Diocesan officials said last week they had rejected an 11th-hour financing plan aimed at keeping Woodside's vaunted Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians School open. The school, locally known as St. Mary's Winfield, turned 147 years old this year, and earlier this month parents and officials organized a block-party fund-raiser to help save the parochial school, the first in Queens County."With a stroke of a pen for the second time in 71 days, (the vicar of education) has decided that hundreds of children, educated daily in the words and teachings of Christ, are just plain out of luck," said Elizabeth Gleason, a member of St. Mary's Home School Board. "In essence in this humble layperson's least vulgar terms, a bird has been flipped."Gleason said school officials and parents had developed what she called a well-reasoned financial plan for St. Mary's that included bolstering student numbers through enrollment drives and modest tuition increase. The plan did not rely on parish or diocesan resources, she said. Counting on guarantees from students who pledged to return to the school if it remained open, St. Mary's had a waiting list of more than 60 students, Gleason said. St. Mary's was one of nine Queens Catholic schools targeted for closure earlier this year by the diocese, which cited sagging enrollment numbers and financial shortfalls at the institutions. The diocese agreed to review financial plan proposals from some of the schools. Shortly before Easter, officials accepted a five-year financial plan submitted by St. Virgilius School in Broad Channel. St. Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr School in Ozone Park has until May 31 to bring its enrollment numbers in line with those outlined in its financial plan, which was tentatively approved by the diocese.But St. Mary's plan did not pass muster with diocesan officials, said Frank DeRosa, a spokesman for the diocese."It didn't appear to have the elements required for a three- to five-year existence," DeRosa said of the plan. "Some of the elements were that they will guaranteee an enrollment increase and that they will have the financial output to go on for three to five years."Maria Marroco, head of St. Mary's Home School Association and a parent of two students there, said parents were hurt by the diocese's apparent lack of interest in reviewing the school's financial survival plan. She said the superintendent's office stopped taking phone calls from the parents and instructed them to submit their plan through a diocese security guard, who she said temporarily misplaced it, causing them initially to miss the April 4 deadline. Marroco, who had difficulty locating a seat for the elder of her two children who were students at St. Mary's, also questioned whether space would really be available at other Catholic schools for displaced pupils."What good feeling do we have now for Catholic education?" Marroco asked. "We're paying and the alternatives they've left for Catholic education in this area are very slim. There's nothing left."DeRosa said he had no knowledge of the incident with the security guard, adding: "Every plan was reviewed carefully and faithfully to see whether or not they had the potential of fulfilling what was necessary to keep a school going."Among the other schools targeted for closure, St. Pius X in Rosedale elected not to submit a financial plan. And Holy Cross School in Maspeth will be closing at the end of the year, DeRosa said. The fate of the other schools on the closure list remained unclear. They include: St. Theresa's School in Woodside; Queen of Angels School in Sunnyside; Ascension School in Elmhurst; and Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in Astoria. Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.
©2005 Community News Group
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