St. Bernardine School will remain open next school year despite experiencing yet another substantial drop in enrollment.
With the help of a successful fundraising drive which raised upwards of $60,000 and with increased assistance from the parish, the school was able to hit its budget goals for the year, leaving officials cautiously optimistic about the school’s long term future.
“We know it’s not going to be just one year or two years. It’s going to take a concerted effort but we have a lot of people interested and invested in keeping things going,” said St. Bernardine Pastor Rev. Patrick Tucker.
“We’re being hopeful and we’re being realistic ” It’s an exercise in hope but that’s part of the reason we’re a faith community,” he said.
Though enrollment figures are not yet finalized, Tucker said the school, located at 815 Elgin Ave., is expecting about 125 students next year.
The nearly century-old school’s enrollment this year was 154. Until the steady decline which began affecting St. Bernardine and many other area Catholic schools about five years ago, enrollment typically hovered around 200.
While in the past the school has been up to 96 percent self sufficient financially, the parish will kick in about 20 percent of its budget this year, said Tucker.
Kevin Keating, chairman of St. Bernardine’s finance committee, said he hopes the school will be able to reverse its recent fortunes. Despite this year’s drop, he said there were some positive signs, including an increase in enrollment in younger grades. The school’s program for three and four-year-olds, which recently switched to a full day format, was particularly successful.
“If we don’t get them by first grade, it’s hard to ever get them,” he said.
Still, students will notice some familiar faces missing when they return next year, most notably Principal Larry White, who announced his resignation last week.
“He told me that he’d just found himself worn out,” said Tucker. With his regular administrative duties combined with the push to save a school in crisis, Tucker said, “all those things together kind of took their toll and it seems we’ve gotten all the blood, sweat and tears we’re going to get from him.”
White could not be reached for comment for this story.
“It’s going to be another challenge for us,” said Keating. “We’re going to have to start a search immediately,” he said, noting that the archdiocese typically helps Catholic schools connect with qualified principals.
“It may serve as a plus because it gives us a new person coming in and it’s an opportunity to implement a vision they may have,” said Tucker.
The school also had to make some staffing cuts to remain afloat, losing several teachers aides, though officials emphasized that all full-time teachers will remain on board.
“It hurts. Most of them were long term employees…but you’ve got to make tough decisions,” said Keating.
According to Keating, members of the ad-hoc committee assembled to address the enrollment situation insisted that the school prepare a five year plan now that it has weathered the initial storm which nearly led to its closing.
The dedication of the parishioners along with the support of the archdiocese, Keating said, provide ample reason for optimism.
“They [the archdiocese] want us to stay open. They like the school. Despite our problems, we’re not in the red, and a lot of the schools that have been closed by the archdiocese had already put their parish in the red,” he said.
“We just had our act together. We knew we had a problem in October and we’ve worked on it ever since.”