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Monday, December 6, 2010

Bronx Catholic Schools Struggle with Enrollment, Fight Closures

Last month, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York announced that it would stop providing subsidies for 32 Catholic schools in the state--six in the Bronx--in an effort to ease ongoing budget problems, cuts that would essentially mean closure for most of the schools named.

The schools, chosen for their low enrollment numbers, have until the end of the month to appeal the decision by coming up with a plan to prove their financial viability before a final decision is made in January.

"The initial reaction was very sad, everyone was very upset and teary eyed. But the mood is kind of transitioning," said Michael Brady, a board member at St. Augustine's School in Morrisania, which currently has 170 students, and will present its proposal to the archdiocese today.

"We're hopeful and prayerful, and willing to put up the good fight. We know we serve a good purpose here," Brady said.

The school's plan includes an aggressive enrollment drive--they've registered 39 potential new students in the last two weeks alone--as well as cutting services out of the school's budget to scale back spending. Even the teachers and faculty members have agreed to take pay cuts in order to keep the school solvent.

"We're doing everything we can, but the end number is so daunting," Brady said. The archdiocese told them they want at least 300 students in the building--130 more than the school has now.

Catholic schools across the state have been struggling to keep students enrolled in the face of a recession, an effort even more difficult in low-income neighborhoods like many in the Bronx, where families cannot afford parochial school tuition and the rising popularity of free charter schools adds a new level of competition.

"We have declining enrollment because this area is a poor area," said Grace Lucie, the principal at Holy Spirit Catholic School in Morris Heights, which is not on the archdiocese's list of "at-risk" schools but has still seen enrollment numbers drop, as scholarship money has become scarcer.

"I have many people that want to come to this school but can't afford it. The school has good scores, it’s a very good school, but people cant afford it," she said. "We need scholarships. The people here deserve a choice."

Brady called the funding cuts "disheartening."

"Perhaps the diocese doesn’t want to support poor people anymore," he lamented. "The church and the Catholic school system will just be a system for the people who can afford it."

1 comment:

  1. We need to do all we can to assist these valuable educational institutions. Neighborhood families and children deserve educational choice. I know Dr. McNiff and he regrets his poor choice of words. Dr. McNiff knows the reality tearing at the Church's mission and it's ability to finance the costly overhead at each parish school. All dollars are finite and must be used in the best way to benefit the greatest good.

    Parish leaders and parents must be realistic. Capping tuition at 4% of family income is unrealistic and keeps the schools financially unviable. Better to create an endowment fund that can attract big donors and alumni givers. The big Catholic High Schools are better off financially because they can tap donors from among their more successful alumni.

    Politically, parents should lobby their state legislators for the reimbursements for state mandated services owed the parish schools. Those millions of dollars would be a major windfall for the NY Archdiocese school. During my time in the Assembly, I fought for payment of those funds as well as for tuition tax credits. http://michaelbenjamin2012.wordpress.com/2010/10/20/saving-catholic-schools-in-ny/


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