Niagara Catholic junior-senior High School has closed in the city of Niagara Falls. WBFO’s senior reporter Eileen Buckley says financial factors and low enrollment led to the decision.
“It was heart wrenching and grueling and we went through hours and hours of meetings to get to this point,” stated Judi Nolan Powell, president of Niagara Catholic’s board of trustees.
Powell tells WBFO News it was very “sudden” decision. But cash flow, declining enrollment and the loss of subsidized funding from the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo forced the decision.
Powell said they learned in May the diocese would eliminate its subsidy the school, which is about 20-percent of their revenue base.
“We have been challenged as a lot of Catholic schools are,” Powell remarked. “Not only was it our subsidy, which was about $150,000, but we also got additional aid for our middle school because we’re unique in that we had the 7th and 8th grade with us and that varies depending on the enrollment and in addition to that, they covered the cost of several of our insurance policies."
Upcoming fall enrollment numbers were low. There are currently just 121 students enrolled in the school in 7th through 12th grade. But now families are scrambling to find a new school.
“Our Catholic Academy of Niagara Falls, which is right now a pre-k through 6th school is going to retake the 7th and 8th graders – seamless transition. In addition to that, the other catholic schools in the area, including O’Hara and the other catholic schools in our vicinity – St. Stephen on Grand Island, St. Peters in Lewiston and Stella Niagara – are all going to take our students,” noted Powell.
The diocese confirmed it has also eliminated subsides for five other private catholic high schools - all former diocesan schools. Those schools are Cardinal O'Hara High School in the Town of Tonawada, Timon-St. Jude in Buffalo, St. Mary's in Lancaster, Notre Dame in Batavia and Archbishop Walsh in Olean.
Diocese spokesman George Richert tells WBFO New with declining school enrollment and a drop in parish collections in recent years, they can no longer assist. He said the diocese supported the schools for 20-years, but no longer can provide the funding due.
WBFO News asked Richert if the current priest sexual abuse settlements is a cause for finanical difficults. Richert said it is "only one part" of this issue ina "series of fiscal challanges."