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Diocese eyes regional plan for boro Catholic schools

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Frank DeRosa said that in a Feb. 10 meeting of pastors and principals, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio outlined a task-force proposal to create the regions."It is something that is being looked at carefully," he said of the proposal, drafted by about a half-dozen education experts, but he stressed that it is currently only a proposal. "Nothing has been written in stone," he said, cautioning that "the only news is when something is fully decided."Loretta Darragh, principal of Corpus Cristi School in Woodside, noted that there would be no changes in Queens schools this year, but that ultimately changes were needed to stem the red ink."I think finances are driving everything," she said in a telephone interview. "As we move forward, this has to be done. [Vicar of Education] Monsignor Hardiman has a vision for the future."The proposal was drafted as one of the responses to the challenges facing parochial schools in the diocese, such as declining enrollment, changing demographics and rising costs, according to DeRosa. The diocese announced earlier this year that nine Queens and 17 Brooklyn schools would close this fall.Several of those schools were later given a reprieve, including two in Queens. In a widely expected announcement June 1, the diocese said it had approved the updated business plan presented by St. Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr School at 90-10 101st Ave. in Ozone Park, allowing the school to reopen this fall for its 80th year.The other Queens school given a reprieve is St. Virgilius School at 16 Noel Rd. in Broad Channel.Sister Francis Marie Wystepek, principal of St. Stanislaus, said the school would be looking at several methods to improve its financial situation, including a $200 increase in annual tuition to $3,200, an increase in fund-raising efforts, and an attempt to maintain or increase the current enrollment of 160 students. "We had to increase our tuition slightly to keep on par with other schools," she said.DeRosa said the school closings and the regional plan were "separate events but rooted in the same issue." The school consolidations and closures were to deal with an immediate situation, he said, while the regional proposal was drafted to find a long-term solution.The principals and pastors who heard the proposal in February are bringing the information back to the schools and parishes. "It will be discussed locally... I am sure it has been," said DeRosa.Conversations with parents dropping their children off at the Woodside school yielded a mixture of opinion."This is a pretty new idea, but we can give it a try," said Cleonice Binagi, mother of a third-grader at Corpus Cristi. She said it would be a good idea to try a new way to manage the schools.Another mother, bringing her daughter to Corpus Cristi's pre-kindergarten late last month, was less supportive."I like the small school," said Patricia Velez of Jackson Heights, "I chose this school because it is small."She was concerned that the intimacy of a small school would get lost in a larger bureaucracy.Reach reporter Adam Pincus by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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