BROOKLYN — Parents and alumni of Bishop Ford Central Catholic High School refuse to give up on their school and plan to do everything they can to keep it open.
From trying to raise last-minute funds, to holding a rally in front of the school, to collecting signatures of support, those associated with the 52-year-old institution acted quickly after getting news last week that the school would close in June because of a sharp decline in enrollment and revenue.
While Bishop Ford's leadership and officials from the Diocese of Brooklyn insist they faced insurmountable challenges and did everything they could to keep the school open, some alumni groups disagree.
Joseph DiMauro, who graduated from Bishop Ford in 1966 and is president of the Bishop Ford Foundation, has been involved with fundraising for the past two decades. He believes mismanagement is to blame for the school losing more than two-thirds of its students since 2006.
“The school has been in distress for some time now,” said DiMauro, who is setting up a committee to save the school. “I just didn’t believe that the bishop would pull the plug on it.”
The Bishop Ford Foundation is putting together a committee to save the school by exploring new revenue alternatives and launching an aggressive fundraising campaign, DiMauro said.
DiMauro said his foundation has been trying to get the school on track for years. In 2012, the Bishop Ford Foundation hired the Alliance for Catholic Education at Notre Dame to come up with a strategy to put the school’s finances back on track. However, he said the school ignored the strategy outlined in the plan, and decided to keep tuition at $9,000, rather than dropping it back down to the $6,000 the school had charged several years earlier.
“You have to look at why the school was founded,” DiMauro said. “It wasn’t founded to be a private school, it was founded to help the people of Brooklyn. When they raised the tuition, the population could no longer afford it.”
Another Bishop Ford graduate, Samantha Salvin, started an online petition to keep the school open. More than 1,800 people signed it in five days.
“Closing the doors to Bishop Ford would do a disservice to our school community, Brooklyn as a whole, and many future generations that deserve to experience the love and education this high school offers its students,” she wrote on the petition. Apart from worrying about their children's education, parents are concerned about what impact it could have on the neighborhood.
Stefanie Gutierrez, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Brooklyn, said Bishop Ford and the diocese tried everything it could to keep the high school open. Ultimately, they could not overcome the decline in enrollment and mounting debts, she said.
“Bishop Ford wanted to tell [parents] as soon as they could,” she said, “There is no good time to close a Catholic high school. Closing the school was not an easy decision.”
Told of parents' plan to fundraise in a bid to save the school, Gutierrez said: “I don’t know how they’re going to save the school."
Bishop Ford plans to have an information night on April 29 where parent and students can meet with other Catholic schools to learn more about their programs and start the enrollment process. She said the diocese asked other local Catholic schools to give priority to Bishop Ford students.
Meanwhile, Gutierrez said the diocese has received inquiries regarding renting Bishop Ford but has not yet seriously considered any of them.
“The decision was just made to close,” she said. “It’s not an appropriate time to look into that. We are all in a state of grief.”
Parents said because of the late announcement, they're scrambling to figure out where to enroll their children next fall.
“I’m just trying to put everything together,” said Diane Dixon, whose son Dior is a junior at Bishop Ford. “You can’t put somebody into a school in the last minute. People start doing this at the beginning of the year.”
Dixon fears her son, who is a co-captain of the school’s basketball team and who scored 18 points in the Catholic High School Alumni Association championship in March, could now have a harder time getting an athletic scholarship.
And she said that she also fears that the school's memory could be replaced by something with no sense of the school's legacy.
“There is a history behind Bishop Ford," Dixon said. "There aren’t a lot of Catholic schools in the area. I hope it doesn’t become another large condo apartment.”