CHAMPLAIN — After years of financial struggle, St. Mary’s School in Champlain will not open this fall.
Seventy students will now be looking for a new school, and 12 teachers and staff will be out of a job.
To the parents at St. Mary’s, the news came as a total shock.
“The minute I heard it, I broke down in tears,” said Carla Filion, whose son was preparing to enter fifth grade. “That school’s amazing. This is such a great loss.”
Filion said that her family is thinking of moving so they can put their son in a private school. He has been at St. Mary’s since first grade.
Disagreement exists as to the school’s financial situation and the shortfall in the budget for the upcoming year.
The Rev. James Delbel, pastor of St. Mary’s Parish, said the decision was simply a financial one.
According to Delbel, the budget that the diocese drew up for the 2012-13 school year showed a deficit of $140,000, which he called realistic.
“When you put it all together, it definitely didn’t look that good,” he said. “The storm clouds were definitely approaching, and the storm was here.
“The trip wire was always whether or not we were going to have to borrow, and since we already owe about a quarter of a million dollars, this was really going to put us over $300,000.”
Delbel said that because of the school’s financial condition, they have not been able to pay any money on its debt for three years.
MET DRIVE GOAL
But Amy Gehrig, director of development for St. Mary’s, sees the financial picture differently.
She said they were given a fundraising goal of $117,000 to keep the school open. By the end of June, they had reached that goal.
Besides raising the money, Gehrig was able, through an advancement program introduced by the diocese called Partners in Mission, to raise the enrollment from 48 students this past year to 70 for the upcoming year.
“Everything was moving in the right direction,” she said. “Things were positive. We were given the green light on the last day of school. We were told, ‘See you next year.’”
The confusion seems to be over the status of a large donation made by an anonymous donor. Delbel said that at the last minute, the $50,000 donation was pulled; he cited a possible case of cold feet.
Gehrig said that once they had raised the $117,000, new stipulations were added in order to keep the school open. She said they were later asked to raise another $100,000 by Jan. 30, 2013, and another $50,000 by the end of June 2013. In light of those stipulations, the donor chose to pull out, according to Gehrig.
“The shortfall in our budget was a total of $79,000, so they were looking for us to raise above and beyond what our shortfall was,” Gehrig said.
MONEY BEING RETURNED
Another stipulation, Gehrig said, was that her position would be transferred from the school to the church, so she couldn’t guarantee donations would go to the school. Any money raised would be non-refundable and would have to go through the church and then be allocated to the school, she said.
Gehrig is now in the process of returning the $117,000 to donors who had given it in support of the school.
She and others are trying to appeal the decision to Bishop Terry LaValley. These decisions are typically left to the parish priest, she said, but she is hoping the bishop will step in and repeal the decision.