Parents begin process of relocating displaced Catholic-school students - Catholic Courier

Parents begin process of relocating displaced Catholic-school students

The imperfect process of relocation has begun to kick in for people affected by the imminent closing of 13 diocesan-operated Catholic schools in Monroe County.

Reregistration began Feb. 13 and will run through March 19 at the county’s remaining 11 diocesan-run schools, with registration for students new to the system set to begin March 25. Diocesan officials noted in a Feb. 12 statement that they "will do the best we can to seat every child who would like a Catholic education," and that space issues, if any, would be addressed as they arise.

The statement also reiterated that Bishop Matthew H. Clark plans to move ahead with the school closings despite having weighed alternatives offered by several parent groups following his original announcement Jan. 18. The bishop’s decision for the widespread closings was based on a 23-member task force’s recommendation to address a growing deficit, escalating tuition costs and declining enrollment.

The closings will enable the diocese to reduce Monroe County tuition by 27 percent, to $2,950 for one child of a parish-sponsored family. Comparable tuition reductions also are available for multistudent families that are parish-sponsored, as well as nonsponsored families. In addition, the diocese is offering a one-time $500 credit for each family whose children attend schools that are due to close and who re-enroll their children at any of the remaining Monroe County schools.

Diocesan spokesman Doug Mandelaro said that schools are receiving a steady stream of registrations, but that a more complete picture of 2008-09 enrollment will be available as the March 19 registration deadline for previously enrolled families nears.

Schools slated for closure are St. John the Evangelist, Spencerport; St. John of Rochester, Fairport; Holy Cross, Charlotte; Catherine McAuley, Greece; Good Shepherd, Henrietta; Holy Trinity, Webster; St. Margaret Mary, Irondequoit; St. Andrew, St. Boniface, Corpus Christi at Blessed Sacrament, St. Monica and Holy Family, Rochester; and All Saints Academy, Gates. All are elementary schools except All Saints, which is a middle school.

Parents and officials from several of these schools said they’ve encouraged reregistration despite concerns over whether the remaining buildings can adequately absorb the influx.

Noelle D’Amico, a parent from Holy Trinity School, said she believes that 90 percent of the current Holy Trinity students have reregistered in Catholic schools for next year. That estimate includes two of her children, who she hopes will end up at St. Rita School in Webster.

However, "If I find out my child is in a class of almost 30, I’m going to have to reconsider," said D’Amico, who served as co-organizer of a Feb. 15 rally of school supporters outside Rochester’s Sacred Heart Cathedral.

Mandelaro said no decision has been made yet about class sizes for 2008-08. He added that such decisions would be made on a school-by-school, class-by-class basis, and "always mindful of the best interests of the students."

Others feel that by encouraging displaced families to reregister they will achieve a retention rate of displaced students that is far higher than the 46- to 48-percent projection Bishop Clark said had been developed by the task force. Exceeding that level, they hope, would demonstrate that more buildings need to stay open.

"I’ve been urging all the parents I’ve come in contact with to register," said Anna Summa, a parent representative from St. John the Evangelist. "An overabundance of students might be the only way (to keep more schools open)."

"Our belief has always been if we can have everybody register, there will be a need for more Catholic schools," added Eileen O’Neill, principal of St. John of Rochester.

"I’m really hopeful, that by the grace of God something will happen that will allow (Holy Cross) to stay open," said Christine Velte, chair of that school’s advisory committee.

Summa, O’Neill and Velte had been active on coalitions that formed to devise plans for reversing the fate of their respective schools. Representatives of the parent groups presented their proposals in early February during meetings with diocesan and Monroe County Catholic schools officials. But Bishop Clark said Feb. 12 that reopening one or more schools would jeopardize retention and enrollment goals for those remaining open, thus undermining the financial stability of the system.

“While I greatly appreciate these proposals, I remain confident that the task force recommendations to close these schools and focus our resources on 11 remaining schools (in Monroe County) is the best chance we have of stabilizing our financial pressures in the long term and preserving Catholic education for the future,” the bishop said in a statement.

"I was very disappointed. I really thought we had a great plan," Velte said, noting that Holy Cross had proposed becoming independently operated — retaining a diocesan affiliation but assuming financial responsibility for all operations.

Summa said St. John the Evangelist’s group had devised a fundraising initiative its members believed would have resulted in "a net-zero cost for the diocese as well as getting our enrollment up."

O’Neill said that St. John of Rochester sought to remain open as a diocesan-run school, bolstered by an endowment fund she said had in two weeks’ time garnered more than $400,000 in pledges toward a goal of $1 million.

"We felt that it was a very good plan, and we were told it was a very good plan (by diocesan and schools officials.) There is frustration because we haven’t been given the chance to keep the school open," O’Neill said, adding that supporters would have liked at least a year’s time to prove that their plan could work.

D’Amico likewise said Holy Trinity did not have prior warning of the closing and that it was "very frustrating" not to have received a timetable for turning its situation around.

"There’s a feeling of powerlessness. We’re very discouraged," she remarked.

She estimated that approximately 50 parents, students and other supporters from several Catholic schools attended the Feb. 15 rally at the cathedral. Many held signs protesting the bishop’s decision, but D’Amico said the event was generally peaceful.

"I’m glad we did the rally, absolutely. The kids had no problem being out in front of the cameras showing that they love their school," D’Amico said.

Tags: Catholic Schools
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