in Philadelphia. Established by 19th century merchant Stephen Girard, it offers a free education from first through 12th grades for kids of single parents at its 43-acre campus in North Philadelphia.

The school’s board asked Philadelphia Orphans Court for permission to shut down the high school and boarding programs for a few years to let the institution’s sagging trust fund recover. Spokesman Kevin Feeley, himself a Girard graduate, said it’s a matter of dollars and cents.

“The simple fact is that Girard, at the moment, is living beyond its means,” Feeley said in a phone interview. “It’s spending more money than it’s taking in. And that, in the board’s view, is a recipe for financial ruin.”

Feeley said the trust fund established by Stephen Girard currently stands at around $260 million, and the board’s plan was to save enough by suspending the boarding school and high school to let the fund grow to about $350 million, at which point those programs could be restored and sustained.

Judge Joseph O’Keefe ruled that the residential and high school programs are an essential part of Girard’s mission, noting that the school’s finances have improved lately. So the programs remain open.

Brandon Dixon, a Girard senior who is student body president, said the boarding school helps a lot of Philadelphia kids avoid bad choices readily available in their neighborhoods.

“It’s so easy to get caught up in things, especially in high school, and having the opportunity to be here for residential removes all those problems,” Dixon said. “It means you’re in a gated community, and you’re learning some of the core values you’re supposed to be learning as as student and as a person.”

Joseph Samuel, who heads the school’s alumni association, said he looks forward to working with the board to find innovative ways for the school to fulfill its education mission and keep its books balanced.

“We feel, and the judge made it clear in his ruling, that the intent of Stephen Girard was to provide these kids with a residential education through high school,” Samuel said in a phone interview.

Feeley said the board hasn’t decided whether to appeal the ruling.

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