The founder of a Queens religious school said hard economic times were to blame for the closing of the Allen Christian School -- a 30-year-old institution that supporters said provided a top-notch education to Queens students in St. Albans and other southeastern neighborhoods.
"There are a lot of families out here who lost their homes and their jobs," and could no longer afford to send their children to the first- through eighth-grade school, said the Rev. Floyd H. Flake, school founder and pastor of the Greater Allen African Methodist Episcopal Cathedral in Jamaica.
The school will close at the end of the current school year.
"It was a hard decision," said the former 6th District congressman, who founded the school with his wife, Elaine.
Flake said the church could no longer afford to subsidize the school. "It was draining the church. It was either the church or the school," Flake said. He added that the school faced a $1.7 million shortfall.
Tuition had already been increased by $300 this year and would probably rise again next school year, Flake said.
"We knew our families couldn't afford it," he said. The last increase brought the annual tuition to $5,500 and led to the loss of 60 students, he added. More than 560 students will have to enroll at new schools next fall, he said.
Meanwhile, the Allen Christian School building at 171-10 Linden Blvd. in Jamaica will be rented to the Eagle Academy for Young Men -- an all-male school for sixth- and seventh-graders operated by the city Department of Education.
Queens Councilman Leroy Comrie said losing Allen Christian School was a setback for families who wanted "quality and a competitive" education for their children.
"We need world-class middle and high school educational institutions in Queens," Comrie said. "Some people are quite upset. But Eagle Academy offers an option and it's a good fit." He said Allen Christian School's female students could attend nearby Young Women's Leadership Academy.
At Allen Christian School, however, the mood was "sad. It's like losing a family member," said alumnus Dwayne Cumberbatch, who was among the school's first students when it opened in 1982.
"We are losing a beacon in this community and it's unfortunate. This is the sign of the times," said Cumberbatch, who returned to the school in 2003 to become program coordinator and athletic director.
"I'm totally devastated," said Marilyn Craigman, whose daughter DeAndra, 16, attended Allen Christian School and now is an A student in a public high school.
"My daughter is a straight-A student because of Allen. She is equipped today to make good choices and to be a caring individual," said Craigman, of St. Albans. "I'm thinking right now of the loss for my grandchildren who have missed this opportunity."