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During those years, King also became the unofficial guardian for Keith Robbins, a homeless orphaned Hales student who lived with King during his junior and senior years. “Tim is my family,” says Robbins, 26, who graduated from Hales in 1998 and earned a philosophy degree from Georgetown. Robbins has since worked as an account manager for two local radio stations and currently runs an entertainment promotions company. “He adopted me, brought me into the [King] family, gave me a family environment,” Robbins says. He is included alongside King and his parents and older brother in the family portrait that sits on King’s desk in his River North office.
But King’s tenure at Hales was not without its problems. When he stepped down as president, Hales owed the IRS $300,000 in back payroll taxes. “Finance and administration were not his forte,” says Miller, who maintains that the debt came as a surprise to the school’s board of trustees. “There were hard issues that he could have been more forthright in addressing with the board.”
King says all the information regarding Hales’s finances was provided to the school’s finance committee on a monthly basis, and he attributes the debt to the ongoing funding difficulties that Hales faces. The school receives no money from the Catholic Church, and tuition-which many students cannot entirely afford-covers less than half the cost per pupil. The school relies on donations for the rest of its operating budget.
“It’s a Herculean task raising money for that school,” acknowledges Miller, who confirms that King left his position voluntarily. “Nobody was trying to get him out of there,” he says.
King admits that he ultimately was overwhelmed by the professional and personal demands of his work at Hales. “I was burned out,” he says of his reasons for leaving. “I was responsible for all the fundraising; I was responsible for the overall operations. It was exhausting.”
After leaving Hales, King founded the Philanthropy Group, a consulting firm that advised individuals and foundations in making grants and donations. By 2003, he had turned his attention back to education and had begun laying the groundwork for Urban Prep with the help of a team of veteran African American educators and business leaders, including the Chicago Bear turned lawyer Chris Zorich, a friend. (Business at the Philanthropy Group subsequently slowed, and the firm is no longer in operation.)
“This is something he has cared about deeply for years; this isn’t a new thing for him,” says Marcia Lipetz, a former senior vice president at the Philanthropy Group who now is the president and chief executive officer of the Executive Service Corps of Chicago, which assists the operations of nonprofit charitable organizations. “He understands and believes deeply that education is the key to lots of things.”
King conceived of Urban Prep as a response to the crisis of poor academic performance among African American boys, who have the highest school dropout rates and lowest graduation levels of any demographic group in the United States. “There is a huge need to figure out how to provide these young men with the opportunities they need to succeed in life,” King says, “and not to have them end up in jail, not end up in the criminal justice system, not end up killing each other, not end up dropping out.”
Urban Prep’s goal is to make certain that all of its students graduate and go on to earn college degrees. It is a formidable challenge. A 2004 study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago found that only 39 percent of African American boys who entered the Chicago Public Schools at age 13 graduated by age 19; virtually all the rest dropped out of school. Making matters worse, according to the study, more than half of the African American boys who did graduate had grade point averages of less than 2.0 (on a 4.0 scale), and more than 78 percent had averages of less than 2.5.