NAUGATUCK — Some parents believe the Archdiocese of Hartford is not doing enough to save St. Francis-St. Hedwig School, the borough’s only Catholic school that is facing a projected deficit of over $300,000.
An online petition to save the 120-year-old school had gained more than 2,000 signatures Monday.
The petition asks the archdiocese to allocate funds from the future sale of the vacant St. Mary and St. Hedwig church properties to assist the school.
“We are requesting that the Archdiocese of Hartford give us the chance to raise funds, increase enrollment and craft a new day and a bright future for Catholic Education in Naugatuck. We all passionately want our Catholic Church to be strong and survive into the future, but it needs to start with creating well educated children raised in a Catholic environment,” the petition states.
In a letter to parents Friday, Principal John Alfone wrote that enrollment has declined by over 100 children in the past six years and the parish of St. Francis of Assisi does not have the financial resources to address the deficit.
He said he met with a group of local government officials and the St. Francis School Foundation on Friday to discuss ways to address the issue.
The archdiocese did not respond to messages Monday.
During the meeting, the school and the foundation agreed to exchange financial data, Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said.
The group came to an agreement that it would hold off on making a final decision about closing the school for four weeks until the archdiocese looks at potentially repurposing real estate assets in the borough, the contributions from the St. Francis School Foundation, increasing enrollment and other potential funding sources, Hess said.
“It’s up to the archdiocese as to which properties they will sell or rent out or retain,” Hess said. “There are developers who have expressed interest in the past in acquiring other church properties,” Hess said.
After Friday’s meeting, parent Chester Cornacchia said he is more optimistic about the school’s future than any time in the last five years.
“There has been an absolute upswell in interest in the school and certainly a commitment by enrolled parents to do whatever is necessary to help the school survive and to enhance it for future generations,” Cornacchia said.
He said Pastor the Rev. Sebastian Kos was committed to reconfiguring the school for long-term sustainability with enrollments of 130 to 150 students.
The $300,000 deficit is a “doomsday” projection, Cornacchia said, which includes unpaid tuition and the removal of the parish subsidy.
He said the school hopes to attract students during an upcoming open house. With several area Catholic schools closing and not enough seats in the new combined school, some parents have expressed interest in sending their students to St. Francis-St. Hedwig, Cornacchia said.
The closest neighboring Catholic school, Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in Waterbury, is near capacity, Cornacchia said.
Several parents said they felt the school hasn’t been transparent about its financial situation.
Former Principal John Salatto said he left the ledgers in the black when he retired in June. A drop in enrollment of 15 students this year accounts for a loss in tuition revenue of $66,000, parents said, but they were left to wonder where the rest of the deficit came from. Parents pay $4,400 in tuition a year, plus text books, uniforms and lunches.
“I don’t understand where all the money’s going to,” parent Jennifer Gibran said Monday. “They basically lied to us in the meeting.”
The meeting last week was the first they had heard about financial problems at the school, Gibran said.
Given more time, she said parents would rally to raise the funds necessary to keep the doors open.
“They’re giving us no options. They’re basically saying it’s done,” Gibran said.
Parents said Kos told them he would put money toward fixing the church’s roof rather than keeping the school open.
Several parents are planning to send their children to school late on Friday so as to skip the mass led by Kos.
Gibran said Kos and the archdiocese don’t care about the school and haven’t been promoting it to gain new students.
“I think they’re just giving up on it,” she said. “It feels like we’re fighting and the people who should be fighting with us are against us.”
Luke Marshall contributed to this article.