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Meet Malachi Raymond, fourth-grader caught between welfare and the Blake School

Malachi Raymond: Little renaissance man.

Malachi Raymond: Little renaissance man.

Malachi Raymond, a student at the elite Blake School, attended his first day of fourth grade yesterday.

 

Malachi's teachers like him. According to his progress reports, Malachi is a little renaissance man. Teachers describe him as "independent" and "exuberant." They write that he's a "curious learner" and a "scientific thinker." One teacher also notes that he's "starting to view himself as a writer, which he certainly is." Another describes him as "a lovely person who takes pride in himself and drinks deeply from the cup of life."

The school cares so much about Malachi that it's invested about a hundred thousand dollars in financial aid for him since he first enrolled. This year, the school is picking up the tab on $21,000 of his tuition. Blake spokeswoman Cathy McLane says Malachi is "an awesome kid. He's doing really great here at Blake. We love him."

Which is why his mother, Quendy, was frustrated when school administrators told her this spring that she needed to pay an $800 balance on unpaid tuition for the previous year or else her son would be "met at the door and turned away" on the first day of school.

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It's not that she didn't want to pay the money, she tells City Pages. Her problem was that she lost her job in the spring and spent the summer months on welfare.

Quendy and Malachi Raymond

Quendy and Malachi Raymond

"When you don't have money," she says, "you don't have money."

Quendy Raymond had worked as the executive director of Kaleidoscope Place for five years. Kaleidoscope Place is a nonprofit dedicated to being "a safe place for children to go during the summer months" and an afterschool program the rest of the year. She says she quit that job out of frustration with the work schedule and the center's tight budget. She also wanted to spend more time with her son and work a 9-to-5 schedule.

"I thought I could lay myself off and get unemployment until I got a new job," she says. Then she found out that you can't get unemployment unless someone else fires you, so she had to go to the public aid office for food stamps.

Raymond's a single mother living with Malachi near Powderhorn Park.

Because of her financial problems, Raymond has been fighting with the school all summer. She had a similar problem last year when her car broke down and needed to be repaired. She asked the school to work out a payment plan with her to allow her son to attend school while she pays off the remainder of the balance over the coming months but says she was rebuffed.

That makes her believe the school doesn't get what it means to be poor, black, and urban.

"He goes to school with kids who live in mansions," she notes.

Business director Marc Bogursky and school head John Gula directed us to spokeswoman Cathy McLane, who declined to comment on the specific financial dispute between Raymond and the school. She declined to discuss particulars.

"We don't talk about financial arrangements -- good, bad, or indifferent -- outside the school and its families," says McLane. "It's absolutely Quendy's prerogative to talk about that stuff. We're just not going to go there."

But McLane does dispute Raymond's argument that the school doesn't understand its poor students.

There are about 1,400 students at Blake, and 232 received some financial aid last year, according to McLane, who notes that 61 students received somewhere between 81 and 97 percent of their tuition covered by financial aid.

"Each year Blake awards over $4 million dollars in aid," she tells City Pages. It's "one of the largest financial aid budgets of all independent schools in the entire Midwest."

Furthermore, the Board of Trustees sets aside 14 percent of tuition and fee revenue for financial aid every year.

"We think diversity adds immeasurably to an education," she says. "It's socioeconomic, race, religion, which is one of the things that differentiates us from other schools. All facets make a really big difference for a world that's incredibly diverse."

But she can't explain what the problems between Raymond and the school are all about, except that there must have been some sort of misunderstanding at some point.

"I know we do adjust financial aid awards as needed," she says. "We do an awful lot."

Malachi Raymond making a presentation about dragons

Malachi Raymond making a presentation about dragons

When Raymond first reached out to City Pages, we called the school to ask for more information. That afternoon, the assistant Lower School director, Sheri Fabian, and another administrator, Marie Michaels, called Raymond and asked to see her.

Raymond says they met her downtown and pressured her into withdrawing Malachi.

"We think you should find a new school now," she says they told her.

That evening, they called Raymond and presented her with another option: They said they'd met with John Gula, the director of the school, about her situation.

"They said if I pay tuition before school starts, good, or I can keep him in for a week" until she gets her next paycheck and can pay the remaining balance.

McLane tells City Pages that she "wouldn't be surprised" if our phone call caused administrators to visit Raymond. She says our call might've represented to someone that "there was not resolution somewhere. We may have thought we had resolution."

She says she doesn't believe that the school ever meant to keep Malachai from returning, even if that's the impression Raymond got.

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"We'll do everything we can to keep our community whole," says McLane.

Over the weekend, Raymond wrote the school a check for the remaining balance so that her son would be able to attend. She says it means that other bills won't get paid.

City Pages asked the school if they have been more flexible or understanding in dealing with her situation.

"Every family at Blake pays something," she says. "If you think about it, it's one of the dynamics of a private school, especially in Minnesota since we have great public schools. If you choose a private school, there's a piece of that that's investing."

Despite Malachi's triumphant return yesterday, Raymond says she is preparing him for life after Blake. She fears that the school will terminate financial aid for him next year in response to her speaking out about what she feels is their insensitive handling of her financial situation.

Sitting at a table in a small coffee shop just blocks from Powderhorn Park, she asks Malachi if he would be okay going to a public school.

He nods.

"Only if it's their decision," he says.

Raymond says she appreciates what the school has done for her: It gives big money to Malachi and it's a great school. But she also says the school needs to appreciate that the relationship isn't one-sided.

"I give them an amazing child who thrives and makes other kids there amazing," she says.