NEW ALBANY —
She came home from the meeting crying. The school her daughter and stepdaughter attend was about to close its doors and she had to find the words to tell them that they wouldn’t go back after May.
Rachel Smallwood was in the bleachers Thursday night when Indianapolis Archdiocese representatives announced that 2012-13 would be the last school year for St. Mary’s Catholic Academy.
She said the reaction of her children was much like that of the parents in gym — furious, confused and deeply saddened.
“It’s been a hard day for [the parents],” Smallwood said. “Our heads are just kind of in a fog right now, reeling from the abrupt news we received last night. Everybody is very upset, they’re very angry and they want to know how we can fix it.”
IN THE RED
By June, the school and parish are expected to accumulate a budget shortfall totaling $1.2 million. Compared to 2006, enrollment has dropped about 26 percent and 2010 enrollment came in at 99 students. This year, 139 students are enrolled.
Greg Otolski, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, said the size of the school limits what it is able to do in cutting budgets and generating revenue.
While St. Mary’s enrollment hovers around 120 students, he said other Catholic schools in the area maintain about 400 students in their halls.
He said in spite of annual fundraisers, more than half of the church’s collections supporting the school and the addition of a preschool, the academy’s losses are too much for the archdiocese to sustain.
“It really isn’t any different from how any school or business gets in debt,” Otolski said. “The revenues don’t cover the expenses. So when you look at the cost of salary and benefits for staff, maintenance, insurance, textbooks, everything that you would have to pay for the school, they don’t bring in enough money through tuition.”
Parish members pay $3,920 to send each child to the school per year, with nonparish members paying $5,090. Otolski said in order to keep the school running, an increase of thousands of dollars would be necessary, putting St. Mary’s rates out of line with other Catholic schools in the region and possibly out of parents’ budgets.
But Smallwood said she’s surprised that the school hasn’t gradually increased tuition in the last couple of years given the financial issues it faces.
“My daughter has gone to school since she was 3 and entered their preschool program,” Smallwood said. “I can only recall one tuition increase during that time. I feel like if there was such a huge financial crisis going on, there would have been a tuition increase from year to year to compensate for the deficit that the church and the school were incurring.”
She said even if the school had raised its tuition in the range of thousands of dollars, she and her husband would find a way to make up the difference. She also said she thought other parents would do the same.
“It’s a different kind of person that makes the sacrifice to send their children to Catholic school,” Smallwood said. “There are fantastic schools in the deanery, but my children deserve to go to St. Mary’s.”