St. Ann School in Hornell is being recommended for closure at the end of the 2011-12 school year due to a projected financial shortfall and low enrollment.
Father Peter Anglaaere, pastor of Our Lady of Valley Parish, announced at a Feb. 16 meeting of parents, parish officials and school officials that he plans to recommend closing of the school to Bishop Matthew H. Clark, who will make the final decision.
Father Anglaaere told the Catholic Courier Feb. 17 that the school is projected to have $83,000 in available school funds heading into the 2012-13 year, whereas diocesan officials recommend a figure nearly $200,000 higher in order to ensure school viability. Should that disparity not change, said parish finances would be crippled, the pastor said.
In addition, Father Anglaaere said St. Ann School currently has 100 students enrolled — but only 65 of them in kindergarten through sixth grade, averaging fewer than 10 children per grade. Based on diocesan recommendations, each grade ideally should have at least 15 students, Father Anglaaere said, noting that he does not wish to see the school close, but that the numbers simply don’t add up.
"I love my encounters and times with the school kids. Seeing them is one of the most beautiful moments of my day," he said. "It breaks my heart that this may not be a possibility in the years to come. It is something that is very, very dear to me."
Father Anglaaere added that he’s "been doing a lot of consultation with all my councils" and now that he’s informed the parish of his decision, he will next make a formal recommendation to Bishop Clark. He explained that action must be taken now so that students and parents have time to make preparations for the 2012-13 school year.
Noting that she is "deeply, deeply saddened to see any school close," diocesan superintendent of schools Anne Willkens Leach said closing St. Ann at this time would be especially sad because the Hornell school would observe its 150th anniversary next year.
"This school has been vital to the community for 149 years," she said. "I can’t begin to express how grateful I am to all the people there who have made the commitment to provide Catholic education."
St. Ann School narrowly avoided closure in 2009-10 by means of a last-ditch fundraising drive. While Father Anglaaere did not rule out the possibility of a similar effort leading to another reversal of course, he said he also questions how long the school could continue on such a shaky footing.
"Every year, this has been what we’re struggling with," he remarked.