St. Patrick’s School’s principal and a parent council member thought they’d done everything necessary to keep the Hillyard-area Catholic school open another year.
Parishioners raised $100,000. The school operated in the black in 2012-13 rather than losing money as it had in the previous two years. And enrollment levels believed to be enough to keep the Montessori and middle school programs running had been exceeded.
“The impression given was we needed to meet certain benchmarks, and if we met those it would continue,” said Shane O’Doherty, the school’s principal.
The new parish leadership – with the support of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane – disagreed.
Bishop Blase Cupich said he never set enrollment benchmarks for St. Patrick’s. “School leadership came to me because there was a deadline for informing faculty (about continuing a contract), so I sat down with them regarding benchmarks.”
He said school leadership came up with enrollment numbers: 15 for the Montessori program and 15 for middle school.
“They identified the enrollment numbers. I didn’t,” Cupich said.
O’Doherty responded, “That’s simply not true. We provided different budget scenarios and the bishop used that to say 15.”
The two-story, brick school building in the state’s poorest ZIP code housed nearly 200 students just a decade ago.
St. Patrick’s School projected a budget of $140,000 for the upcoming year. Tuition would have contributed $118,000 to that need, leaving relatively little for the parish to cover.
The Rev. Eugene Tracy, appointed priest at St. Patrick’s Parish effective July 1, looked at the information and finances, Cupich said. “He determined it wouldn’t work.”
Tracy announced the temporary closure of the school last month. The news brought forward an anonymous donor willing to give $50,000, school representatives say.
Financing for the next academic year isn’t really the issue, Catholic leaders say. It’s about the sustainability of the school.
School advocates argue U.S. Census Bureau figures show 10,000 school-age students live in the area, so there’s potential to boost enrollment. Tracy said perhaps the reason the kids aren’t coming is that “we have pretty good public schools.”
What’s necessary to open a school is for students to be coming in, Tracy said. “We need to find a steady stream.”
School advocates say the temporary closure this year is particularly disheartening because the school is turning 100 years old.
The years have taken a toll, Cupich said. Many of the classrooms need repair.
Those planning to attend St. Patrick’s were notified by mail over the weekend, Tracy said. But O’Doherty, who had a child enrolled in the school, said he still hasn’t received a notice.
It’s not yet clear where the students will attend school instead, as most had hoped the school would remain open.
“It really has hurt my feelings the way this was handled,” O’Doherty said. In an email to Cupich, he wrote: “If you wanted this, you could have told me. If you brought a new father in to close the school, you could have just been up front.”
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