Dansville school's board eyes opening private Christian school - Catholic Courier

Dansville school’s board eyes opening private Christian school

One non-Monroe County school Bishop Matthew H. Clark recently identified as "at risk" will close at the end of the 2007-08 school year, whereas the other has narrowly met a minimum enrollment quota and, thus, will remain open for 2008-09.

Parish officials at Holy Family Parish in southern Livingston and northern Steuben counties decided Jan. 30 to recommend to Bishop Clark that Dansville’s Holy Family School close, according to Lisa Dirlam, principal. Father Stephen Karani, Holy Family’s pastor, received a letter from the bishop’s office in late February confirming Bishop Clark had accepted the parish’s recommendation.

The school board hopes in the fall to open a new private Christian school at the site of the current Holy Family School and is awaiting word on whether the parish would lease the building to this new school, Dirlam said.

Meanwhile, registration at St. Patrick School in Owego had reached 56 students in grades kindergarten through 5, including 10 in kindergarten, as of March 18, according to Father William Moorby, pastor of Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes in Tioga County. Father Moorby had announced in mid-February that St. Patrick would remain open for its 150th-anniversary year in 2008-09 only "if by March 15 at least 55 students are enrolled in grades K-5 for next year and at least 10 students are enrolled for kindergarten." Had those figures not been met, St. Patrick — the only Catholic school in Tioga County — also would have closed.

Bishop Clark acknowledged the "at risk" status of these two schools during the Jan. 18 press conference in which he announced the impending closings of 13 Monroe County schools due to low enrollment and rising costs. The bishop said he had asked officials at Holy Family and Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick to seriously consider the feasibility of the schools remaining open in 2008-09.

Whereas diocesan Catholic schools in Monroe County have been operated under the auspices of the centralized Monroe County Catholic School System since its establishment in 1994, Catholic schools in the diocese’s other 11 counties have always operated under direct parish management due to their geographic dispersion.

Holy Family school-board president Bill Bacon said school officials and interim diocesan schools superintendent Sister Janice Morgan, SSJ, participated in a joint Jan. 30 meeting of the pastoral and finance councils of Holy Family Parish. Dirlam said it was during this meeting that parish leadership decided to recommend that the school be closed.

School and parish officials considered several criteria — including enrollment statistics and parish-subsidy levels — when making this decision, Father Karani explained in a March letter to parishioners. With a total enrollment of only 61 students in kindergarten through fifth grade for the 2007-08 school year, some classes were extremely small. There were only four fourth-graders and nine kindergartners, according to Father Karani’s letter.

Holy Family Parish also was devoting a sizable percentage of revenues in support of the school, with 47 percent of the parish’s regular collections going toward the subsidy in 2006-07 and an estimated 57 percent going toward the 2007-08 subsidy, according to the letter.

Now that Bishop Clark has accepted the recommendation to close Holy Family School, Dirlam said the school board is exploring the possibility of opening an independently run, private Christian school in the building that currently houses Holy Family. She said about 85 percent of the school’s parents attended a series of meetings in early March, and that most of them were receptive to the idea of sending their children back to Holy Family if it becomes a Christian school.

"Holy Family has been here as a Catholic school for 150 years and enrollment is declining. The board felt maybe if we were a Christian school … it might make it seem a little more welcoming," Dirlam said. "We think there are people out there who might feel a little more welcome if we were a nondenominational school."

"Now we’re waiting to find out from the parish whether or not we can lease the building," she added.

Father Daniel Condon, diocesan chancellor and director of legal services, is expected to meet with Holy Family’s pastoral and finance councils and school board April 4 to discuss the legal issues that would be involved in such an arrangement, Dirlam said.

"Once all that is ironed out, then Father (Karani) will decide if he’ll let us lease the building," she said.

In Owego, meanwhile, the enrollment quota was met despite a planned tuition increase of more than 25 percent for a single-student family. Tuition in 2008-09 will be $2,950 for the first child of a parishioner family, and $3,975 for a nonparishioner family. Father Moorby said registration had been slow until parish officials devised a plan by which tuition payments could be spread out over a 12-month yearly period, rather than the current 10-month period.

Father Moorby told the Courier March 18 that setting an enrollment quota was based on the parish pastoral council’s wish to give affected families a role in determining the school’s future.

"We wanted to leave it up to the people," he said, adding that parental support of St. Patrick has remained at a high level. He noted, for example, that "in the middle of all this, the Fathers’ Club had a chicken barbecue (on March 1) and sold 1,100 dinners. The parents really stepped forward."

Father Moorby said he now hopes that St. Patrick’s viability will strengthen beyond its sesquicentennial year. The school currently has 63 students in kindergarten through grade 5, and the pre-kindergarten program has 34 children.

"While we have reached the minimum goals that we set for registered students, it is our hope that even more will register in the days ahead," he wrote in a March 23 bulletin notice. The pastor noted that interested families are invited to attend an open house on Saturday, April 5, from 1 to 4 p.m. or take a personal tour of the school at another time.

Contains reporting by Mike Latona.

This story is an update of “Owego’s St. Patrick School to remain open for 150th year,” which was posted March 19, 2008, and “Holy Family School in Dansville set to close at year’s end,” which was posted March 7, 2008.

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