With declining enrollments and financial losses made insurmountable by the economic effects of the pandemic, two elementary schools in the Diocese of Allentown are closing at the end of this school year.
Parents of students at Sacred Heart School in Bath and St. Francis Academy in Bally were notified today.
“This decision does not come lightly and will affect many people, including students, their families, alumni, the parish community and the many friends and benefactors who have supported our school over the years,” said Father Christopher Butera, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish.
The school had only 60 students registered for next year across 9 grades, and the parish can no longer afford to fund the school’s persistent operating deficits, Father Butera said. He said school and parish leaders have explored every possible scenario for keeping the school open without success.
St. Francis Academy will transform itself into a preschool and full-day kindergarten program beginning next academic year. The school is supported by two parishes, Most Blessed Sacrament in Bally, and St. Columbkill, Boyertown. Msgr. Edward Domin, administrator of Most Blessed Sacrament, and Father Martin Kern, pastor of St. Columbkill, said the school is projected to lose about a half-million dollars next academic year.
Enrollment has been declining steadily, the pastors said. Only 75 students were expected for next academic year, which would represent a 62-percent decline in school enrollment over five years.
The effects of the Coronavirus pandemic, which has reduced parish weekly collections, was a factor in both decisions, the pastors said.
“We recognize the impact that such sad news has on our students, their families, and our staff,” said Dr. Brooke Tesché, Chancellor of Catholic Education in the Diocese of Allentown. “These decisions were reached only after much analysis, deliberation, and prayer.”
Dr. Tesché urged the affected students and their parents to consider transferring to one of the Diocese’s other elementary schools. “Every student will continue to have a place in Catholic education,” she said.
Students in the two closing schools are eligible for Catholic School Continuation Grants of $1,000 in the first year and $500 in year two if they transfer to another Catholic school.
Elementary schools are operated by individual parishes, and not by the Diocese. The Diocese provided the parishes with the support and the evaluation tools they needed to determine the schools’ futures.
After study, the pastors recommended closures. The closings also were recommended by the diocesan Council of Priests and the diocesan Board of Education. Bishop Alfred Schlert accepted the recommendations.