CHAMPLAIN — St. Mary's Academy needs money or it will close.
The school must raise roughly $80,000 by June 1 to cover health-care and retirement costs, among other debts. Plus, enrollment is down and there doesn't appear to be a lot of opportunity to draw more families to enroll their children at the K-6 parochial school, which also houses a preschool.
"If they don't raise it, I have to close," said the Rev. James Delbel, pastor of St. Mary's Parish in Champlain.
"I had to borrow a lot of money (for the school) when I first came here six years ago, and if I have to borrow (more) money, I would close the school."
In 2005, Delbel charged the parish with raising $100,000 or St. Mary's Academy would close.
"They raised it," the priest said.
But the financial situation and enrollment continued to worsen.
"Last year was a really bad year for us, and we were hoping for better enrollment this year, which didn't come off," Delbel said.
A couple of years ago, 78 students were enrolled in grades K-6. Today, there are 60, with the preschool bringing the total to 101 children.
"Because of the excessive bad year last year, we have a large debt of about $80,000, and that has to be paid off," Delbel said.
"So I have given the challenge to the school that they will have to raise that money, because the parish just doesn't have it."
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg "has been very good and carried us, but there comes a point when you just have to pay it, and that point has come," Delbel said.
The deadline is June 1, he said.
"I can't sign any contracts until I have the money."
The priest said the parents and faculty have been faithful and loyal to the school and deserve a chance to try to raise the money.
"The cost of everything has gone up," Delbel said. "Every year, health insurance goes up, and retirement goes up. If we had a national health-insurance program, it would benefit us greatly. It is probably going to kill us to keep up with health insurance.
"I wish there was a way around this, but I am afraid we just have to have it."
Rob Roy of Alburgh, Vt., is leading the charge for the parent committee raising money to keep St. Mary's Academy open.
His children are in grades 5 and 6, and he appreciates the spiritual and moral environment it provides them.
"They have gotten a great education," Roy said. "They help younger kids and interact well with their peers. You see the difference in their behavior, and what happens at the school goes a lot further in making them good citizens of the earth."
St. Mary's has been operating better than it did, even prior to 2005, he said, but it has averaged a $15,000 yearly deficit over the past five years.
"We are in the hole by, like, 20 percent," Roy said. "It is not a lot, but for a parish trying to catch up on repairs and things, it makes it difficult."
Fortunately, most every family with children at the school has responded to the call to service to keep St. Mary's Academy running. They have offered a plethora of ideas to raise money and are meeting to flush them out as they move forward.
"We also want to raise awareness about what the school does for Champlain and the greater community, and we want to get enrollment up," Roy said.
"The biggest problem is a lot of people don't know about the school."
Delbel said the community is not giving up.
"We are really hoping we are going to do it. We are also hopeful better times are coming."
E-mail Stephen Bartlett at: firstname.lastname@example.org