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Apr 18, 2011 4:54 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Stella Maris School Facing Large Deficit, In Danger Of Closing

Apr 20, 2011 3:02 PM

Stella Maris Regional School, facing massive budget deficits and declining enrollment, could close as soon as this fall, according to officials from the Diocese of Rockville Centre, which is stepping in with emergency financial and management help in a last-ditch effort to keep the Catholic school in Sag Harbor afloat.

Principal Jane Peters has tendered her resignation, effective at the end of the school year, and a group of parents who sat on the School Board resigned last Tuesday, April 12, the day that the financial problems came to light during a meeting with parents and diocese officials, according to Sean Dolan, director of public relations for the diocese.

The school has accumulated a $480,000 deficit, Mr. Dolan said, although $300,000 of that is made up of insurance payments owed to the diocese, which he said the diocese would “set aside” while the school focused on making up the remaining $180,000. During an interview on Monday afternoon, he said he did not know the details of how the deficit emerged, but would look into the matter, and said he thought a deficit had existed “for some time.”

The diocese will give Stella Maris $90,000 this year and an additional $90,000 next year to help offset the deficit, Mr. Dolan said, calling the grants an “unprecedented move” at a time when the diocese itself is stretched thin and Catholic schools everywhere are suffering financially. The diocese has also crafted an austerity budget for the school for the next school year and has set up an interim School Board.

Diocese officials will return to the school for a follow-up meeting on Wednesday, April 20, at 7 p.m. Sister Joanne Callahan, the diocese’s superintendent of schools, is expected to attend.

Mr. Dolan said the future of the school hinges on it maintaining enrollment. It is a challenge in the current economic climate, he said, for Catholic schools to get commitments from parents year to year, posing an obstacle to financial planning.

“In the case of Stella Maris, it’s more urgent that parents make a commitment that they want to see their child continue to be educated or continue to have a Catholic school choice in Sag Harbor,” he said.

Stella Maris had a net loss of 36 students at the start of the current school year, Mr. Dolan said, representing a sharp decline in tuition revenue. The school now has 127 students enrolled from kindergarten to eighth grade, and must retain at least 102 students this fall in order to stay open, he said. The school serves students from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade.

Ms. Peters did not return multiple calls last week before declining to comment through an assistant on Monday. When called at 3 p.m. last Wednesday, someone who picked up the phone at Stella Maris said Ms. Peters was in church.

When asked for the reason behind Ms. Peters’s departure, Mr. Dolan said, “I think that she’s looking out for the best interest of the school, and I think I’ll just leave it at that. She wants the school to continue, and I think that she felt that would best be accomplished if she steps aside at this time. But the diocese is very supportive of her, and is very grateful of the work that she has done in the school.”

When asked if Ms. Peters’s resignation was related to her management of the school’s finances, Mr. Dolan said “personality issues” were present at the school that may have caused parents to remove their children.

“All schools have that problem,” he said. “That’s just the human condition. But when you have a fairly decent healthy enrollment at the school, the school can weather that kind of thing.” In a case like Stella Maris, though, the loss of even a few students could call the viability of the school into question, he said.

Last week, parents said they were already mobilizing to save the school.

“We’re talking about fundraising,” said Jennifer Fowkes, an Amagansett mother with three children at the school, who was recently elected to serve as vice president of its Parents Association for the next school year. “That’s what we do, and beyond that, there’s no real discussion. This is all very early stages. We haven’t had enough time to really formulate a plan.”

Ms. Fowkes said support for the school runs deep among parents. “Let me just say that the parents are more than 100-percent committed to this school,” she said. “I’m all the way in Amagansett, but I drive my kids or send them on the bus every morning to go to Catholic school there because it is just the greatest place.”

Mr. Dolan called fundraising “critical to any school, particularly this one with very low enrollment.” He said that since last week’s meeting about the school’s finances, parents had raised about $50,000.

