Tonawanda News — This column is dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi School and all, past and present, who have contributed to its success.
The announcement from the Diocese of Buffalo that St. Francis School is closing hit me like a solid blow to the heart.
Although the diocesan school officials were told more than once that the cities of Tonawanda, North Tonawanda, Lockport, Niagara Falls and Buffalo (all cities) do not and will not bus children out of the district, St. Francis was closed anyway.
Parents are now left with a choice of driving their children to a Town of Tonawanda Catholic school, picking them up and transporting them to after-school events or going to a public school in the district. What would you choose? If I were a working parent unable to have my children bused to another district, the choice of a public school would be a no-brainer.
A few years ago, the then-superintendent of diocesan schools decided to close North Tonawanda Catholic (Ascension School). Just prior to that, the diocese first combined, then closed St. Joseph’s School and the Our Lady of Czestochowa School in North Tonawanda and then Ascension. That left a city of 31,269 residents without access to a Catholic school as there was no way to have them bused to another school out of the city.
Now add another 16,136 residents in the City of Tonawanda without a Catholic school and no way to have them bused out.
Stupid, stupid, stupid to leave nearly 50,000 residents without a choice.
Of course money is the bottom line, but St. Francis not only is one of two schools whose enrollment has grown in the past few years and now stands at 186, but the school parents and parishioners support. In fact one of the alumni recently donated $25,000 to the school as thanks for his great education. And one wonders what will become of the endowment fund, proceeds of which help keep the school’s tuition the lowest in the diocese.
Am I angry? Can’t you tell? I graduated from Ascension as we lived in North Tonawanda. Our children attended St. Francis because we lived in the city. Bussing was not even considered nor necessary.
This is a senseless and poorly thought out plan. Shame on the diocese, Bishop Malone, Sister Cimino, superintendent of Catholic schools, and Carol Kostyniak, secretary for Catholic education, for this unbelievable and totally wrong decision.
Many of the children at St. Francis just went through this agonizing decision just three years ago when NT Catholic closed. Now these children will be forced to move again, start over, become acclimated to a new place, once again feeling like outsiders.
I challenge Sister Cimino and Ms. Kostyniak to show me another Catholic school in the diocese that has such a committed pastor, who likes the school, makes daily class visits, teaches the 24 eighth-graders a religion class and plans game nights for the middle school students at the rectory. He knows every student by name and they all know and love him.
St. Francis School also has a building that can house 200 more students because of the adjacent Broad Street school.
As an aside, one of the Pre-K mothers called St. Christopher’s School about its preschool and was told the school is full and has a waiting list. So, too bad for that St. Francis mother.
And please, don’t give me that “demographic” and “data-driven” excuse, not when every school district that adjoins the City of Tonawanda and North Tonawanda is able to bus children to St. Francis.
* Don Swartz emailed (in part): “The survey (of parishioners and school personnel) was written in such a way as to illicit the exact responses (the diocese) was looking for. ... Why not make these surveys available so we can view the results ourselves?
“Why no appeal process? The fact that they refuse to do so indicates that their decision was made a long time ago. Why no probation? Why no opportunity to continue to improve?
“... (We) people in the middle, and our children, are constantly sacrificed. ... We are not high profile enough. We are neither rich or poor enough. We are the perpetual middle child.”
* Another parent emailed: “Why does the Town of Tonawanda have four schools and the City of Tonawanda and North Tonawanda have none? The Diocese of Buffalo is snubbing its nose at the Twin Cities.”
*One mother, whose children have been through the North Tonawanda Catholic closing, emailed: “They are basically saying to the people in the Tonawandas that they don’t care about us. Too bad for us.”
An additional slap in the face to closing schools is running a TV ad for Catholic education at the same time — and showing what the diocese finds important in the schools, putting religion last, not first where it should be.
Contact Community News Editor Barbara Tucker at firstname.lastname@example.org or 693-1000 ext. 4110.