This is will be the final year of Our Lady of Lourdes School in Milltown.
On Thursday, the Rev. Edward A. Czarcinski, Pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes parish announced that Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski has accepted a proposal of the parish Finance Council and School Advisory Council that Our Lady of Lourdes School be closed at the end of the current school year.
Father Czarcinski told parents at an open meeting held in the Church Thursday evening that the decision was made due to a steep and rapid drop in enrollment and the high cost of operating the school which he said, is about $1 million annually.
“It breaks my heart, but it comes down to economics; it's simply a fiscal matter” the pastor said, clearing his throat. “There are two things that we would need to survive: we need money and we need children.”
Currently the school has 163 students in grades Pre-K 3 to 8. Only 119 students have registered for the 2013-2014 school year. That is about half of the school’s capacity.
Father Czarcinski emphasized the school did undertake increased marketing and advertising efforts throughout the year in an effort to attract and retain students and said that he remained optimistic about enrollment figures until very recently. However, when there were no new registrations in grades 1 through 8 following an Open House in April and he learned of a forecasted 38 percent drop in enrollment, he realized the gravity of the situation.
This year at Our Lady of Lourdes, two classes have only 10 students and most others have no more than 15. Next year, there would be even fewer children in each class and the operating costs would remain the same, he said.
In keeping the school open, the financial burden would remain on the parish and, since the majority of students who attend the school are not associated with the parish, Father Czarcinski said, it would be unfair to continue to ask the parishioners to give a quarter million dollars annually to sustain the school.
While the parish has subsidized the school generously over the years, it did so only by dipping heavily into its savings. Continuing to subsidize the school would bankrupt the parish, he said, and as Pastor he was unwilling to put the parish in such a position.
Father Czarcinski said the previous Pastor, Father Thomas Perunilum, had left the parish with a very robust financial standing, however, “Most of it left through the school. It's a big financial drain for our little parish, our little community, to carry a million dollar budget on something. It is just too hard and too heavy.”
“I understand if you feel angry or hurt. I am very sad myself. When I came back here as the Pastor, my main objective was to save the school,” he said. “If we could run the school on spirit, on enthusiasm, on desire, we would be impossibly rich.”
The school went through a similar experience seven years ago when it was announced that Our Lady of Lourdes would closed but, at the time, parents successfully rallied to keep the doors open. Father Czarcinski, who was not the Pastor then, explained the current situation is more dire because of such an unprecedented and “precipitous drop” in enrollment. He also noted the operating expenses at the time were not as great as they are today.
Ellen Ayoub, Diocesan Superintendent of Schools, who was at the meeting, assured parents that she will work with the school to help ensure the transition for students is as easy as possible and said she will be available to speak with anyone who has questions or needs assistance.
Regarding the suddenness of the announcement, the Pastor said he has been forthright in letting school families know that the school has been in a “crisis mode” since the last threat of closure. The Pastor and principal have stressed constantly the need to have full and committed participation in the various school fundraisers and volunteer commitments, but even then they have been unable to collectively raise the money needed to help maintain the school.
When asked by parents if the decision was final, Father Czarcinski responded, “All of us here in the school community have been working very, very hard. If I could have seen improvement, or even the hope of improvement, I would have suggested that we try to keep our doors open for another year. But, sadly that is not the case. And so, yes, this is the final decision.”
—Diocese of Metuchen, Office of Communications