KANSAS CITY, Mo.— A Missouri military academy and college that dated to 1880 before abruptly shuttering at the end of May can’t afford to pay its faculty as previously promised, according to emails obtained by The Associated Press.
The president and superintendent of what had been Wentworth Military Academy and College, Michael Lierman, told faculty members by email May 16 that they would continue to get paid “as normal” until their contracts expire. The school in Lexington — a town of about 4,700-resident Lexington about 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Kansas City — closed 15 days later.
In announcing in April that Wentworth would close, top administrators of the academy and college that includes federal lawmakers, business titans and a famous zoologist among its alumni cited waning enrollment, rising costs and an aging campus. At that time, Hallquist said Wentworth had 220 cadets who boarded there. Fifty-five of them were high school students, and the rest enrolled in its two-year college program. Roughly 300 civilians were also taking classes there.
On June 27, the academy’s caretaker, Col. Rick Cottrell, emailed faculty members individually to say that Wentworth doesn’t have funds to make additional salary payments for now. He says the academy’s board hopes to liquidate the site’s assets and collect unpaid tuition to get the cash to honor the contracts.
Wentworth still would pay premiums for the affected staffers for their health, vision and dental insurance coverage through Aug. 31, according to an email obtained by AP.
“Please be assured that we are doing all that can be done under these difficult circumstances,” Cottrell wrote.
It was not immediately clear how many faculty members were affected.
Cottrell declined to discuss the matter Friday with the AP and deferred to the academy’s attorney, Allan Hallquist, who didn’t return telephone messages.
The accrediting Higher Learning Commission placed Wentworth on ongoing probation in November 2015, citing “concerns related to integrity regarding the college’s finances and resources to support its academic programs and operations.” The announced closure came three days before commission was to revisit that probation matter.
Wentworth’s prominent alumni include the late U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. co-founder James “Bud” Walton, and zoologist Marlin Perkins, who hosted “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” for more than two decades before his death in 1986.