DOWNTOWN — The former director of a small private school here that was forced to file for bankruptcy in November used school funds to pay personal expenses and put her husband and son on the payroll even though it was unclear what services they provided, according to a lawsuit filed last week.
Susan Packer-Davis-Hille, her husband Eric Hille, and her son, Alexander Davis, were named in the suit, filed Friday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court by Concord International High School, formerly located on 19th Street and Wilshire Boulevard.
The suit accuses Packer-Davis-Hille, a former chair of the Santa Monica Rent Control Board who resigned from Concord in November, of using school funds to pay for her son’s apartment in Westwood as well as maintenance to her home. This was on top of paying herself a “grossly inflated” salary of over $300,000 at a time when enrollment at the nonprofit high school was down considerably, according to the lawsuit.
“In sum, Packer-Davis treated [Concord] as her own personal piggy bank and looted [Concord] of hundreds of thousands of dollars,” the complaint states.
Packer-Davis-Hille, her husband and son could not be reached for comment.
The Daily Press in January first uncovered the alleged mismanagement by Packer-Davis-Hille after parents informed the newspaper that the school filed for bankruptcy and was forced to cease operations before the close of the winter session, putting the future of roughly 50 students and their teachers in jeopardy (“Teachers, parents fight to save Concord High,” Jan. 13, 2011, page 1).
Teachers from Concord International, with the help of parents, have since started a new school, Concord Prep, at the Santa Monica Boys & Girls Club in an effort to provide some continuity for the students. It is unclear if the school will be able to continue after the summer.
Concord International was founded in 1973 by the late Sonya Packer, a UCLA educator and Packer-Davis-Hille’s mother. It quickly forged a reputation as a rigorous academic institution that often sent graduates on to prestigious Ivy League universities. Students who may have had learning disabilities or problems with drugs and alcohol seemed to thrive at the school, which boasted small class sizes where teachers could give students more assistance.
Parents and teachers told the Daily Press that they could never have imagined that a school with a strong academic reputation and a legacy like Concord’s would go under.
Teachers and parents last year began to notice enrollment was down from the typical class of 100 students to roughly 50, but they believed it was a symptom of the struggling economy and more parents turning to public schools. They said they had no idea Packer-Davis-Hille was paying herself what was in their minds an exorbitant salary.
According to tax records filed by Concord, Packer-Davis-Hille in 2007 was earning a salary of $288,000. During that time the school had a revenue stream of $1.6 million and expenses totaling $1.8 million. In 2009, Packer-Davis-Hille gave herself a raise, putting her salary at $308,000. The school had revenue totaling roughly $1.5 million, meaning Packer-Davis-Hille’s salary alone was roughly 20 percent of the school’s total revenue.
In comparison, recently-appointed LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy signed a contract for a base salary of $330,000 to manage the nation’s second largest school district with a budget in the billions. Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Superintendent Tim Cuneo had a base salary of $220,000 in 2009.
At New Roads, a private school on Olympic Boulevard, total revenue for 2009 was roughly $13 million and they paid their head of school a base salary of $248,682.
Tax records also showed that over three years, Packer-Davis-Hille spent close to $700,000 on undocumented expenses attributed to conferences, conventions and meetings.
The Daily Press obtained copies of canceled Concord High checks signed by Packer-Davis-Hille for parts of 2009-10 amounting to more than $22,000 to the Palazzo Westwood Village, a luxury apartment complex where her son was rumored to live, and $9,000 to the W Hotel.
According to the suit, Packer-Davis-Hille charged more than $380,000 to the school’s credit card. It is unclear how much of that was for school-related expenses, but those close to the situation said the purchases were personal. A source told the Daily Press that Packer-Davis-Hille used Concord money to pay for her son’s fees to practice law in California and lied on college recommendations for her two sons, saying they participated in extra-curricular activities that never existed at the school.
The suit also says she paid her husband $45,000 and her son $53,000 in 2009-10.
It wasn’t until Packer-Davis-Hille left the school in November and the new board took over that they started asking questions about the school’s finances. The previous board consisted only of Packer-Davis-Hille and her husband, and there was no formal parent-teacher association, said Richard Corlin, chair of the board for the now-defunct Concord whose son was a senior at the school when it was forced to file for bankruptcy.
Corlin and teachers who spoke with the Daily Press said they later learned that only a handful of students were paying full tuition while the majority were on scholarship, setting the school up for financial failure. They believe Packer-Davis-Hille planned to resign as soon as her youngest son graduated from Concord.
The landlord of the building the school was renting on Wilshire Boulevard filed court papers to evict the school, forcing the board to file for bankruptcy to stop the action at least until the end of the winter session.
Packer-Davis-Hille abruptly left, leaving the new board to sort things out. Immediately meetings were held with parents and faculty to devise a plan to keep the school open. Around $300,000 was needed to finish out the school year, Corlin said. Parents were able to raise roughly $60,000 to keep the school open until the end of the first semester.
Now Concord International is essentially a school without walls, existing only to help parents in getting transcripts so their children can continue their education elsewhere. The school has agreed to issue diplomas to those seniors who complete similar curriculum either online or at another school.