Parents of children at St. Cecilia School (115 Monitor Street), which recently announced plans to close after this year, are angry the Diocese of Brooklyn reneged on an earlier promise to keep the school open.
At an April 4 meeting, Diocese School Superintendent Dr. Thomas Chadzutko told parents the school would stay open through the 2008-2009 school year before merging with St. Nicholas School (287 Powers Street) in 2009-10.
The merger of schools was part of a merger between the two parishes, both of which have seen declining congregations and have struggled financially as a result.
In an April 7 letter, Chadzutko reassured parents the school would not close this next school year, writing: “Just a reminder! As mentioned at the meeting, St. Cecilia School and St. Nicholas School will be open in the same configuration for the 2008-2009 School Year.”
But on April 22, parents of students in nursery school, Pre-Kindergarten, Kindergarten, and first grade were told their grades would be discontinued next year due to a shortfall in enrollment.
Then, on May 13, word leaked out through the school’s teachers that the entire school – which specializes in special education – would close.
Father James Krische, pastor at St. Cecilia Roman Catholic Church, said the school was forced to close because of its dire financial situation, brought about by declining enrollment.
Tuition at the school is $3,500, which Krische said the school relied on to cover its operating costs.
Ten years ago, enrollment stood at 479 students. This year, 222 students are enrolled, creating an approximately $400,000 budget deficit that was covered by the Diocese.
In late April, with only 58 students enrolled for next year, Krische sent a letter to parents saying they needed to register their children by May 6. If they did not, “a seat cannot be assured for your child,” the letter read.
In response to the letter, confirmed enrollment rose to 107 students, still well short of what was needed to cover operating costs. At that point, Krische said, “We came to the conclusion we can’t be open.”
“Prior to that, the intent was to be open. But we didn’t have enough kids to open for or enough money to do it,” he said.
Krische estimated the school would face an approximately $500,000 budget deficit if it were to open next year. He said he would not ask the Diocese to cover the budget gap like it did this year.
But parents said that they were not notified of the dire nature of the situation until the announcement of the school’s closing.
“There was no urgency to it,” said parent Carmella Gangone. “Saying ‘a seat cannot be assured for your child’ is different from saying ‘If you don’t register, we can’t open up because we don’t have enough students.’ People procrastinate. It doesn’t mean they weren’t planning to send their kids there.”
In response, Krische said, “Maybe they were planning to do it later. But I couldn’t take that chance.”
He added that he did not sense an outcry from many parents about the closing, portraying those who are most upset as a vocal minority.
“If we had known, we would have stepped up more. But we were told we had another year. Nobody realized it was this bad,” Gangone said.
Perhaps no group is more affected by the closing than the school’s large population of special education students, whose fate is still up in the air.
Krische said he and other administrators are “doing our best to replicate our program at St. Nicholas for next year.”