Concord International High School, a private school that had been operating in Santa Monica for more than 37 years, went bankrupt last November. On April 8 a civil lawsuit was filed by the school that accused its former Director/CEO, Susan Packer Davis, her husband, and her son of causing the bankruptcy by using school funds for personal use.
The suit that was filed by attorney Howard S. Levine from Cypress LLP alleges that Packer Davis, who is also an attorney, paid “herself a grossly inflated salary,” $308,000 in 2009, $301,000 in 2008, and $288,000 in 2007, that was not appropriate for the number of students enrolled or with the amount of revenues or profits the school earned. In addition, she “misappropriated additional funds under the guise of “conferences, conventions and meetings.” These funds were $221,026 in 2007, $288,559 in 2008 and $254,476 in 2009.
Packer Davis also allegedly used school funds to pay for services to her personal residence and paid her husband and son payments for questionable services to the school. Packer Davis is also accused of using school funds to pay her son’s monthly rent at the Palazzo Westwood Village (a total of $22,500) and using a school credit card for personal expenses.
“In sum, Packer Davis treated the Debtor (Concord International High School) as her own personal piggy bank and looted the Debtor of hundreds of thousands of dollars,” reads the suit that was filed in the United States Bankruptcy Court.
Abby Arnold, a grant writer, whose son attended the school last fall, said she chose the school because it was small and intensely academic. Within weeks of her son starting school she said she was contacted about writing grants for fundraising and “thought there was some financial problem.” She then came to a meeting just as Packer Davis and her husband were leaving, where she said she was told “the school is closing on Nov. 10 (2010) and the teachers are paid in full until the end of November.” The parents of seniors then formed a new Board of Directors, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and through fundraising managed to pay the teachers through December.
Richard Corlin was the chair of the new board. As they began to look into the school’s financial affairs they learned that only seven of the school’s more than fifty students were paying the full annual tuition of $29,000. The rest were paying very little and there was no recruiting for students or fundraising. Packer Davis was not following the procedures every other private school follows for deciding who should receive financial aid which includes having parents file an application with Student School Services (SSS) deciding what percent should be on financial aid, and fundraising.
The board also learned the rent for the school’s 1831 Wilshire Boulevard location hadn’t been paid since May of 2010. Corlin also mentioned that while Packer Davis was the director, only she and her husband were on the school’s board.
Corlin and Arnold also mentioned that Packer Davis discouraged interaction between the parents. There was no Parent Teachers Association, no school meetings, and no directory was distributed to families that listed the families and their contact information. In hindsight Corlin and Arnold think that might be because she didn’t want them discussing how much they were each paying for tuition.
Corlin chose the school for his son based on the annual ad posted by Packer Davis in the Los Angeles Times. He noted that the school “took kids that were basically bright and turned them into spectacular scholars. Rather than leave with that legacy they chose to steal the money, destroy the school, ruin the children’s senior year, and leave their own reputations in shreds.”
He added that Packer Davis was even using school funds to pay her annual bar dues. His son is now finishing his senior year through home schooling.
A second board was then formed by parents of non-seniors who took what was left of Concord International High School and created Concord Prep. The Oxford West Foundation now funds this new entity and the board’s chair is Matthias Ftelzner. This board, chaired by Matthias Ftelzner, took what was left of Concord International High School and created Concord Prep. The Oxford West Foundation funds this new entity.
Ftelzner noted that his board is “focusing on a new school not the former director.” The school is currently holding classes at the Santa Monica Boys and Girls Club and they have negotiated a lease to remain there for the 2011-2012 academic year. He stressed the relationship with the Boys and Girls Club is complementary because they don’t use their facilities during the week until 2:30 p.m. The board is also focusing on recruiting more students and setting up for summer school.
Lastly, the Mirror spoke with Concord Prep’s Co-Director Marissa de Siena. She had been a teacher at Concord International High School for six years before becoming a director. She and other teachers had noticed Packer Davis “seemed increasingly withdrawn and depressed so we thought she wanted to retire. We thought it was due to the recession.
“No one imagined in his or her wildest dreams what was going on. It was a complete shock,” de Siena said. “All the teachers were always paid.”
The co-director also mentioned that when the enrollment dropped from about 100 students to 55 students, the teachers thought it was because of the recession. There were never any faculty meetings, but after the enrollment declined the teachers started to go to lunch on a weekly basis. This helped the ten-member faculty become a cohesive unit which has continued at Concord Prep. She also emphasized the new school “wanted to start clean and is now operating with full transparency.” They have dropped their tuition to $17,000 per year and are working with Student School Services to decide on student scholarships, and parents are doing research to find grant and scholarship money.
Arnold is concerned that law-enforcement is not going after Packer Davis. “If you can get away with this type of robbery, if this is not subject to prosecution and robbing a liquor store is, what does that say?”
Packer Davis’ mother, Sonya Packer, founded the school and she became its director in the 1990s.