Parents pushing to keep Bordentown parish school open

Posted: March 28, 2013

The bishop of the Trenton Diocese says he will not reconsider his decision this month to shutter the 150-year-old St. Mary School in Bordentown. But the school's supporters are mobilizing and won't rule out the possibility of an appeal to keep it open.

"If we have enough of a groundswell . . . from the community, we're willing to move forward," said David Burden, who heads the Save St. Mary Committee, a coalition of parents, teachers, alumni, and others. He wants supporters to petition the diocese for a reversal of the bishop's decision.

Burden, who has two children in the pre-K-through-grade-eight school, which has an enrollment of 112, said about 200 people attended a meeting this week to discuss options.

Bishop David M. O'Connell announced the school would close at the end of the school year in June because of declining enrollment and financial difficulties. "It is simply not feasible or realistic to keep St. Mary's open," the bishop said in a news release. Nineteen teachers and staff would be laid off.

Diocesan spokeswoman Rayanne Bennett said there would be no further comment.

The bishop's reticence has angered the Save St. Mary Committee. When parents learned of the impending closure, they requested a meeting with him to discuss cost-cutting ideas that would reduce the school's debt and allow it to remain open, said Jackie Aladich, a school board member who also is on the committee. She said diocesan representatives agreed to schedule a meeting in early April between the bishop and parents, but then reneged.

"We put a plan together and they shut us out," said Aladich, whose two children graduated from the school. The plan called for cutting costs by laying off a full-time and a part-time teacher, reducing salaries, decreasing tuition discounts, fund-raising, increasing enrollment through an aggressive marketing plan, and ending mismanagement of the parish's finances, she said.

Burden said the committee looked into the finances and discovered "potential misappropriation of school collections," poor accounting, overpayment of the staff's sick-time wages, and "potential misuse of maintenance funds," among other things. He also said the business administrator had "no financial expertise" and that audits of parish finances found several problems that needed to be addressed.

The diocesan spokesperson did not return an e-mail seeking comment on those allegations. The parish business manager, church pastor, and school officials also did not return calls for comment.

The diocese's March 9 news release said St. Mary's Church pastor, the Rev. Michael J. Burns, requested the closing, saying the parish contributed more than $400,000 to help the school but still could not "meet all our expenses." He also said enrollment had declined in the last five or six years.

The diocese has set the benchmark for a viable school at a minimum enrollment of 220 students, the statement said, which makes St. Mary's about 50 percent short. This is the first school the bishop has targeted for closing since taking the reins of the diocese in 2010. In his statement, he called the decision "difficult and painful."

Six years ago, the Camden Diocese announced it was closing a half-dozen parochial schools as part of a consolidation plan. Among them were small schools in Woodbury and West Deptford.

Aladich said she believed the Catholic community wanted the small schools to stay open.

"The closing is heartbreaking," she said. St. Mary's has "produced outstanding Catholic children that really develop into productive, moral adults and contribute so much to society."


Contact Jan Hefler at 856-779-3224, jhefler@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @JanHefler. Read her blog, "Burlco Buzz," at www.philly.com/BurlcoBuzz.

 

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|