2005-02-18 / Front Page

St. Virgilius School Needs Business Plan

Clock Ticking On Deadline Set By Diocese
By Brian Magoolaghan

A woman makes her way through the crowd of people signing in and jamming the door at Tuesday night’s meeting attended by nearly 250 people. A woman makes her way through the crowd of people signing in and jamming the door at Tuesday night’s meeting attended by nearly 250 people.

  • St. Virgilius School has less than 25 days to show the diocese a 3-5 year business plan proving it will be fiscally self-sustaining, and that its enrollment will grow, if it’s going to reopen in September.
  • Nearly 250 people gathered at the American Legion hall in Broad Channel Tuesday night to hear that message from Parents Association members, who have formed the Business Plan Committee working to keep the school’s doors open beyond June.

    Peter Mahon, a member of the committee, outlined the biggest obstacles: Tuition revenue covers only about $350,000 of the school’s annual operating cost of about $700,000 and enrollment has seen a steep drop since the late 1990s. There are 108 students attending the school and the average class size is 10 students –very different from the overcrowded public school picture.

    The Brooklyn Catholic Diocese, which contributes about $80,000 in subsidies annually to St. Virgilius, recently announced that 26 schools would close in June. The New York Archdiocese added six more schools to the list this week. Michael Hardiman, the Diocesan Vicar for Education, has cited budgetary and enrollment shortcomings.

    “We need to show an increase in both columns,” said John Spataro, Chairman of the Business Plan Committee and the meeting’s moderator. “With an open mind we can open the school,” he added.

    Mahon optimistically described the window of opportunity as “a crack in the door, a small light.” The school, he said, must stabilize its rolls immediately (enrollment is down by more than 10 percent in the last six months), establish new revenue streams, and increase enrollment.

    Mahon and Spataro said a 5-15 percent tuition hike and calling on alumni to make contributions were the most likely components of the plan. Other ideas being considered include bridging classes (combining two grade levels in one class), and adding attractive features such as an after school program, bus transportation, and incentive scholarships. The school, they said, also needs a professional marketing plan to grow enrollment.

    While some audience members growled at parts of the plan, the meeting was clearly about information – not a gripe session. Audience members – parents, students, faculty members, Broad Channel residents, and political representatives – spent the majority of the two-hour meeting listening intently to each other.

    Parents were asked to read and sign a written statement and pledge to keep their child or children in the school through this year, and next year, if the diocese accepts the business plan. It was unclear at press time how many parents would be willing to sign the pledge, but several at the meeting said they thought the school’s closure would cause a ripple effect throughout the community.

    Some Broad Channel residents said they fear that the closure of the school – a longstanding cornerstone and landmark in the community – could be followed by the church. Others said the school’s closure would have an immediate impact on property values on the island.

    “I’m not an expert on real estate but I can assure you that if our schools close our property values will go down,” said Don Henglein, who sits on the Business Plan Committee.

    “If you lose $50,000 on your house, I don’t know how much more incentive you [need] to keep your kid in St. Virgilius,” said one man in the audience.

    Rick Henglein said the school’s closing would be “the biggest failure in Broad Channel’s history.” Henglein, also a committee member, told the audience that the school has always been part of what joins the close-knit community together. He said he would “fight to the death” to save the school that three generations of his family have graduated from.

    But Henglein and others also seemed to have confidence that if there is one affected community that has a fighting chance, Broad Channel is it.

    City Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr., who cited the community’s “historically effective fundraising efforts,” met with the Vicar for Education for two hours on Tuesday. He told the audience that Hardiman acknowledged the possibility of a subsidy for St. Virgilius.

    “They do still subsidize schools. That’s a fact,” Addabbo said during an interview before the meeting. St. Virgilius deserves such funding due to its location and relative isolation, he said. Addabbo also made it clear that he wants Hardiman to seriously consider whatever plan the committee comes up with.

    “I told him not to turn this into a dog and pony show,” Addabbo told The Wave.

    Meanwhile, public school officials are eyeing the school for a takeover.

    “We are weighing all options, including refurbishing and reconstructing St. Virgilius,” Dr. Kathleen Cashin, Region Five 5 Superintendent, said through a Department of Education spokesperson this week.

    With the clock ticking and the deadline for a plan fast approaching, committee members said they have been dedicating several hours a day to the plan, and admitted they can’t do it alone. Sign-in sheets allowed meeting attendees to indicate expertise in the areas of budgets, business, fundraising, and marketing. Committee members said anyone who wants to share their abilities or advice should contact them via e-mail at BroadChannel@aol.com

    “We need savvy people to help us out,” said Henglein.

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