Judge orders mediation for former employees, founder of defunct school

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A city judge has ordered Alexandria Academy founder T.R. Ahlstrom into mediation with five former employees who claim the defunct private school owes them unpaid wages.
    
Court documents reveal former chief financial officer Richard Seltzer, director of external affairs Ann Goddin, assistant headmaster and director of student life Mark Woodson, instructor of humanities Pamela Koury and science and math fellow Ashley Jovanoski filed warrant in debts against Ahlstrom earlier in the spring and summer. 
    
Alexandria General District Court Judge Donald M. Haddock Jr. sent the feuding group to mediation despite Ahlstroms denial he ever served as their employer. The former headmasters lawyers, Kristi Johnson and Yoora Pak of Wilson Elser Moskowitze Edelman and Dicker, argued Ahlstrom was an agent of the Fund for a Classical Education, the umbrella group behind the academy. 
    
Ahlstrom served as chairman and CEO of the fund while the academy was open. The South Washington Street school suspended operations in April, just months into its inaugural year, after fundraising efforts came up short, fund officials said at the time. 
    
Though Ahlstrom and others remained optimistic the school would reopen in the fall, it has not renewed its lease with the nearby Campagna Center, where the academy rented out classroom space, said a center official.
    
Neither Ahlstrom nor his lawyers would comment on the case or the academy. 
    
Seltzer, who began working as a part-time employee before earning an $83,300 annual salary in September, claims the academy owes him $20,197.12 in wages, though he is asking for $13,267.78, according to court documents. He was laid off in March after money dried up.
    
Koury, laid off with the rest of the staff effective April 20, claims the school owes her $8,348.76 after offering her $44,000 over 12 months. Jovanoski alleges the academy owes her for working from April 1 to April 20 and the pay she would have received over the summer. 
    
Woodson, originally hired as an instructor of humanities with a $50,000 annual salary, claims the amount owed to him is $9,358.97. 
    
Goddin, who started working in January with the understanding she wouldnt be paid until March, was laid off shortly after asking Ahlstrom about her missing first paycheck, according to court documents. 
    
She would have made $56,000 annually and alleged the missing salary had caused financial hardship in court records. Goddin had been planning to retire to South Carolina when she joined the academy and subsequently leased a home in Alexandria. Shes seeking $2,333.00 for the time she worked without pay. 
    
But Goddin said she filed the warrant in debt against Ahlstrom on principle.
    
We signed the year lease and were actually enjoying being here and well find a way to stay, but I was counting on a paycheck, she said Monday. Its the only thing we can do to protest what happened without hiring a lawyer and taking [Ahlstrom] to court.
    
Though their initial mediation session bore no fruit, Goddin hopes they at least will reach an agreement the fund owes them money and will pay them back when the dollars are available by September, when the group is expected back in district court for a status meeting. 
    
The school, touted as the heir to an academy backed by George Washington, was mired in controversy before classes ever began. The academy drew scrutiny from city officials after Ahlstrom told the Times he planned to open the school with more students than zoning permitted at the time. When the academy unexpectedly shuttered doors in the spring, parents were left scrambling for new schools. 
    
Commonwealths Attorney Randy Sengel confirmed he had met with individuals connected to the academy at their behest. He would not comment as to whether criminal charges would be filed against the academy or Ahlstrom in the future.

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