Catholic school merger on table

NAUGATUCK — Parents, staff and students at the borough’s two Catholic schools have mixed reactions about a proposition to combine the schools in an attempt to solve financial problems.

Parents at St. Francis of Assisi School, at 294 Church St., and St. Hedwig Parish School at 32 Golden Hill St., have met with archdiocese and school officials to discuss the possibility of a merger. Both parishes have to hold parishioners’ meetings before the Archdiocese of Hartford, in consultation with principals and pastors, prepares a recommendation for Archbishop Henry J. Mansell, who has the final say.

Although the schools are gathering input and have not officially decided what to propose, combining the schools is a possible solution to financial problems caused by the decline of enrollment and parish subsidy funds, Maria Zone, the archdiocese communications director, said.

As of December, enrollment at St. Francis was 154 students from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade, Principal Tom Fuller said. St. Hedwig, which serves the same grades, has 141 students, Zone said.

If the two schools merge, St. Francis would likely house all the students because that school building is bigger and can accommodate them all, Zone said.

Some parents said they were asked to support the merger without being given full information about important details, such as whether teachers would be retained and how the single consolidated school would be financed.

“I have no problem with merging, if that’s what needs to happen,” said Tamath Rossi, the borough’s deputy mayor. Rossi is the mother of two children enrolled in St. Francis and one who has graduated from the school. “If no subsidies are coming, then how can the school survive?”

Many St. Hedwig parents and students were unhappy about the idea, said Home and School Association Secretary Cher Fried, adding that parents were called to their meeting without knowing what it was about. She said the meeting became heated and emotional.

Fried said she was concerned that a consolidated school would have large classes and that former St. Hedwig students would not fit in.

“They’re really close to their teachers,” Fried said. “If they merge in there, they’ll be called ‘the St. Hedwig kids’ and be outcasts.”
Fuller said teachers and administrators were worried about their jobs, but the students had to be put first.

“I just want what’s best for the Catholic school students of Naugatuck, and I trust the Office of Catholic Schools to make the right decision,” Fuller said.