2005-02-11 / Front Page

St. Virgilius School To Close

By Howard Schwach

Broad Channel’s St. Virgilius School will close its doors in June as part of a cost-cutting move by the Brooklyn Catholic Diocese that will cut more than 25 schools, according to a letter from the parish priest.

Word of the closing quickly spread through the small island community and an impromptu meeting was held Tuesday night at the school, which has served the community for more than 80 years.

Parents complained that they first learned of the closing when their students came home Tuesday with a letter from the parish administrator, Father John Wtulich.

“Yesterday afternoon, I received a telephone call from the Diocesan Vicar for Education, Monsignor Michael Hardiman,” the letter said. “He informed me of Bishop DeMarzio’s decision that Saint Virgilius School would close in June 2005.”

The short, five-paragraph letter added, “Monsignor Hardiman stated that the reason for this decision was our low enrollment.”

A parent at the school on Wednesday morning, who asked not to be identified, told The Wave that one child had opened the letter in class and read it aloud to the class.

She indicated that it was the first time that the teacher in the classroom had heard of the school’s closing.

Mary Burke, a parent association official, said that the group was told earlier that the school would stay open if the parents proved that they could raise the money necessary for it to remain open.

“We raised more than $100,000 dollars this year [in addition to the tuition costs], but it was not enough.”

The school reportedly has 118 students in grades 1 through 8.

Parents have been told previously that the school receives no subsidies from the diocese towards its $500,000 yearly operating budget, but at the meeting Tuesday, they were told that some subsidies were provided by the church.

“We really hoped that our demographics would have helped the church to understand how necessary we are here,” Burke added. “This is a political ploy by the Catholic Church and people have to wake up.”

Present at the meeting was City Councilman Joseph Addabbo, who represents the community.

Addabbo says that he has attempted to set up a meeting with DiMarzio, but has been unsuccessful.

He said that despite the fact that 25 schools will close, St. Virgilius is in a “unique position.”

“Any plan that calls for putting young kids on a bus to go over a bridge to get to school is wrong,” Addabbo told The Wave. “There are safety issues involved and it is wrong to force kids to do that.”

“Even if the school is running in the red, and I am not sure that is the case,” Addabbo said, “the diocese should keep it open.”

Addabbo said that parents are being given a choice of some poor options by the announcement coming at this time.

“The timing is really bad,” he said. “Parents can stick it out for the rest of the year and then find all the other schools are overcrowded, or they can pull their kids out now and put them in a school that requires lots of travel.”

One Broad Channel parent said that she went to PS 47 principal Patricia Tubridy when the rumors first surfaced a few weeks ago, but was told that there is no room at the public school for the St. Virgilius students.

At a press conference on Wednesday, the diocese said St. Virgilius would not reopen and that students would be accepted at either St. Camillus or St. Rose of Lima.

The Wave attempted to ascertain from the Region Five office as to whether children living in Broad Channel could be turned down by the public school.

Region Five Superintendent Kathleen Cashin released a statement through the Department of Education’s press office that said, “Dr. Cashin is aware of the parochial school closing.”

She did not address the question that was asked of her, however.

Councilman Addabbo thinks that one solution to the problem would be the city renting the St. Virgilius School building, as an annex of PS 47, an idea that he termed a “perfect marriage.”

“The public school needs space and the diocese needs money,” he said, adding that he is sure the church would want to look at the curriculum that would be taught in the building before signing an agreement with the city.

Alicia Maxey, a spokesperson for The Department of Education (DOE) said that the agency is already in discussions with the Diocese to rent space in the closed schools, and that it would “work closely with impacted schools.”

The letter given to the students cites low enrollment as the reason for closing the school, but parents at the school attribute other reasons as well.

One parent, who asked not to be identified, said that the closings were a result of the millions of dollars paid to the parents of children who had been molested by pedophile priests. Another attributed the closing to “money being siphoned off to build churches in third-world nations.”

At press time, there were no indications that an organized protest over the closing was being contemplated, although many parents at the school said that they were willing to fight for their school.

Others, however, said that they had to bow to the authority of the Bishop and the parish administrator.

A spokesperson for the diocese said that there was no appeal process for keeping the schools open.

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