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The Catholic Church has raked in uncountable wealth from its believers over the last few millenniums. Surely The Holy Trinity can afford to keep this fine school alive?
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Apr 18, 11 7:25 PM
What do you care? It's not your money

Unlike public schools, this one doesn't have the ability to extract money by(what is ultimately) the point of a gun.
By RealityFirst (597), Bridgehampton on Apr 18, 11 8:09 PM
"The Point of a Gun"?
Really....that metaphor?
We have already had public officials shot in this country. This type of extremism influences the unstable. Can't you express your view with out using such extreme, intrinsically violent rhetoric?
No one is keeping you from the polls by pointing a gun at you when you go out and vote against your school budget…and by the way, good for you for voting.
Let’s tone it down, please.
By SHNative (554), Southampton on Apr 19, 11 8:47 AM
3 members liked this comment
If you don't, or can't pay your property taxes your home will ultimately be confiscated, by force if necessary.

There is nothing rhetorical about taxes ultimately being collected at the point of a gun. What do you think the authorities will do if you refuse to hand over your property voluntarily?

By the way, when school taxes can rise 10% in a single year even if the citizens vote down a budget, just how much representation do voters actually have in the process?

And finally, ...more
By RealityFirst (597), Bridgehampton on Apr 19, 11 9:20 AM
Nice conversation about guns etc. when the real issue is why The Catholic Church can't keep this fine school alive. Perhaps the Vatican could sell some of its jewelry? Too bad they had to pay out so much money to settle claims of abuse by priests over the last few decades.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Apr 19, 11 2:36 PM
1 member liked this comment
Maybe they can apply to the Fed, or the Treasury for a risk free, zero interest loan?

Then maybe, they can loan the money BACK to the Fed, at three percent interest.

That way, they can be immune to market forces as well, just like all the beneficiaries of the "bailout" era.

It just might work...

Apr 19, 11 9:22 PM appended by Mr. Z
"As America girds itself for another round of lunatic political infighting over which barely-respirating social program or urgently necessary federal agency must have their budgets permanently sacrificed to the cause of billionaires being able to keep their third boats in the water, it's important to point out just how scarce money isn't in certain corners of the public-spending universe. In the coming months, when you watch Republican congressional stooges play out the desperate comedy of solving America's deficit problems by making fewer photocopies of proposed bills, or by taking an ax to budgetary shrubberies like NPR or the SEC, remember Christy Mack and her fancy new carriage house. There is no belt-tightening on the other side of the tracks. Just a free lunch that never ends." ~ Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone (April 12, 2011)
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Apr 19, 11 9:22 PM
1 member liked this comment
Look who is trying to change the conversation now...hyporite
By joe hampton (3461), south hampton on Apr 20, 11 2:02 PM
He's not a hyporite, you're a hyporite.
By razza5351 (551), East Hampton on Apr 20, 11 5:01 PM
No you are
By razza5350 (1911), East Hampton on Apr 20, 11 9:17 PM
Not one kind or sympathetic comment about our community possibly losing yet another business-and this a school--mostly caused by these hard times. I feel very badly about this and the loss of many jobs to local teachers, custodians, office personnel, etc. It is a sad day when such a sweet school that has produced competitive, kind students closes. SM is an asset to our community.
By Mrs.Sea (268), Sag Harbor on Apr 20, 11 9:03 AM
2 members liked this comment
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Apr 20, 11 5:39 PM
Also by the fact the school charges about 10k per year for preschool. I'm surprised with your anti capitalist views that you have sympathy for the school dr z. The school is pretty much paid for by your arch enemies. People with money
By razza5350 (1911), East Hampton on Apr 20, 11 9:22 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Apr 21, 11 10:13 PM
The article is about a school closing because it doesnt have enough money. If 27 east printed an article on the easter bunny you would still be ranting about robber barons, derugulation and the glass steagal act.
By razza5350 (1911), East Hampton on Apr 22, 11 10:57 AM
1 member liked this comment
Well, if it was about the Easter Bunny, I'd most likely rant about how a bunny lays eggs, but since I know the Easter Bunny has henhouses all over the world, I probably won't.

