NEW YORK — Families at 22 Catholic elementary and two high schools were told Tuesday their schools will be permanently closed in June because they cost the Archdiocese of New York too much to keep afloat.
The Archdiocese’s decision follows many schools’ last-ditch attempts to prove their financial viability and leaves in the lurch families who had relied on the parochial schools as a refuge from low-performing public schools.
“I feel like they let us down,” said Danilo Cruz, a parent at St. Jerome School, one of seven Bronx closures.
As an alternative to the poorly rated public schools in his South Bronx neighborhood, Cruz sent his three children to St. Jerome, including his daughter in the second grade who was speechless when she heard the news Tuesday evening.
“She just broke down and started crying,” said Cruz, a police officer. “They’ve grown up at the school — it’s going to be a traumatic change.”
In addition to the Bronx schools, five Manhattan elementaries and one high school will close, along with 10 elementaries and one high school in counties north of the city. The Archdiocese has deferred a decision about two Staten Island schools for several weeks.
Four schools that were considered for closure will remain open because they submitted viable long-term fiscal plans, the Archdiocese said.
The closures are part of a multiyear restructuring that involves eliminating under-enrolled and heavily subsidized schools, so that newly established school regions can operate without support from the Archdiocese.
During the first round of closures in 2011, 30 schools were shuttered.
The Archdiocese, which includes schools in The Bronx, Manhattan, Staten Island and several upstate counties, will spend about $24 million this fiscal year supporting schools that are in the red — an arrangement that it considers unsustainable.
“The Archdiocese is not alone in facing financial challenges in education — we share these issues with public, private and other faith-based schools across the country,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan said in a statement.
“This reconfiguration process will help ensure that our schools will be financially stable, sustainable and, more importantly, open to all students.”
After the schools were informed in November that they could face closure, many principals, pastors, parents and alumni raced to raise funds and revamp their financial plans to prove to the archdiocese that they could survive without heavy subsidies.
Parents at Blessed Sacrament School in Soundview, one of the Bronx schools that will close, set up an emergency PayPal account in the hopes of collecting $1.2 million.
Parents and school leaders at St. Jerome created a proposal to convert the school into an independent nonprofit that would operate without archdiocese support.
Meanwhile, dozens of supporters at both schools held rallies to stave off closure.
“Unfortunately, it didn’t resonate the way we had hoped,” said State Senator José Serrano, who wrote the Archdiocese urging it to keep St. Jerome open.
He noted that many low-income families, including lots of new immigrants, scrounge to send their children to the school, but may not be able to afford the full tuition. If the Archdiocese must then step in to fill the budget gaps, surely these children’s education is worth it, Serrano added.
“The Archdiocese argues this is about long-term sustainability, but that’s of small comfort to the children and families who love this school,” he said. “If we lose this school, what do these kids do?”
That is a question many parents are scrambling to answer.
Many families said they originally chose the parochial schools because other local options were unsatisfactory.
Now, they must either stomach sending their children to public schools they once tried to avoid, or put up with longer and unfamiliar commutes to the next closest parochial school.
“They’re basically telling everybody, ‘Fend for yourself,’” said Cruz, the St. Jerome parent. “I’m pretty sure it’s going to be chaotic for the next couple of months.”
The Archdiocese said Tuesday that families in the closing schools will be welcomed into neighboring Catholic schools and “every effort will be made to assist those who are facing financial challenges making the transition.”
Counselors will help relocate students for next year, the Archdiocese added, and in the coming weeks informational sessions will be held for families.