11 Hudson Valley Catholic schools to close in June

NEWS12 WESTCHESTER: Eight area Catholic schools are in danger of closing, the Archdiocese of New York said. (Nov. 26, 2012)

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Eleven Hudson Valley Catholic Schools will close in June, parents and officials said Tuesday.

Blessed Sacrament/St. Gabriel High School in New Rochelle, St. Augustine in New City, St. Peter in Haverstraw, Holy Name of Jesus in Valhalla, Our Lady of Fatima in Scarsdale, St. Casimir in Yonkers, Our Lady of the Assumption in Peekskill, St. Theresa in Briarcliff Manor, St. Joseph in Kingston, St. Mary of the Snow in Saugerties and St. Joseph in Millbrook will be shut down, according to the Archdiocese of New York.

In November, the Archdiocese of New York announced that 26 schools, including 12 in the Hudson Valley, were at risk of being shuttered. The financially strapped archdiocese said that it no longer could subsidize schools where enrollment was dwindling. In the plan announced at 5 p.m. Tuesday, the archdiocese decided to close 24 schools, including 11 in the Hudson Valley.

Blessed Sacrament/St. Gabriel High School in New Rochelle, along with St. Agnes Boys High School in Manhattan, were not on the original list, but were ultimately chopped.

Parents of more than 4,700 students across the Hudson Valley and New York City -- where six schools in Manhattan and seven schools in the Bronx will also be shuttered -- will now have to find other placement for their children.

School leaders were notified Tuesday morning and afternoon.

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"It's devastating, it's devastating," said a tearful Sivve Sola, whose two children attend St. Casimir's in Yonkers.

"It's a death in the family is the best way to describe it," said Msgr. Hugh McManus of Our Lady of Fatima in Scarsdale.

"We put up a good fight and we made a very strong case but apparently not strong enough. The archdiocese is up against it financially and when you're experiencing budgetary grief, you make hard decisions."

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Beth Rooney, president of the St. Augustine's Home School Association, said parents and school leaders were told in November that they needed to come up with $1.45 million to keep the school open. Rooney said that through cost savings, additional revenue and cash donations of more than $800,000, the school had gathered about $2.1 million.

"Nobody's more shocked than us. ... The reality of the situation is they gave us a goal and we blew their goal out of the water, and the answer is still 'no,'" Rooney said, criticizing the process the archdiocese used to decide on closings.

Rooney said she and other parents at St. Augustine's intend to enroll their children at New Jersey Catholic schools for the next school year.

At St. Peter's School, parents and teachers were buzzing about the upcoming closure and scrambling for ideas on where to send their children to school next year.

Betty Auguste, 40, of Suffern, was picking up her two children Tuesday afternoon when she said she learned the school was closing. Her 13-year-old daughter, Annabelle Lamarre is an eighth-grader and 4-year-old son Jeremiah Lamarre attends prekindergarten. Both will likely end up at Suffern's public schools, she said.

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"I'm sad," Auguste said. "Sacred Heart is too expensive. No one can afford it. I can't even afford it for one of my kids. I don't know what I'm going to do."

Auguste said she pays $775 every month for tuition for her two children, including after-school activities.

"This place was a life saver for all the families here," she said. "Poor people could put their children here. It's a great school and it was affordable."

Auguste isn't pleased with her options.

"I'm not saying public schools aren't good but I want my kids to be in a Catholic school," Auguste said. "I can't afford . . . private high schools. It's too much."

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Her children were equally upset.

"It's a tradition in my family to go here," Annabelle said. "My sister started here at a young age and graduated and we can't do that now. Now my little brother won't get a chance to be here past pre-K."

Margaret Hamilton, principal at St. Peter's, said school leaders did their best to keep it open.

"Anyone that knows us, Saint Peter School for 150 years has been dedicated to children of immigrants and the poor," she said. "It's a sad day because it's in the midst of celebrating our 150th anniversary, but right now our focus is on the children and we'll continue to focus on the children."

More schools on Staten Island may close in the upcoming weeks, but determinations on those schools, severely affected by Hurricane Sandy, have been pushed back for further evaluation.

Two Hudson Valley schools -- Sacred Heart in Newburgh and Regina Coeli in Hyde Park, which were placed on the at-risk list -- submitted "viable long-term plans" and are safe, for now.

Father Bill Scafidi of Sacred Heart was unable to comment Tuesday evening; he was holding a special Mass in response to the good news that the school was staying open.

'PAINSTAKING' DECISIONS

The archdiocese called the decision "painstaking."

In a statement, officials said they followed suggestions in a 2010 report that outlined the best routes for the organization to take to secure a sound financial future. In making the final decisions, principals, pastors and local committees reviewed enrollment, finances, academics and local demographics.

"Affected families will be welcomed in neighboring Catholic schools, and every effort will be made to assist those who are facing financial challenges making the transition," the statement read.

Informational sessions for families will be held in the upcoming weeks as student placement counselors work with superintendents to help find open spots in other schools for the next year.

In the statement released by the archdiocese, Timothy McNiff, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese, made a push for the Education Investment Incentives Act, which would help raise donations to further help other schools from closing and provide scholarships to students who wish to have a Catholic school education.

"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, the archbishop, 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."

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