It’s closing time for another Brooklyn Catholic school.
Sunset Park, which continues to experience school overcrowding, will soon lose another educational institution as St. Agatha School, 736 48th Street, which opened in 1922, closes its doors after the 2016-17 school year.
Parents were informed of the news on Monday, January 9 by the school and in a letter sent the following day by the Diocese of Brooklyn.
“Despite the best efforts of our most dedicated principal to market St. Agatha School, the fact remains that the school has lost 34 students, overall, in the past seven years,” said Director of Communications for the Diocese of Brooklyn Vito Formica of the school that currently serves 166 students. “This school year, there are eight classes with less than 20 students. While some parents cherish the small class atmosphere, realistically tuition for this type of education normally approaches $15,000. Our families are unable to afford this tuition.”
According to the Diocese, the decision was also due to the rapidly decreasing pool of students choosing Catholic school education.
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 budget was based on a larger student body and a growing deficit has resulted ($55,571) as enrollment goals were not met.
Father Vincentius Do, pastor of St. Agatha Parish, and Principal Maximo Catala released a joint statement to the parents. “To attempt to continue the school while further curtailing academic services and extra-curricular activities would be a serious disservice to your sons and daughters,” they said. “Also, the necessary staff constrictions would contribute to the deterioration of the total educational program.”
The news has left many parents and alumni both surprised and upset.
“I feel the Diocese cheated our kids and yet they are the most respectful, well-behaved, hard-working, dedicated, young community members and citizens,” said parent and local teacher Juliana Rivera. “Shame on them all for treating the parishioners’ children like this.”
“I graduated in the class of 1968 and I was very proud of going to St. Agatha,” added Teresa Suarez. “I live in Spain and was always proud to say every parish had their own school in New York. Here it’s not that way. And now the Diocese wants to close schools? Terrible.”
“My family has been a part of the school and parish from the 1930s until 2000,” said JoAnn West-Atlas, who graduated from the school in 1968 along with her siblings, and whose father and aunts did, as well in the first half of the 20th century.
West-Atlas said she was shocked to hear the news. “About five years ago, after a reunion at St. Agatha’s, I contacted the principal,” she added. “I was so happy to see that the school was doing well and wanted to send a contribution. Via email, she told me to contribute through the Brooklyn Diocese’s school fund, Futures in Education. She said I could tell them that I wanted my contribution to go to St. Agatha’s. That is what I did. The only problem is that about three times they directed my contribution to another school/student in the Diocese even after I specifically stated I wanted the donation to go to St. Agatha’s. I remember thinking that my alma mater must be doing well if the Diocese directed the contribution to another school.”
Assemblymember Felix Ortiz has also chimed in. “I question why St. Agatha’s School has to close,” he said. “What procedures are in place to ensure that parents will be able to have an alternative for their children? Church officials should make Sunset Park schools a greater priority.”
The parents clearly agree. The Mothers of St. Agatha, has started a petition on change.org, where they seek 500 signatures to be sent to elected officials to help save the school.
Funds are also being raised. “We stand here today in the effort to raise awareness in the belief we have towards the potential of the school,” said parent Carla Trivino, who said she had “created a gofundme page with the purpose of collecting money for school repairs,” but has now shifted the purpose to keeping the school open.
According to Rivera, a rally is slated to be held on Friday, February 3 outside of the school, though no time has been announced.
According to the Diocesan Office of the Superintendent of Schools, every effort will be made to transition St. Agatha’s students to other Catholic elementary schools if parents want that.
“The community of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Academy has extended an invitation to each family to register there due to the proximity to the homes of our students and the fact that the academy serves a similar population,” said Formica.
An information night was held at St. Agatha School on Wednesday, January 18. Catholic school administrators and personnel were available to present their programs and answer questions. Formica deemed it a successful and informative evening.
“The closure of a school is not an easy experience for anyone concerned,” added Formica.
To visit the petition page, go to http://bit.ly/2jbrsIL.