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12 Hudson Valley Catholic schools await fate today

St. Augustine School in New City is among

St. Augustine School in New City is among 12 area Catholic schools that might close at the end of the school year. (Nov. 27, 2012) Photo Credit: Faye Murman

In the past six weeks, supporters of St. Augustine's Catholic school in New City have raised nearly $900,000 in private donations and come up with a list of proposed spending cuts aimed at improving its bottom line.

But that might not be enough to prevent the school from being shuttered.

"Fundraising is great but it doesn't deal with the root of the problem," said Fran Davies, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese. "If you don't collect enough tuition to fill a classroom or hire teachers, it's a problem. But if the schools were fully enrolled, deficits would be slashed."

On Tuesday, the Archdiocese of New York will release a final list of Catholic schools that will be closed this year in what church officials have described as the largest school system reorganization in its more than 100-year history.

The cuts are aimed at reducing subsidies to Catholic schools that have been struggling with dwindling enrollment. On the chopping block are 26 "at-risk" schools singled out by the archdiocese in November, including a dozen in the Hudson Valley.

Davies said Friday that archdiocese officials were still reviewing proposals submitted from each school on the preliminary closure list to increase enrollment and revenue in the next three to five years.

The nonprofit group created to save St. Augustine's had its case heard on Jan. 9 by a regional board advising the archdiocese on school closure. The St. Augustine's Home School Association, which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to save the school, laid out a plan to reduce expenses, such as asking groups that rent the school's facilities to share in the cost of janitorial services.

"We don't know how they can say no," Beth Rooney, the association's president, said of the pending archdiocese decision. "We'd like to believe they can't possibly say no."

Rooney's group argued that its proposed spending cut could reduce the school's operating expenses by at least five percent annually.

Similar fundraising and lobbying efforts were under way throughout the region in the past weeks as parents and educators gathered in classrooms and parish centers to fight for their school's survival.

Some school officials also have been praying for a higher power to intervene.

At Our Lady of the Assumption in Peekskill, parents and school officials held a candlelight vigil Friday night.

The 12 Hudson Valley Catholic schools, along with 14 from the Bronx and Manhattan, have seen huge decreases in student enrollment, forcing the archdiocese to prop them up with millions of dollars in subsidies to pay their bills. The dozen Hudson Valley schools have experienced a 6 percent enrollment drop since the 2010-11 school year and now serve 2,155 students.

In 2011, the archdiocese shut 14 schools in the Hudson Valley. In an effort to prevent future closings, the archdiocese said it plans to create regional boards that will oversee the finances of each parish school.

At whichever schools the archdiocese decides to close, Davies said parents will be given the option of enrolling their child in another Catholic school. The archdiocese also will make available placement counselors to assist parents with finding alternative schools.

"Every single family that will be affected by this will not have to stand alone," Davies said. "We want to retain these families. We have room for them in other Catholic schools."


The Hudson Valley schools facing closure are:

• Holy Name of Jesus in Valhalla, Westchester

• Our Lady of the Assumption in Peekskill, Westchester

• Our Lady of Fatima in Scarsdale, Westchester

• Regina Coeli in Hyde Park, Dutchess

• Sacred Heart in Newburgh, Orange

• St. Augustine in New City, Rockland

• St. Casimir in Yonkers, Westchester

• St. Joseph in Kingston, Ulster

• St. Joseph in Millbrook, Dutchess

• St. Mary of the Snow in Saugerties, Ulster

• St. Peter in Haverstraw, Rockland

• St. Theresa in Briarcliff Manor, Westchester

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