2006-05-12 / Front Page

St. Virgilius School Will Close, Diocese Says

Parents' Association Vows To Keep Fighting
By Brian Magoolaghan

The Brooklyn Diocese said Tuesday that the St. Virgilius Parish School in Broad Channel will be permanently closed next month and strongly recommended that students enroll at St. Camillus in Rockaway Beach for the next school year.

The announcement, which has sparked fury among members of the school's parents' association who remain dedicated to saving the school, came from Vicar of Education, Monsignor Michael J. Hardiman. The diocese had not released official word at press time.

"It is unfortunate that the enrollment goal as described in the business plan last year has not been achieved," Hardiman wrote in a letter to the parents' association dated May 8, which was obtained by The Wave. "Under the circumstances, the school will not be able to operate next year."

The school needed to meet a quota of 113 students and raise funds to cover a $140,000 deficit by March 30. The funds were raised, but there are currently 94 registered students and seven others not being factored in because their tuition is in arrears, according to the parents' association.

Hardiman's letter offered two options: close the school or establish an independent Catholic school, which would lease the property and bear sole responsibility.

Members of the association, who resisted speaking with the press while the talks with the diocese were ongoing, broke their code of silence this week and accused the diocese of conducting a sabotage campaign with the goal of closing the school.

"It is my personal belief, and one that is shared by many, that their only agenda in this matter is, and has always been, the closure of the school and the use [of] our students to bolster the operating budgets of their off-island schools in the area," Pete Mahon, a member of the parents' association who was instrumental in creating the business plan that kept the school from closing last year, told The Wave.

Parents' association members say that after the diocese accepted the school's 3-5 year business plan last year, the committee that created it was "abruptly, and quite unexpectedly, dissolved," according to a letter the association sent last month to Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio.

Last July, the diocese installed Patrick McGovern, a parish council member, as the chairman of a new school advisory board. The six-member board, however, excluded school parents and those who served on the business plan committee. The advisory board held private meetings and kept parents in the dark and, the association says, failed to address the issue that both sides agree is the school's No. 1 problem - enrollment - for the first seven months.

"The school's business plan committee worked tirelessly to assemble a business plan which was both reasonable and financially sound within a period of 30 days," the association's letter said. "It was never envisioned that the school's advisory board would take seven months to obtain a mission statement and bylaws before allowing the parents to address the real issues surrounding continuance of the St. Virgilius Parish School, especially in the view of the fact that the business plan committee had already drafted such bylaws and mission statement."

Mahon boiled it down this way: "Quite simply, had the school's business plan committee been left intact instead of being dismissed back in July of 2005, we would not be in this situation now."

The letter also accuses the diocese of allowing "the continual cloud of closure" to loom over the school - making some parents reluctant to enroll their children - calling it "an albatross around our necks for several years now."

A notice to parents circulated by the parents' association says Parish Administrator, Father John Wtulich, has turned his back on those fighting to keep the school open. "When we asked Fr. John if he would stand behind us, he said he would not. When we asked Fr. John if he had faith in us to be able to increase enrollment and would implore the Bishop to give us a real chance, he said he would not. So even though we have the financial ability to keep our school operating, Fr. John will not stand behind us," the notice said.

The parents association has vowed to take "whatever steps may be necessary" to keep the school open and to hold accountable "those entities and individuals whose intentional inaction and lack of leadership caused the school's business plan to mildew on the shelf for almost seven months before taking action." It also sent Hardiman a letter Wednesday asking for two years to implement the business plan drafted by the committee last year.

Frank DeRosa, the spokesperson for the Brooklyn Diocese, did not return calls seeking comment.

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