“Save our school” was a chant heard often outside of St. Agatha School, 736 48th Street, on Friday, February 3.
After receiving the news last month that the Catholic school that opened in 1922 would be closing this summer due to financial woes, students, parents, alumni and Assemblymember Felix Ortiz gathered outside the school with heavy hearts as they tried to send a message to the Diocese of Brooklyn that closing the beloved school would be a mistake.
“I’ve been here since pre-K,” said seventh grader Tony Meza. “It’s like a second home. I’ve met all my friends here. The night I heard it was closing, I started to cry a little but the next day, with my friends, I burst into tears. I was heartbroken. Now I have to graduate with strangers.”
“I’ve had many friends since that time and I feel sad because I really want this school to stay open, but I’m glad we’re trying really hard for all this and to keep it open,” said Britney Pauta, who has been at the school since the third grade.
“Even though I’ve only been here for one year, this school has turned into a home for me,” added Kimberly Morales. “Everyone is like family here. We all have a unique bond with the teachers and each other.”
Parents say they are fed up with both the closing and the way they were informed.
“It’s very hard for the parents, especially having to find another school for the kids,” said Macy Grace Bargas, who had to tell her daughter, who is in kindergarten, the sad news. “I told her and she cried. This is her first year here. The emotion of the kids is why the parents are hurt.”
Assemblymember Felix Ortiz, whose children went to St. Agatha, stressed that, “This is a sad time for the parents of the students attending the school. The Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens has continued to close Catholic schools without having a systematic approach on how to inform the parents. I think parents should know what’s happening so that they can plan for where their children go.”
Ortiz said he had made efforts to reach out to the Diocese. “I’m trying to have a conversation with the Diocese,” he explained. “They returned my call. I’m still trying to talk to them to see what all the avenues are.”
Alumni also showed their support for the young students. “We have to stop it,” said Stephen Nygard, who graduated in 1968. “There’s enough money (to save the school.)”
The school has special meaning for Nygard. “I still live here,” he explained. “My grandparents raised money to build this school and that church. My parents went here, as did my aunts, uncles and siblings. Everyone that I know that is alumni from here has turned out successful.”
Frankie Marra, who grew up in Sunset, places the blame on the Diocese. “Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio doesn’t care about Catholic education,” he claimed. “You don’t see one church close down. He’ll keep the churches open, despite low attendance but he won’t keep school opens.”
However the Diocese explained the decision was made due to the rapidly decreasing pool of students choosing Catholic school education. According to its statement, during this school year, the budgeted per student cost for educating one child at St. Agatha is $5,329 while the tuition charged is $3,949. The school’s budget was based on a larger student body and a growing deficit has resulted ($55,571) as enrollment goals have not been met.
“Obviously, the Diocese looks at the big picture and can we continue to offer the same quality of education to the students and for how long?” Director of Communications for the Diocese of Brooklyn Vito Formica told this paper. “That’s what they look at when making the difficult decision to close a school. Can they pay the teachers? All these things they take into account.”
Despite some alumni claiming the funds are available to save the school, Formica disagreed. “I don’t know where they’ve gotten this information,” he said. “They don’t have a source. It’s not accurate at all. Any funds available in the coffers of the school are a fraction of what’s needed for repairs to the school.”