Low enrollment, rising costs cited as factors
Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Academy, a venerable religious school in Bensonhurst that has educated generations of children, is closing its doors forever in June.
In a letter to parents announcing the decision, Michael Masaracchio, chairperson of the academy’s Board of Directors, cited declining student enrollment and rising costs as factors in the decision to shut down.
“This difficult decision was reached, following extensive consultation, due to continuing economic challenges faced by the academy and a rapidly decreasing pool of students choosing Catholic school education in our area,” Masaracchio wrote in his letter.
The letter was posted on Facebook by the parent of a student.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, commonly referred to by Bensonhurst residents as OLG, is a kindergarten to eighth grade school located at 1514 72nd St., across the street from Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church. The academy operates under the jurisdiction of the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn.
The Class of 2019 will be the last graduating class in the school’s history.
Muriel Wilkinson, the academy’s principal, declined to comment when this newspaper reached her by phone at the school on Feb. 7.
Since 2012, enrollment at OLG has dropped from 217 students to 120 this year, according to an information sheet posted on the academy’s Facebook page. While the number of students has sharply decreased, the cost of educating those youngsters has gone up. It currently costs more than $6,000 per child.
“For the current school year, 2018-2019, our budget shows a deficit of $215,377. In addition, the fund balance in the academy is $559,633. What that means is that the academy does not have enough funds to meet expenses,” Masaracchio wrote.
Had it chosen to stay open, the academy would have faced the dire choice of seriously cutting back on services, according to Masaracchio. “To attempt to continue the academy while further curtailing academic services and extra-curricular activities would be a serious disservice to your sons and daughters,” he wrote in his letter to parents.
News of the school’s closure hit social media sites like wildfire.
The Facebook group Italian Enclaves posted a notice of the closure that drew several responses, including posts from people who offered theories as to why Catholic schools like OLG are dying.
Angela Cucuzza, who wrote that she graduated from OLG “many moons ago,” said the strength of pupil school in Bensonhurst is a factor. “The issue here is that city public schools in and around the neighborhood are significantly better than they were years ago. And you cannot compete with free,” she wrote, referring to the fact that Catholic schools, like all private schools, charge tuition.
Another Facebook user, Robert Armati, said parents are in a tight squeeze financially and can no longer afford to send their kids to Catholic school. “Many people talk about the whole ‘priest thing’ but the reality is that people cannot afford the high and rising property taxes and pay tuition as well. I send my kids to public school but if I could afford it I would have sent them to Catholic school,” he wrote.