PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) -- The Office of Higher Education is looking into the sudden closure of The Sawyer School, but the for-profit institution's landlord got a letter last week saying that ‘operations have been suspended'.
"They owe me at least $15,000 dollars," landlord George Thurber said to Target 12, referring to December's unpaid rent.
The school's Providence location was locked and deserted. The Pawtucket location was also empty other than Thurber's handyman changing the locks.
"I just want to make sure I know who goes in and who goes out," Thurber said.
In the letter to Thurber, Paul Kelly, the President of Academic Enterprises, Inc. which owns The Sawyer School, said school operations were suspended. Kelly wrote that he could not elaborate.
"I am no longer an employee of the school and cannot speak on its behalf," he wrote in the letter.
Kelly did not return phone calls or emails from Target 12.
Documents obtained by Eyewitness News indicate Academic Enterprises owed about $800,000 in back taxes to the Internal revenue Service as of June 30, 2012. The same document states that the company owed $1.3 million to the U.S.Department of Education.
Trainor said the company settled the debt by agreeing to pay $1.8 million to the federal government. Trainor added that he believes that could've pushed the institution over the edge.
According to Trainor, the state conducted its annual review of the school in August but the details of that were not immediately available.
Students showed up for class at the Hartford Avenue location on Wednesday but discovered deadbolted doors and a lack of answers . According to Michael Trainor, a spokesman for the Office of Higher Education, 250 students were enrolled the school's Medical Assistant Secretary program and another 52 in the Business Information Services program.
"According to the website, tuition was up to $10,000 a semester," Trainor said.
The state set up a hotline for students, but the two lines remained busy most of the day, and Trainor said by noon close to 100 calls were answered. Trainor said the state is reviewing how state regulations apply to a "proprietary school" such as Sawyer. Trainor added that a review of the school's finances is underway as well.
Some students told Eyewitness News they received messages from the school over the weekend but others say they were blind-sided.
"They called me last week," student Donna King said. "They told me to be here today and now the doors are locked.".
Other students received a letter that read in part that, 'classes scheduled to resume in January have been permanently suspended'. The letter went onto say the school would work with the appropriate agencies to make transcripts available.
The Department of Higher Education hotline is (401) 277-5018.
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