Over the din of parents sliding out of their chairs and putting on their coats to get ready to leave, Nrec Lleshaj took the microphone Wednesday at St. Augustine School in New City. He told a story from Scripture and said that, like the woman who gave of her last piece of bread, he would offer the proceeds from his bankruptcy proceedings, including his home, to save his daughters' education.
"They're more than welcome to take everything I have," said Lleshaj, a New Hempstead resident and father of three girls.
Lleshaj is in the construction business. His company has not fared well during the recession, and he has been selling off assets, he said.
St. Augustine is among 12 Catholic elementary schools in the Hudson Valley at risk of closing in 2013, according to a list released by the Archdiocese of New York on Monday. The schools were targeted by regional committees, based on enrollment and financial factors. Now each school has until Jan. 3 to develop plans to convince the diocese they should not be shuttered.
"For anybody to give everything that he has to save the school speaks volumes about what that school is, and what it means, not just to his family but to 170 families and 219 children," said Bethann Rooney, president of the St. Augustine Parents Association.
Similar scenes transpired across the region in the past few days as parents and educators at Catholic schools gathered in classrooms and parish centers to fight for their schools' survival.
"We'll fight to the bitter end," said Angela Marranzino, an admissions director at Our Lady of Fatima School in Scarsdale, where parents were to meet Thursday night.
Rooney said parents at St. Augustine have questions about how their school got placed on the list. She said that a parish group started work on a strategic plan two years ago. Since then, Rooney said, the school has raised enrollment by 12 percent and has reduced the parish's annual subsidy from the parish by about $80,000. The school does still draw about $337,000 annually from the archdiocese, she said.
"They are choosing to close the crown jewel of Rockland County Catholic schools," Rooney said.
Both Rooney and Marranzino said parents are trying to figure out just what they need to accomplish to keep their schools open.
Although not all of them may be willing to offer up their last piece of bread, as Lleshaj has, many will give their last ounce of energy, Rooney said.
"We're going to fight this tooth and nail," Rooney said.