The closing of the school, which has been with the Diocese of Paterson’s St. Mary’s Parish since 1952, was based on a recommendation from the parishioners at the St. Mary’s Parish Finance Committee and the subsequent approval of the recommendation by the diocese, according to a news release sent to Daily Voice Monday.
Years of six-figure operating deficits and substantially declining enrollment were among factors cited for the closure, as well as a projected deficit of more than $334,000 for the upcoming school year, which does not include $240,000 of necessary state-mandated and other repairs, officials said.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic certainly had negative prospects for the institution, officials say the closure should come as “no surprise” considering its recent and well-documented financial shortcomings.
“The school was not a sustainable reality long before the financial fallout of the coronavirus pandemic,” said Father Gonzalo de Jesus Torres-Acosta, O.F.M., St. Mary’s Church pastor.
“The timing of this decision, although extremely difficult and painful, is practical and necessary to the survival of the parish. The pandemic is not the reason we are closing the doors to St. Mary’s School, but it made an already untenable situation worse.”
Because the school operated without financial assistance from the diocese, it relies solely on fundraising, tuition and subsidy from the parish. However, about 75 percent of students receive discounted tuition under the school’s Fair Ability to Pay program.
Still, even the school’s 5 percent tuition increase both last year and this year made “minimal impact” in helping to bridge the gap in increased operational costs, and an increase for the upcoming year wouldn’t have resolved the deficit, either, officials said.
“We were walking into the stark reality of a $334,231 deficit for the 2020/21 academic session -- and that was after deep classroom and academic cuts that reduced the budget to bare bones and risked compromising the quality of education,” said Father Torres-Acosta.
“Even in spite of this impossible deficit, we were still considering opening the doors, but that deficit ballooned to just short of $575,000 when we learned that we needed an additional $240,000 for repairs to the physical plant.”
Father Torres-Acosta added that “every possibility” was explored in terms of keeping the school operational and that the timing of the decision allows for proper planning for parents.
“It would have been worse if we reopened next fall, and then had to shut down in the middle of the academic year,” he said.
“Making this decision now gives everyone the chance to reset and plan their future.”
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