Tonawanda News

January 20, 2014

St. Francis closure demands explanation

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — In announcing painful Catholic school closures throughout Erie County, Buffalo Bishop Richard Malone implored prayers from the faithful for those affected. That’s appropriate. But there’s an essential truth that must be stated:

No higher authority need intercede, just the bishop himself, to right a grievous wrong in deciding St. Francis of Assisi school will go dark.

As outraged parents and the crestfallen staff at St. Francis pointed out in this newspaper Friday, the decision simply doesn’t add up. By the diocese’s own criteria, St. Francis should remain open.

Here’s why:

• Its enrollment has bucked the larger trend in the region and actually increased over the last decade.

• It has a healthy and supportive alumni community that has, time and again, answered calls for financial support when asked.

• Its tuition is lower than most Catholic schools and serves families of lesser means in one of the more financially challenged parts of the diocese.

• It has a healthy tuition endowment of more than $500,000 to assist those needy families who want their children to get a Catholic education but could not afford it otherwise.

• It is the last remaining Catholic elementary school serving the cities of Tonawanda and North Tonawanda, two communities with a rich and important legacy of religious education.

• The school itself could take on an additional 200 students from other smaller schools that will remain open under the diocese’s reorganization.

• Because the school exists in a city as opposed to a town, the Tonawanda City School District is not required to bus children to schools outside city limits, meaning parents will now be responsible for doing so themselves, a serious roadblock to continuing a Catholic education for many families.

All of this stands in stark contrast with what the diocese has said would be primary considerations as it determined which schools would stay and which would go. Parents, teachers and students are very much owed an explanation as to why these basic facts were ignored.

No one questions the diocese’s assertion that Western New York has more Catholic schools than a declining regional population and increasingly secular society can support. It’s a painful but necessary decision for the Catholic education system as a whole.

But closing a vibrant, beloved community institution that is not in immediate financial distress and is the last of its kind here is nothing short of tragic.

Given all this, the bishop is right — prayers are very much in order. So is some common sense.