Press-Republican

March 22, 2013

Holy Name School to close in June

By SUZANNE MOORE
Press-Republican

---- — AUSABLE FORKS — The 100th graduating class of Holy Name School here will be its last.

The Catholic school, which serves pre-kindergarten through sixth grade, will close in June after a century of educating area children.

“Financially, we just can’t do it,” Principal Christine Reynolds said Thursday, citing declining enrollment as a major factor. 

Ten employees, including the principal and seven teachers, will lose their jobs.

At a meeting Thursday night, she broke the news to the families of the school’s 56 students; letters explaining the decision were expected to arrive in mailboxes today.

STRUGGLES

“It shouldn’t come as a big surprise,” Reynolds said Thursday. “We’ve been discussing it the last three years.

“And if (parents) have been reading their newsletters, coming to Education Council meetings — we review the finances at that time.”

In fact, when Reynolds was hired as principal three years ago, she was told it was possible the school might remain open for just a year longer then.

“I took the job with the hopes that together we would be able to keep this little school going,” she wrote in her letter to the parents. “We kept the school going for three years!”

$50,000 LOAN

Families and the community at large were invited to a session held last October at Holy Name Church, where officials announced the parish might have to borrow money to keep the school open.

That came to pass, Reynolds said — a $50,000 loan from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg has been keeping the parochial school afloat.

But it isn’t enough.

The school’s budget for 2012-13 is about $350,000. 

A third of that, Reynolds said, comes from fundraisers the school puts on throughout the year, including the popular Labor Day festivities that draw in people from around the area.

“We’ve been doing them and doing them and doing them,” she said of numerous events. “But when you have to raise that much money, that’s quite a bit.”

And tuition has not contributed much toward support of the school in recent years.

Holy Name has 10 fewer students now than last school year, part of steady decline in recent history.

“As the census goes down as a school, it obviously costs more per student,” Reynolds said.

For the past two years, proceeds from the sale of the parish convent helped stave off the inevitable, she said.

“There has always been a sale of something,” the principal said, “there has always been a way.”

PROSPECTS DIM

But last year, the Parish Council of the Catholic Community of Holy Name and St. Matthew, under which the school operates, drew a line in the sand — shutting down the school would be on the table if the debt reached $100,000.

Just contemplating such a sum was unimaginable, Reynolds said. 

“We haven’t had to borrow money before,” she said. “We haven’t been in debt.”

And so officials decided borrowing more than the $50,000 should not happen, she said, as prospects for increasing enrollment and finding further revenue were dim.

And should the fundraisers already planned for this spring fail to bring in enough money to fund the final months of operation and pay the debt, she said, “the parishes would end up having to foot that bill.”

School leaders don’t want that to happen, Reynolds said.

DEEP SORROW

School secretary Andrea Mitchell looks at the impending closure with deep sorrow.

“The whole atmosphere here,” she said, “it’s like a little family.”

Mitchell has worked there for about 18 years, altogether.

“I was not long out of high school,” she said, “and they had a part-time opening.”

Then, the Sisters of St. Joseph ran the school, which at one time included seventh and eighth grades.

ANOTHER BLOW

Reynolds can’t say enough about the present staff.

“The people who work here are devoted to the school and to the children.”

And the community has been nothing but supportive. 

The closure will be another blow to AuSable Forks and the surrounding area, which has endured much the last few years.

Floods in spring 2011 and then from Tropical Storm Irene a few months later wiped out homes, tore out infrastructure. That fall, despite the devastation, the community rallied to make sure Holy Name School’s Labor Day festivities took place as usual.

“It was a bright spot in a time that was not a very happy time for most of us,” Reynolds said.

Many connected with the school suffered losses in those natural disasters, including Mitchell, whose home was destroyed.

They helped one another, she said, and the community — both parish and local municipalities — enfolded them all.

“People just amaze me,” she said.

Mitchell partners with Reynolds organizing the many fundraisers — including an upcoming Blue and Gold Dinner and an auction that they hope the community will turn out for so no further money will have to be borrowed before the school closes.

TRANSITION

Amanda Rondeau, whose son, Nathan, 5, attends preschool at Holy Name, was sad to learn of the impending closure — but not surprised.

Holy Name isn’t close enough to draw students from larger communities, such as Plattsburgh, she said.

“We can’t sustain (it locally),” she said.

Her son will move on to kindergarten next fall, but the loss of the preschool will be felt by other families, Rondeau said.

“We don’t really have anything else.”

Thinking of the children, the principal feels confident they will handle the change.

Local sports programs include youngsters from Holy Name and also AuSable Valley Central School District, so the parochial students won’t be strangers at their new school next fall, she said.

“AuSable Valley is also a wonderful school,” Reynolds said. “I think it will be a seamless transition. I really do.”

Email Suzanne Moore:smoore@pressrepublican.com