Saint Augustine School students, staff and parents still struggle with the news that the Archdiocese of New York plans to close the school in June. More than a week has passed since the decision was announced but vocal supporters of the school say they deserve an explanation. A proposal that would enable the Catholic elementary school to be financially independent was submitted in early January.
Step For SAS Chairperson and Home School Association President Bethann Rooney said the mood among adults remains somber.
It’s still one of anger and heartbreak and confusion mostly among the parents,” she said.
One of the reasons for the anger is the lack of specifics from the Archdiocese. A request went to Timothy Cardinal Dolan requesting information about why the school is being closed. Rooney and others intend to keep asking on behalf of the school’s 170 families.
“All we’ve gotten is the same form letter every other Archdiocese school has gotten,” she said.
When asked if Saint Augustine would receive more information, Archdiocese spokeswoman Fran Davies provided the following response, which varied little from an earlier statement.
“It is important to note that the decision to close St. Augustine School was made by the local Board after in-depth discussions with local pastors, principals, administrators and elected officials, and in consultation with the Archdiocese of New York. This review included all relevant data, including enrollment, financial, academic and local demographics, to ensure the Board’s decision would result in financially healthy, sustainable schools in the region.”
Rooney said requests to allow Saint Augustine to continue as a parish school or establish an independent school that would rent the building were turned down.
When Saint Augustine was included on the Archdiocese’s November 2012 list of “at risk,” schools it was not the only Catholic school in Rockland operating at a deficit. Rooney said all seven parochial elementary schools in the county are receiving money from either the Archdiocese or their parish.
She asked, “Why would they deny a viable alternative unless they needed our kids to pay the tuition at the other schools?”
Rooney said it would have been appropriate for all seven schools to submit financial plans for how they would make up their operating deficits, which range from $100,000 to $500,000.
“Nobody is operating in the black,” she said. “I would maintain we could save all seven schools in Rockland County if we did it the right way.”
She thinks the Archdiocese did not develop a business model to keep all seven schools open but anticipated with closing two schools; their students would transfer to the others. St. Peter Parish School in Haverstraw is also closing.
“Those schools are still going to operate at a deficit and then where are they going to be,” asked Rooney?
Not all of Saint Augustine’s 219 students will enroll at another county Catholic school. Rooney already registered her daughter at a Park Ridge, NJ Catholic School and has been told that 75 other families inquired about its program.
Davies said placement counselors are available to help students affected by the school closures find another Catholic school for September 2013. Program information is online.
“Supporting St. Augustine families through this transition process is a top priority of the Board and the archdiocese,” she noted.