By Caroline Spivack
They’re praying for a miracle.
Parents and students are scrambling to find a modestly priced Catholic school since the Diocese of Brooklyn announced it would shutter Sunset Park’s St. Agatha School after nearly 100 years due to dwindling enrollment and a lack of money. The academy’s modest tuition is a boon to low-income families in the nabe seeking a faith-based education, and it would be a real sin if it closed, according to one faculty member.
“A lot of parents can’t afford to send their kids anywhere else,” said a school worker who asked to remain anonymous because she did not have permission to speak to the press. “There is only one other Catholic school in the neighborhood, and for some of the families, it just costs too much — they just can’t afford it. And it’s cruel for the diocese to make this announcement now, because it’s the middle of the school year. It came as a shock to all of us.”
Last month, church officials announced plans to shutter the K–8 academy at the end of the academic year on June 30.
The diocese sets tuition rates and gives schools individual budgets for subsidizing students’ education. Tuition at St. Agatha is $3,949 per year, and operating the school costs $5,300 per student — a roughly $1,300 subsidy per pupil, according to officials.
But the diocese doesn’t want to pony up any more, in part because enrollment has shrunk from 178 to 144 over the past seven years.
“This school year, there are eight classes with less than 20 students,” stated a Jan. 10 letter informing parents of the closure. “The parish does not have the reserves to subsidize the school for the future, and the parish cannot subsidize the school at the expense of parish programs and ministries. To attempt to continue the school while further curtailing academic services and extra-curricular activities would be a serious disservice to your sons and daughters.”
Many are skeptical that the diocese is as hard-pressed as it is implying and instead believe the body wants to make a quick buck renting the space to the city’s overcrowded School District 15.
“The diocese is just interested in the money. They don’t care about the students and the fact that this school is a historical pillar in the community,” said Sunset Parker Juliana Rivera, whose son and daughter attend St. Agatha School. “They’re probably going to rent the building out to a public school and collect rent.”
If that’s true, it wouldn’t be the first time. Officials shuttered the beloved Bishop Ford High School, a 52-year-old Windsor Terrace Catholic academy, in 2014 and rented the space to Mayor DeBlasio’s universal pre-K program.
But there is no ulterior motive behind the St. Agatha closure, a diocesan spokesman said.
“There aren’t any plans for the property at this time,” said Vito Formica. “The decision to close the school was not made with haste. This was carefully reviewed and it is the finances that led to this decision.”
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