St. Rita School in Fairfax, a parochial school that began in 1957, will close its doors at the end of this school year because of low enrollment and budget deficits, the school’s pastor said Thursday. A group of parents has vowed to fight the closure.
“The problem we have is the same across the United States: dwindling numbers of students and higher personnel costs,” said the Rev. Ken Weare. Enrollment at the school, which encompasses preschool through eighth grade, dropped over the past two years, from 151 to 143 and to the current enrollment of 133, Weare said.
The school’s annual budget is $1.3 million, and most of its income is from tuition, an average of $7,600 a year, the pastor said. However, “95 of the 133 are paying full tuition and others are not,” Weare said. “This year we gave $158,000 in tuition assistance.”
Despite efforts to raise money through grants and events such as a gala, an annual fund, yard sale and bingo, “we have come to a point where our financial obligations are beyond critical,” the pastor said in a letter that went to the school’s families Wednesday.
Rising personnel costs are another factor, Weare said Thursday. “The cost for salary and benefits for our teachers and staff is 86 percent of the total budget,” Weare said.
While the school can meet payroll and financial obligations for the rest of this year, it will not be able to do so in the coming school year. Because of this, the plan is for the school to close at the end of this school year.
“This is horrible. I am devastated. But we are not going to go down without a fight,” said Breanna Gubbins, parent of Maggie, in seventh grade, Georgia, in second grade, and Grace, who graduated from St. Rita last year.
“The parents are rallying together to save our school,” the Fairfax resident said. She said her group has deluged the parish office with phone calls supporting the school.
“Yes, enrollment is shrinking. But this would be the first year we would need a subsidy from the archdiocese (of San Francisco),” Gubbins said. She estimated the amount needed from the archdiocese as around $300,000….
The parents will meet at 6 p.m. Sunday at the St. Rita parish hall to sound off on the issue and strategize, Gubbins said.
In addition to the students who will be without a school, about 25 employees would lose their jobs. In an effort to soften the blow, the school has set up two Monday meetings, one for the teachers and one for the students’ families.
“The principals of all the Catholic schools in Marin have been notified that our school is closing and we’re having a meeting Monday at 4:30 p.m. for parents,” Weare said. “The principals will give parents school application forms and information about their schools.”
According to Weare, there is room at the various Marin parochial schools for St. Rita students. “There are 12 parishes in Marin and I believe there are about 12 Catholic schools, one high school and 12 grammar schools,” the pastor said.
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