By Carla Zanoni
INWOOD — Good Shepherd Church is not just praying for a solution to keep its school’s doors open, it is reaching out to its flock for a few good ideas.
School administrators held an open session Monday night, drawing 140 parents, alumni and neighbors worried about the Archdiocese of New York’s Nov. 9 announcement that the school had been placed on a 31 schools in New York City labeled "at risk" of closing.
"Let me be clear, no decision has been made to close this school," the school’s pastor Rev. Robert Abbatiello said at the start of the meeting, explaining that the Archdiocese will not make a final decision until January 2011. "Our intent is to draw up options to keep this school and have it remain a Good Shepherd school."
The main issue at hand is money, Abbatiello said.
Annual operating costs for the school come to $1,275,000, but the annual income collected through tuition, fees, fundraisers and rental income still leave the school short $355,000 each year.
The Archdiocese has covered the difference for more than five years, but says it will stop doing so come next year, Abbatiello said.
"The coffers are running dry," Abbatiello said of the Archdiocese. "Five thousand bake sales would not help us here, it’s a matter of enrollment. We can’t simply rely on our benefactor to float the school."
Enrollment at Good Shepherd has seen a decline over the past decade with the student body containing more than 500 students in 1999 versus 141 enrolled this year.
Yet at the same time, student test scores have risen significantly, with students more than doubling their rate of passing state standardized tests in grades 4, 6 and 8 over the past five years, officials said.
Some parents said school officials should tout their soaring test scores as a way to drum up new enrollment.
"The issue is reaching out to the next generation of students so we can increase enrollment in the long run and make up the money," said one parent during the meeting. "Someone has to get the word out that the school is doing better than it was in past years."
Annual tuition for one child comes to $3,588, two children attend for $5,772 and Pre-K education is $4,161. Scholarship assistance is used by approximately 25 percent of the student body.
John Galvin, an Inwood resident and Good Shepherd alum who graduated in 1983, said he remembered the school back when more than 1,000 students filled its halls, a far cry from the anemic enrollment today. He said he was concerned about the prospect of finding new enrollments in such a short amount of time.
"If it’s a matter of money, we can do that," he said. "But if it’s a matter of attendance, I just don’t know."
The school was run through the parish until the mid-2000s, but is currently an independent operation for fear that the school's debt could drag the cash-straped parish into debt, Abbatiello said.
For now, the school is hoping parents and alumni might have a winning idea to help save the school. Some parents already started an online effort to keep the school open, creating a petition and Facebook group where alum are already volunteering to donate money so that the school stays open.
They've asked that proposals be sent to the school by Thursday in time to present several options to the same group on Monday, Nov. 29. Those interested in sending in proposals should email them to firstname.lastname@example.org or drop them off at the school’s rectory on the corner of Isham and Cooper Streets.
Abbatiello and school principal Mary Singer said they will spend the holiday weekend reading the proposals and creating a draft proposal to share at a second community meeting at the school on Monday, Nov. 29 at 7:30 p.m.
After that, the school will have until Dec. 6 to present a final proposal to the Archdiocese before it makes its final decision in January 2011.