Parents shocked by St. John's school closing

Reported by: Katherine Underwood

Videographer: K. Mahoney
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Updated: 3/20/2012 12:11 am
It was a disappointing and frustrating day for some parents in Schenectady Monday.

The city's last catholic elementary school, St. John the Evangelist, will close in June, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany says the decision is final.

Parents tell us they are upset the news came without warning in a letter on Saturday.

“I stood in my dining room and just cried,” explained Pauline Wellette who has a preschooler enrolled at St. John’s.

“It's really heartbreaking,” said Scotia resident Maria Rush who is looking for a new school for her daughter, Nicolena.

“The education experience was terrific, the test scores are tremendous,” said another St. John’s parent Adam Brinker.

But all these parents just got word the school is closing in June because of what Diocese of calls shrinking enrollment and financial troubles.

“The parish has assumed the deficit for the past three years and we just can’t continue at that level,” explained Diocesan Superintendent of Schools Sister Mary Jane Herb.

Parents tell us at a meeting two weeks ago they put down a deposit for next years tuition - and that the possibility of closing the school was never mentioned.

“We're getting this all at us very fast and furious,” explained Drew Wellette.

Sister Herb tells us the school’s financial woes have been known for years and the discussion about closing the school started in the fall.

“I didn't plan the agenda for that meeting, but perhaps more information for parents would have been helpful,” she admitted.

The parish website says the school has about 400 preschool through sixth grade students.

But according to the Diocese, only 84 kids are registered for next year.

First grader Nicolena is one of them, and she tells us she is sad about leaving her school behind.

Her mom feels the same way.

“Now we're running around trying to place her for next year,” Rush said.

The Diocese says St. John's situation is not unusual and that catholic schools across the nation are struggling with declining enrollment.

But parents tell us that makes this transition even more unsettling.

“To uproot her to another school and if that catholic school closes, we have to do it again, I just don't want to do that,” Wellette said. “I really wish there was a way we could make this work.”

Sister herb tells us other catholic schools in the region have agreed to give St. John's families first priority for fall enrollment.

The school closing also means teachers will lose their jobs.

The Diocese says it is working to place the teachers in similar positions.

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Andrew - 3/22/2012 7:45 PM
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The Diocese calls it shrinking enrollment, but parents and parishioners in the know call it something else. What do you expect when the Pastor first cuts off a valuable revenue stream by doing away with St. John's Bazarr and Bingo Night, and then adds unnecessary competition to St. John's by leasing church space to a non-affiliated entity that opens a pre-K and now a Kindergarten only a stone throw away from St. John's, thereby depleting the pool of feeder students? Sounds like more than low enrollment problems. So, what's next? The Church? I find it very hard to believe that aprising the parents of the school's financial troubles only "days" before the Pastor submits a recommendation to the Diocese to close the school was anything but a well calculated move. I guess the old saying is true: The Devil's in the Details!
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