Buyer Steps Forward for Crotched Mountain School; New Owner Accused by Family of Embezzling Money | New Hampshire Public Radio

Buyer Steps Forward for Crotched Mountain School; New Owner Accused by Family of Embezzling Money

Sep 1, 2020

Credit Crotched Mountain Foundation

After announcing in June that it would close due to financial troubles accelerated by the pandemic, the Crotched Mountain School in Greenfield says it will be acquired by Gersh Autism, a for-profit provider of services for children with autism. 

Opened in 1953, Crotched Mountain School serves adults and children living with disabilities and traumatic brain injuries through both residential and day programs. 

Gersh Autism, founded in 1999, runs facilities and programs for children on the autism spectrum in New York, New Jersey, Washington, West Virginia and Puerto Rico. The new facility will operate under the name Legacy by Gersh at Crotched Mountain, according to Kevin Gersh, founder of Gersh Autism.

Gov. Chris Sununu, along with Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut and Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette, praised the news, saying the acquisition would provide long term stability to the children who utilize its services. 

The two entities have signed a letter of intent with a formal transition to take place November 1. 

In an interview, Gersh said he was long familiar with Crotched Mountain’s offerings, and that he approached the school after learning of its impending closure.

Gersh said he eventually plans on serving more than 100 residential clients ages pre-K through 21, as well as operating a day program for children with autism. 

“It’s going to look just like it does now,” Gersh said.  “Their staff and our staff have very similar philosophies on how to work with children on the spectrum. They put the children first; we put the children first. They customize education; we customize education.”

“We are just going to give it a shot of steroids,” he added. 

According to its website Gersh’s company traces its origins to a camp founded by his father on Long Island in 1954. Gersh opened a Montessori school in 1991. More recently, he has expanded his business providing services for children with autism by opening facilities in New York and Puerto Rico.

That expansion is a key part of a lawsuit brought by Gersh’s own sisters, who accuse him of defrauding them and using that money to fund his company’s growth. 

The sisters - Ellen Greenhaus, Laurie Gersh and Roxanne Gersh - claim in a federal civil lawsuit that their brother has also used that money to support a lavish lifestyle, including a multi-million home in Park City, Utah.

“Kevin's expansion of his core business of learning centers for children on the autism spectrum has expanded across the United States and Puerto Rico at a rate and level which would not have been possible without the use of the embezzled money,” the complaint states. 

Gersh denies the allegations and told NHPR that the lawsuit has no merit and that his “sisters have never worked, and they are unemployed, and they are looking for a payday.”

Crotched Mountain School CEO Ned Olney didn’t reference the lawsuit in his statement posted on the facility’s website this week, and Gersh said the topic never came up during purchase negotiations. Olney said the acquisition by Gersh Autism means the school’s “mission will live on and expand over time to meet this growing need.” 

In an emailed statement, Sununu said that “the state’s focus is on ensuring that the families that rely on Crotched Mountain’s services will have uninterrupted service. Although the state is not directly involved, our understanding is that these allegations will be vetted through the appropriate legal process.”

Crotched Mountain School did not respond to requests for an interview. The purchase price for the facility, located on a bucolic property in Greenfield, hasn’t been disclosed. 

Crotched Mountain School had been operating under large budget deficits in recent years. It never fully recovered from the financial recession in 2009, according to its statement in June on why it was closing. 

That financial pain was exacerbated by the pandemic. In April, the school suffered an outbreak of COVID-19 that left one resident dead and sickened at least 14 others.