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A major pillar of the Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign is free college. In perhaps the most tragically ironic political metaphor of this election, Burlington College, a small privately owned school in Vermont is now going out of business, largely due to decisions made by Bernie Sanders’ wife, Jane, who served as the college’s president for seven years.
When Jane Sanders was hired by Burlington College in 2004, the school was already facing financial problems but was able to maintain day to day operations for several years.
Things began to change in 2010, when Jane Sanders led the school to a financial decision which would forever alter the school’s destiny.
Under her leadership, Burlington College purchased a lakefront property from the Catholic Diocese of Burlington for $10 million dollars with the goal of expanding the school’s campus.
The decision was considered risky at the time because the school made the purchase by going into debt.
Inside Higher Ed reported:
Thirty-two acres on Lake Champlain make up the college’s new campus. The main building is brick, Victorian, erected in the 1880s to serve as an orphanage.
A vision of radically increased enrollment spurred the college’s purchase. A larger campus would allow the college to double or triple its enrollment – to as many as 750 students, college officials thought.
Burlington College took on $10 million of debt to pay for the new campus. The institution owes $6.5 million in tax-free bonds issued by the Vermont Educational and Health Buildings Finance Agency and purchased by People’s United Bank. The diocese also loaned the college roughly $3.5 million. And the college received a $500,000 loan from Tony Pomerleau, a local philanthropist and real estate developer who’s an old friend of Bernie Sanders, The Burlington Free Press reported.
The diocese, cash-strained by priest sex-abuse lawsuits, was eager to part with the property.
Things went downhill quickly and within one year, the board of trustees at Burlington College had lost confidence in Sanders. The Vermont publication Seven Days reported at the time:
President In Peril
It’s shaping up to be a rough year for college presidents in Burlington. First, University of Vermont president Dan Fogel stepped down suddenly after a scandal involving his wife.
Now it looks like Burlington College president Jane O’Meara Sanders could be losing her job.
Burlington College’s board of trustees has listed “Removal of the President” as an item on next Monday’s meeting agenda. Sanders and Adam Dantzscher, chairman of the college’s board of trustees, have both confirmed it.
Sanders resigned in the fall of 2011 and left the school with a golden parachute of $200,000.
Five years later the school still hadn’t recovered from its financial quagmire and few wanted to admit that the writing was on the wall. In the meantime, her husband had also become an unexpectedly successful contender for the 2016 Democratic nomination. Bernie’s popularity among college students and promises of free higher education threw a spotlight onto his wife’s record.
Politico subsequently released this report in February of this year:
What happened at Sanders U.
When Jane Sanders was in charge of a small private college in Vermont for seven years, it sank deep into debt while trying to expand its campus. Many students took out tens of thousands of dollars in loans to attend, but their investment was questionable: Only a third of former Burlington College students earn more than the average person with a high school diploma.
Jane Sanders’ husband, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, has offered a higher-education plan that would make tuition at public colleges free. But it would do little to prod colleges, public or private, to keep costs down or ensure that a college degree is worthwhile for graduates.
Jane Sanders, who led Burlington College from 2004 to 2011, spent millions on a new campus — 33 acres along the bank of Lake Champlain — to attract more students and donations from alumni. It didn’t work: The college failed to recruit enough students or donations to repay its debts and even came close to losing its accreditation.
Coupled with the continuing bad financial news for Burlington College, came allegations from the Catholic Diocese of Burlington, which in April of this year announced they wanted Jane Sanders investigated for fraud.
Heat Street reported:
Catholic Parishioners: Investigate Bernie Sanders’ Wife for Fraud
The diocese did not respond to a request for an interview. But a source with direct knowledge of the diocese’s involvement in the land acquisition says Burlington College almost immediately struggled to meet its obligations.
“It was within a relatively short time after closing [the deal], they were experiencing financial problems that made it impossible to pay the diocese,” the source says, adding that Burlington soon went into default mode on its loan.
Parishioners now say that to secure loans to buy the land, Ms. Sanders misrepresented the amount that had been pledged to the college in its fundraising push.
Additionally, the Washington Free Beacon reported in January of this year that under Jane Sanders’ tenure, Burlington College steered funds to her daughter and a family friend who had been an adviser to Bernie Sanders while he was mayor of Burlington:
After working for the campaign, the senator’s wife would come under scrutiny for expenditures at Burlington College, where she was hired as president in 2004. While she led the school, it paid six-figure sums to her daughter and the son of a family friend.
Burlington College offered its students a study abroad program in the Caribbean, according to tax filings. It reported spending about $47,000 on that program in the tax year beginning in mid-2008.
Around that time, the son of Jonathan Leopold, a Burlington College board member, purchased a small resort in the Bahamas called Andro’s Beach Club and an accompanying hotel, Nathan’s Lodge.
Leopold served with Sanders in the Burlington city government—as mayor, Sanders appointed Leopold city treasurer—before becoming embroiled in scandal involving millions of dollars in payments to a Burlington telecommunications company…
Her departure was a source of controversy. She reportedly overstated pledged contributions to the school in order to secure a loan from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington. The diocese lost between $1.5 million and $2 million on the deal, according to local reports.
By that time, the school had paid huge sums to the Vermont Woodworking School, which is run by Driscoll. The college eventually paid the school more than $500,000 for classes at its Fairfax, Vt., campus, about 30 miles from Burlington.
Burlington College even established a Master of Fine Arts program in woodworking with leased space at the school as its major facility.
Tax filings show that the college continued paying the woodworking school in the year after O’Meara Sanders left, but stopped doing so the year after that.
As of yesterday, 5/16/16, Burlington College has announced that it will close at the end of this month.
College Once Headed by Bernie Sanders’ Wife Folds Under Financial Weight
A small Vermont college once led by Jane Sanders, wife of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, will close after struggling for years to pay for an expansion made during her tenure.
Burlington College president Dr. Carol Moore announced the closure in a press conference Monday. The College will close by the end of the month after losing its accreditation due to financial pressures incurred from a $10 million property purchase in 2010, intended to expand the campus and increase enrollment. Jane Sanders, wife of Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, was president of Burlington College from 2004 to 2011, and the purchase was made during her time in office.
The Sanders campaign and their allies in media may try to spin this unfortunate situation but the bottom line in undeniable. Burlington College is a victim of poor decisions and crony politics on the behalf of Jane Sanders.
The fact that her husband wants to transform the way higher education is paid for nationwide should give every American voter pause.DONATE
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