Catholic Free Press

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  • May
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Milford Catholic parents present plan to keep school open

Posted By May 5, 2017 | 11:20 am | Lead Story #1
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June 16 set as deadline for more students, more money

By William T. Clew | The Catholic Free Press

MILFORD – There is hope that Milford Catholic Elementary School will stay open for the 2017-18 school year if its supporters can meet certain conditions by June 16. Michael Walsh, chairman of the school board, said parents and alumni agreed to those conditions at a meeting with the board Tuesday night. The conditions include raising the number of students to 107 and continuing fund-raising efforts. Tuition from 107 pupils, plus money from fund-raising by the Parents’ Guild would meet the fiscal requirement to keep the school open, Mr. Walsh said. The parents, in a PowerPoint presentation, listed the steps they were taking. Those included efforts to increase enrollment and raise money, including funds for scholarships. The parents said they had already gotten 16 new students to add to the present 57 full-time students at the school and had already started fundraising. “My feeling is that it’s going to happen,” Mr. Walsh said after the meeting. If it does happen, he said, it will keep Catholic education in Milford, where it has been for 137 years. The school board had announced May 1 at a meeting with parents that because of declining enrollment the school would close at the end of this school year. “When enrollments have declined to a point where we cannot guarantee a quality education while operating in a fiscally responsible manner, there really was no option but to announce the closing,” Mr. Walsh said at the time. But the board said it would allow parents some time “to develop viable solutions to the challenge.” James Shanahan, one of the spokesmen for the parents’ group, said the announcement of the board’s decision to close the school was a true wakeup call, according to Mr. Walsh. The parents met Monday night to create a plan of action. They presented that plan to the school board Tuesday night. The school board’s decision to grant some time for the parents to implement their plan, came Tuesday night at a meeting of the school board with about 75 parents and alumni of the school. Mr. Walsh said. He also recognized a couple of parishioners from Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Milford in attendance. After hearing the group’s presentation, the board went to another room to discuss their proposals, Mr. Walsh said. The board agreed that they would meet with the four parents, including Mr. Shanahan, who made the presentation, early next week to announce their decision. But the parents said they couldn’t wait another week and pleaded with the board to state their decision immediately. The board, which includes the pastors of Sacred Heart and St. Mary of the Assumption parishes, agreed unanimously, Mr. Walsh said. Mr. Walsh said a parent asked that if the parents could bring the enrollment up to 104 pupils, rather than 107, by June 16, but could still meet the financial requirements, would the school stay open. He said the board agreed that under those circumstances the school would remain open. But it can’t be a much smaller number, for example 80, he said. Milford Catholic Elementary School has pupils from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. It has been open for 42 years. Its enrollment has been declining since a high of 231 students in 2001-02, according to a press release last week.

School Board votes to close school (May 5)

MILFORD – The Milford Catholic Elementary School Board has voted to close the school at the end of the school year, but has agreed to allow parents “some time to develop viable solutions to the challenge…,” according to a press release from the school.
Michael Walsh, chairman of the school board, said,  “When enrollments have declined to a point where we cannot guarantee a quality education while operating in a fiscally responsible manner, there really was no option but to announce the closing.”
The press release did not state what might be considered “viable solutions.” The school has been open for 42 years. Parents are scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Monday at St. Mary of the Assumption Church. A meeting of parents and school board members is scheduled at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, Mr. Walsh said.
The press release stated that the board came to its decision to close, together with the pastors of Sacred Heart of Jesus and St. Mary of the Assumption parishes,   “after careful consideration, prayer and study….”
All school families have received notification of the intended closure, according to the press release. In his letter to the parents, Mr. Walsh noted the following summary:
“Over the past 10 years, our enrollment has declined by 70 percent. Even after implementing a multi-year aggressive marketing and outreach program, we continue to struggle in this area. Over this same period, the School Board incrementally raised tuition by 35 percent, reduced operational costs by 28 percent, and covered yearly operational shortfalls using the school’s now-depleted financial reserves.
“Even with these and other efforts which positioned the school for moving forward, the enrollment for 2017-18 is 57 full-time and 10 part-time students in pre-school through grade six (a shortfall of 41 full-time students). No new families have registered for grades K-6 and only five students will transition from our preschool to kindergarten. This leaves us with a projected $234,000 deficit for our next fiscal year. It is impossible for MCES to go forward under these circumstances.”
The school board announced its decision Monday at a meeting with parents of pupils at the school, the press release stated. Mr. Walsh told the parents that it was decided to close the school after it was determined that enrollment numbers were not sufficient to cover expenses for the  2017-18 school year.
The school has had declining numbers since its high enrollment of 231 students in 2001-02, according to the press release. This year the school enrolled 89 students from 71 families.
Registration for the next school year began after Catholic Schools Week at the end of January.
“The expenses are somewhat fixed and we know how much tuition revenue is needed to cover them. When we realized that we were not going to meet our enrollment goal, we felt it was important to let our families know in time for them to be able to register at another Catholic school for the next school year.” Mr. Walsh said.
Deposits received from families who have registered for the 2017-18 school year will be refunded by the school, according to the press release.
Delma L. Josephson, diocesan superintendent of schools, spoke with the school’s teachers and staff about the decision, reassuring them that they will receive assistance in the transition period and consideration should there be openings in any other Catholic schools in the area.
Additionally, in her comments to parents at the May 1 meeting, Supt. Josephson announced that every effort will be made and assistance will be provided to help present students seeking placement in nearby Catholic schools.         MCES attracts students from 14 communities and there are a number of Catholic schools within a short distance from the school, the press release stated.
“We continue to applaud the outstanding performance of our teachers and students and the sacrifices made by our parents to provide a Catholic education alternative for families of Milford and the surrounding area,” said Principal Marie Sciretta. “We are grateful to the parishes of Sacred Heart of Jesus and St. Mary of the Assumption for their support of Milford Catholic Elementary School over the past 42 years. We are particularly indebted to our wonderful donors for their tremendous support.”
Speaking at the parent’s meeting, Father Richard Scioli, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, said, “We are grateful for the opportunity you have provided us to teach as Jesus did for 42 years at Milford Catholic Elementary School. Please join us in keeping the students, teachers, staff, families, and alumni of Milford Catholic Elementary School in your prayers. We ask that in the coming weeks, we treat one another and the entire school community with kindness, compassion, and forbearance so that we all can understand better where God is leading us.’”
The press release included the following history of Milford Catholic Elementary School:
“The closure of Milford Catholic Elementary School brings to an end a 137-year legacy of Catholic education in Milford that began in 1880 when St. Mary’s Parish established the first parochial school in Milford as St. Mary’s Academy under the direction of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur – 216 girls were enrolled.
“In 1904, the Sisters of St. Joseph arrived at St. Mary’s Academy for the instruction of boys as well as girls – 300 students were enrolled. In 1925, a new St. Mary’s High School building (known as St. Mary’s Academy until the 1930s) was opened next to St. Mary’s Elementary School (known as the Granite Building). This red brick school became St. Mary’s Central Catholic High School and served students from 19 surrounding towns, closing in 1974.
“In 1919 the Sisters of the Daughters of Our Lady of Mercy came to Sacred Heart Parish to devote themselves to the religious instruction of the children of the parish. Sacred Heart Grammar School opened in 1927. In the first year, 45 children were enrolled in grade one. A new grade was added each year. At the end of eight years, the school enrollment was 260 pupils. In 1951 Sacred Heart Parish began construction on a new school building which became Milford Catholic Elementary School in 1975 with the merger of St. Mary of the Assumption and Sacred Heart of Jesus elementary schools.”