Seven Catholic elementary schools—two in Manhattan and the Bronx, and one each on Staten Island and in Dutchess and Sullivan counties—will close at the end of this school year.
The Office of the Superintendent of Schools of the archdiocese made the announcement Feb. 4.
The closing schools are St. Rose of Lima and St. Brigid in Manhattan; St. Nicholas of Tolentine and St. Joseph in the Bronx; Our Lady Help of Christians in Staten Island; St. Mary in Wappingers Falls; and St. Peter Regional School in Liberty.
Affected families will be welcomed in neighboring Catholic schools, with applications for financial aid and scholarships available for the upcoming academic year. Informational meetings will be held for those affected by the closings.
“While we sincerely regret ever having to close any schools, the goal is to strengthen the remaining institutions and preserve Catholic education in New York for years to come,” Cardinal Dolan said.
“We understand the impact this will have on families, and will provide both pastoral support and educational guidance to all those affected in order to ensure all children will be warmly welcomed into a nearby Catholic school where they will continue to learn and thrive.”
Enrollment figures for 2018-2019 at the seven schools are as follows: St. Rose of Lima, 151; St. Brigid, 150; St. Nicholas of Tolentine, 152; St. Joseph, 198; Our Lady Help of Christians, 146; St. Mary, 117; and St. Peter Regional, 36 pre-K students and five kindergarteners.
“It’s always a sad day when we have to come to the realization that some of our Catholic schools have proven not to be financially sustainable,” said Dr. Timothy J. McNiff, superintendent of schools, in an interview with CNY Feb. 8 in his office at the New York Catholic Center in Manhattan.
“The biggest challenge that we have with our Catholic schools is to do just that—keep them financially sustainable,” he said.
That’s because “the tuition that we charge does not cover the true cost,” Dr. McNiff said.
“It’s intentional, and we’re not apologetic about that. This is a parochial school system, not a private school system.”
The mission, he added, is different than that of private schools, and as a result, “we want to have these schools accessible to as many children as possible, thus the lower tuition.”
Several factors, he explained, allow Catholic schools to operate on that premise.
“The first is what this archdiocese collectively does to support the schools…to fill that gap for each student, between the tuition and the cost,” he said.
Citing his 30 years’ experience as a superintendent, Dr. McNiff, who has served the past decade in that capacity in the archdiocese, said, “There is not another archdiocese that puts as much financial resources toward their schools than here in New York.”
For example, he said, “every year, thanks to the contribution from the cardinal and his supporting parishes, 26 million dollars is given to support schools and their deficits. This does not include the incredible contribution our donors make, which primarily goes for scholarships.”
But, Dr. McNiff conceded, given the size of the school system and the increasing cost to maintain aging buildings, as well as the increasing demand for even more scholarships, “the deficits for next year have surpassed our ability to maintain each of our schools.”
Consequently, he said, “there was a difficult decision made this month to close seven schools, which will enable us to finance our remaining schools.”
Despite the archdiocese’s best efforts to maintain the viability of the seven schools, continuing to educate students in buildings that are underutilized or in need of significant improvements, or both, has proven unfeasible, noted the news release announcing the closures.
The seven selected were decided because of “one, the size of their individual deficits, and a lot of that is really driven by what student enrollment is or is not at that school,” Dr. McNiff said.
Also, there were “a couple of buildings, where there is a need for millions of dollars to be put into the buildings in the near future,” he said.
Dr. McNiff said the closings may cause some to question the success of the strategic plan, Pathways to Excellence.
“I understand that perception,” he said. “The reality is, the vast majority of our schools since then have become financially healthier, and academic success increased noticeably because of the strategies we have implemented.”
However, he added, “a cadre of schools have continued to be challenged over that time” because of changes in demographics in certain areas.
“When you look at these areas, there are less school-age children than there were in the past,” Dr. McNiff said.
“We are mindful, however, that we do have the ability to continue to provide a Catholic education for these displaced students,” from the seven schools, “by inviting them to enroll in a neighboring Catholic school. We’ll honor all scholarships those students are currently receiving, to make that occur.”
After St. Peter’s Regional School in Liberty closes in June, there will be no Catholic school in Sullivan County.
Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of New York serve more than 62,000 students from pre-K through 12th grade across 208 schools in 10 counties and boroughs.