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Learning Center Closes Leaving Some Without Refunds

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) —  A well-known tutoring center has suddenly shut down, possibly leaving Minnesota parents out thousands of dollars.

“I think families need to be aware. They’re not doing business with Sylvan. They’re doing business with the person that owns the franchise,” said Michelle Rietveld.

Her daughter used the Sylvan Learning Center in Albertville, Minn., just north of the Twin Cities, and she had some luck.

Her daughter reversed her tough time in class and is now getting better grades and excelling in her subjects.

Unfortunately, Rietveld learned her own valuable lesson, a financial one. She lost $500 the day the Albertville center closed for good on Dec. 9, 2010.

She says she knows of another family that lost $5,000, money they prepaid for future tutoring.

“And although the tutoring helped, it’s costing us more money. It’s taking money from us that we can’t afford,” Rietveld said.

The franchise owner, Allen Stock, signed a letter and posted it on his door, saying that because of circumstances beyond his control, he had to shut down the business.

Sylvan’s Corporate Office insists that Stock’s legally obligated to pay-back the families based on a license agreement he has with the corporation. The corporate headquarters doesn’t give refunds in situations like this.

“It’s sad. It’s disheartening,” said Kelli Abar who owns seven other Sylvan franchises in the Twin Cities.

She is offering those families who lost-out in Albertville a chance to use their pre-paid credit hours at her locations, and they can do it for free.

“I came to work at Sylvan to change lives, to help kids, and if we don’t service these students, we are not doing our job,” she said.

But Rietveld won’t take the offer. She simply wants her money back.

“I know it’s legal what they’re doing, but it’s wrong,” said Rietveld.

She said she’s not sure just how she can fight this because no one can reach Stock.

WCCO tried to reach Stock on Friday but couldn’t, and the spokesperson at Sylvan’s home office in Maryland said company officials have had a hard time reaching him too.

The Better Business Bureau in Minnesota has had no complaints against that franchise. It said paying up-front for any services beyond just a month is always risky.

WCCO-TV’s James Schugel Reports

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