Borough Catholic schools look to merger for salvation

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St. Francis Assisi school will be the site of the new St. Theresa School. PHOTO BY LARAINE WESCHLER
Faced with decreasing enrollments and financial deficits, Naugatuck’s two Catholic schools will become one under the name St. Theresa School.

“As we come together, it is imperative to keep Christ at the center of all our efforts. I am confident that we will be able to accomplish great and wondrous things in His name through the intercession of St. Theresa, the ‘Little Flower.’ Let us begin to work together and pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance to bring about a strong union within the Catholic educational system in Naugatuck,” said Rev. Michael J. Slusz, pastor at St. Francis Assisi, in a prepared announcement released by the Archdiocese of Hartford.

Currently, St. Francis and St. Hedwig schools are the only Catholic schools in the borough. Both have been plagued by deficits and dropping enrollment—St. Francis alone plunged from 235 students in 2000 to 154 students this year.

On top of those difficulties, the schools received the bad news this year that their parishes could no longer provide them with significant financial subsidies.

This year and last year, the archdiocese has had to contribute $100,000 in emergency funding to St. Hedwig. The St. Francis parish announced this year it was no longer able to continue the $115,000 subsidy for its school.

Merging the two schools has been at the center of discussions on how to salvage Catholic education in Naugatuck. After what the Archdiocese described as a “comprehensive consulting process,” it was decided that merging the schools was the best option going forward.

“In order to ensure the future of Catholic education in Naugatuck, it was imperative to hear from the broad-based constituencies and allow them to contribute to the consultation process,” said Superintendent of Catholic Schools Dale R. Hoyt, in a prepared release.
“After reviewing all of the information that was collected, the predominant idea was that we merge the two schools.”

The Archdiocese announced its decision during a meeting with parents Wednesday, and laid out it plans for the merger, which will go into effect July 1, in an announcement to the media.

“In making this decision to merge the schools, rest assured that the students were always at the center of our discussions. The educational ministry of the Catholic Church is to prepare our children to be outstanding, virtuous, and caring citizens by providing them with a quality Catholic education filled with strong values and spiritual practices,” said Archbishop Henry J. Mansell in a written statement.

St. Francis school will house the new school because it is larger and has a gym, science lab, technology room and a separate cafeteria. All amenities St. Hedwig doesn’t have, the release stated.

It’s anticipated that St. Theresa school will need an enrollment of 218 students to break even. Currently, there 147 students and 154 students enrolled at St. Hedwig and St. Francis respectively.

Current students and their siblings will be offered a one-time $300 tuition assistance payment in an effort to entice students to go to St. Theresa next school year. Also, families with four or more children enrolled at the school will receive free tuition for each child over three enrolled in the school.

As for the faculty of the two schools, some will be laid off when the schools merge.

Teachers will be retained based on their academic qualifications, degrees, certifications and seniority. Teachers who are laid off will be placed on a priority hiring list.

Dr. John Salatto, current principal at St. Hedwig, will be the new principal of St. Theresa.

“We have a very new and exciting adventure ahead of us, and to head that is a principal’s dream,” Salatto said.

Principal Tom Fuller of St. Francis said he held a “heartbreaking” staff meeting last Wednesday to announce the change and some layoffs.

“It’s all for the good of the students,” Fuller said. “I’m hoping to still work in the Archdiocese of Hartford. God loves me. He’ll take care of me.”

Following the meeting last week, the reaction to the merger was mixed among parents.

Parents said they were concerned that class sizes would be too large. Many parents are looking at sending their children to Catholic schools in Waterbury or Cheshire next year, said Cher Fried, who has two children at St. Hedwig.

“I don’t think that they’re going to get 100 percent enrollment from St. Hedwig,” Fried said.

Others felt the merger was a good move.

“I think the most important thing is maintaining Catholic education in Naugatuck,” said Teddy Matan, who is on the St. Hedwig finance board.

The Republican American contributed to this article.

1 COMMENT

  1. As parents we can make this a good thing for our childrens future. Yes, some people will look elsewhere, but I think we need to try to keep the Naugatuck Catholic schooling alive by working together to make this work. While I understand the whole name change issue, let’s keep our heads up for the kids. It’s going to be a big change for all of us. And we can all make it work!