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Parents urge church to save schools

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Even as protesters hoisted signs urging the diocese to keep the landmark educational institutions Ð some of which have been open for the better part of a century - operating, parents said they were working on 11th-hour financial plans to save several of the schools from the chopping block."We have to have a unified front," said Jack Wallace, whose wife Maureen has been a teacher at Woodside's St. Teresa's school for more three decades. The school, one of nine in Queens targeted by the diocese for closure because of declining enrollment and ballooning costs, was founded in 1926. "It can't just be 'save your own school' -- 'save your own skin,'" Wallace added.The diocese announced two weeks ago that it would close three schools in the Woodside-Sunnyside area - Queen of Angels, St. Teresa's and Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians School, better known as St. Mary's Winfield. At private meetings with parents, parish officials at at least two of the schools told parents the diocese's decision appeared to be final and urged them to move the "grieving process" along by making arrangements for their children at neighboring parochial schools - or even in the city's public education system. When the closings were announced, Frank DeRosa, a diocese spokesman, described the decision as being firm, saying it was the fruit of years of careful analysis. Over the last five years, the nine borough schools slated to be closed lost 777 students, according to diocese figures.But parents at several other schools, including St. Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr in Ozone Park and St. Teresa's, said the diocese had granted them 30 days to draw up new financial plans to save the beloved educational institutions from the chopping block. U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) organized a closed-door summit between Catholic officials and parents in Brooklyn Saturday. "We spoke with the vicar (Monsignor Michael Hardiman)," said Monica Moskowitz, president of the St. Teresa's Parents' Guild. "He basically said that if we could come up with a plan, that he would look at it."The myriad plans under consideration at some schools include fund-raisers and aggressive, last-ditch enrollment drives. Moskowitz said a meeting was scheduled for Tuesday evening with parents from St. Mary's and Queen of Angels to discuss consolidating students at St. Teresa's, which is centrally located and has the capacity to seat as many as 600 students. Parents at Queen of Angels, she said, were concerned that sending their children to St. Sebastian's School in Woodside, as recommended by the diocese, would result in class sizes of 30 students or more."Our plan is currently to have the Queen of Angels parents to come down and see how many of them would come over to us (and) we're inviting our parents to see how many people are willing to stay," said Moskowitz, who said she was reaching out to St. Mary's parents as well. "We're just trying to get a preliminary number. What we're hoping for is 240 (students)."Between 1999 and 2004, St. Teresa's saw enrollment drop from 266 to 151. Principal Martin Abruzzo at a meeting with parents predicted enrollment would have fallen to just above 130 next year, setting the school up for hundreds of thousands of dollars in deficits. Meanwhile, parents at St. Mary's issued a separate plea for community contributions to save the 147-year-old school. The Home-School Association has launched a dollar-donation drive."We do not want to see the end of a school that has served our community so well for so long," Elizabeth Gleason wrote in an e-mail. "All we are asking for is $1."To make a donation to St. Mary's send a check to BVM Help of Christians Home School Association, School Rescue Campaign-Dollar Donation, PO Box 770728, Woodside, NY 11377.Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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