How will East End Catholic schools fare amid big budget cuts?

12/15/2011 1:00 PM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | St. Isidore's students returning to school last Thursday after attending mass at St. Isidore's church for the 'Feast of the Assumption'.

Might the East End’s three Catholic elementary schools be in jeopardy of closing or downsizing in the near future? That’s a question many in the community were asking last week after the Diocese of Rockville Centre announced cuts to Catholic school education on Long Island for 2012-13.

The diocese said six Long Island Catholic schools will close their doors for good at the end of the current school year as part of a plan to reduce costs. The diocese also announced that the three East End Catholic elementary schools will be asked to form a “strategic alliance” to remain viable in the long term.

Diocesan spokesperson Sean Dolan said Friday that St. Isidore’s Roman Catholic School in Riverhead, Our Lady of Mercy Regional School in Cutchogue and Our Lady Queen of Apostles Regional School in Center Moriches are being asked to find ways to come together next year for economic viability.

“Parishes, administrations, pastors, the diocesan elementary and the bishop’s advisory committee will be sitting down to assess how to make this work,” Mr. Dolan said.

Mr. Dolan said that while none of the three East End schools is currently slated for closure, a possible scenario might be for one of them to downsize.

“They’re not going to close right now,” he said. “Hypothetically, it could be that one school becomes a lower grade school.”

Since Our Lady of Mercy already offers only kindergarten through sixth grade, that would make St. Isidore’s or Queen of Apostles, both of which offer seventh and eighth grade classes, the more likely of the schools to downsize.

While an official at Our Lady of Mercy said St. Isidore’s will “potentially go to six grades,” Pastor Robert Kuznik of the Riverhead church said such speculation is premature.

“None of the three schools — Cutchogue, Riverhead or Center Moriches — are closing or downsizing in any way,” he said.
St. Isidore’s might seem like the most likely candidate to downsize since Bishop McGann-Mercy High School, which also calls Riverhead home, already offers seventh- and eighth-grade classes.

But Pastor Kuznik said ultimately the three elementary schools are simply being asked to come together in an effort to increase enrollment by finding ways to make the schools more attractive to the parents of prospective students. He said improving use of technology in the classroom is one way Catholic schools could become more appealing to the community.

Our Lady of Mercy principal Lorraine Delgenio said she’ll be sitting down next month with the principals of the other two schools to discuss how to strengthen their programs as a Catholic school community and promote Catholic education as an alternative to public education.

“Maybe we’ll take out advertising as a group,” she said.

Ms. Delgenio says she hopes the diocese is a part of the meeting, to offer direction.

“The diocese has been a wonderful help, support and advisor,” she said. “I’m sure that won’t stop.”

Mr. Dolan said the East End Catholic school community should view last week’s announcement as a good thing.

“Bishop [William] Murphy’s intent is not to close schools,” he said. “The hope is that the schools will be able to continue.”

In a Dec. 6 letter to parents posted on St. Isidore’s website, Bishop Murphy said it’s his goal to make sure there will be no more school closures during his tenure.

Our Lady of Mercy school board president Eileen Powers said it will be business as usual next year at the three schools.

“They just want us to work together and we already do work together,” she said. “Our kids are not going to school anywhere else.”

gvolpe@timesreview.com