I'll keep ranting about it, until the disparity, inequality, and oligarchy induced by theconflict of interest created by it, is over. So, either educate yourself about how they ARE a bad thing for the prosperity of the majority of this country, OR shut the **** up.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Apr 25, 11 5:29 AM
Right on genius. With your superior intellect you should be doing so much more than responding to comments on 27 east.
By razza5350 (1911), East Hampton on Apr 25, 11 6:38 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Apr 25, 11 7:12 PM
I feel like im beating a dead horse but this is an article about Stella Maris closing.
By razza5350 (1911), East Hampton on Apr 25, 11 9:21 PM
Did that too.

See below...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Apr 26, 11 6:21 PM
The real issue for the school is strong student population wanting a better education. If you lose 30+ children in one year, you need to reexamine the school and the education it provides. If the quality of education and its costs are not realistic to the community it serves, then the school will close. However, if you fix it, even non-Catholics will send their children to a Catholic school deeming the education is superior to the local public schools.
By voter (33), Amagansett on Apr 20, 11 11:14 AM
1 member liked this comment
An excellent point. Catholic schools usually have a waiting list, one wonders why this school is different.
By RealityFirst (597), Bridgehampton on Apr 20, 11 1:52 PM
You really can't lump Catholic schools in with other private schools

Catholic Schools have long provided excellent value for the tuition, and significantly reduce or waive the tuition all together for low income families regardless of their religion. We're talking a few hundred a month for elementary schools.

I'd say the risk from deviant priests is far, far lower than the very real violence and anti-education enviornment present in many public schools.
By RealityFirst (597), Bridgehampton on Apr 20, 11 8:00 PM
The school is in terrible shape structurally. I wonder if the principal resigned or was fired???
By sandycnyc (3), EH on Apr 20, 11 1:59 PM
ACTUALLY the principal, Mrs.Peters, was going to resigning at the end of the year. But, the school closed. They had a Mass at St. Andrews Church. I was there. Then they had a dance party. BTW pplz
By STELLABELLA (2), Sag Harbor on Apr 22, 14 9:10 PM
it is very small and old inside
By They call me (2826), southampton on Apr 20, 11 2:07 PM
If you divide the Southampton school budget by the number of students attending the schools, it comes to well over $40,000 per student per year. Hard to compete with that.
By davidf (325), hampton bays on Apr 20, 11 4:34 PM
It may have quite a bit to do with many families not being able to afford the tuition. There has been a great deal of "belt tightening" in the course of the last few years.

A private school education may simply be something a family cannot afford these days, no matter how quality it is.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Apr 20, 11 5:44 PM
1 member liked this comment
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Undocumented Democrat (2065), southampton on Apr 20, 11 9:07 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By razza5351 (551), East Hampton on Apr 21, 11 10:37 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By joe hampton (3461), south hampton on Apr 21, 11 3:23 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Apr 25, 11 5:45 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By dagdavid (646), southampton on Apr 21, 11 2:04 PM
Ahh...guys....this is a thread about a Catholic School in Sag Harbor.
Stay focused...
By SHNative (554), Southampton on Apr 22, 11 7:43 AM
3 members liked this comment
Ditto -- does this site still have a forum which allows everyone to rant at will on off-topic issues (OT)?

Editor please advise and/or update us on any new rules regarding regarding OT posts. Do you intend to monitor the content of posts for content in this regard?

Thanks, and have a good weekend.

By PBR (4956), Southampton on Apr 22, 11 6:00 PM
A lot of Catholic schools did not survive the evaporation of the teaching labor pool composed of nuns and the wives of Catholic men. If enrollment in Stella Maris is declining, the most obvious cause would be that the local public school is of high quality so a competing Catholic school would only appeal to parents committed to Catholic education for religious reasons.

By contrast, Catholic schools in urban slums have immense public support and waiting lists because there is a chasm between ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Apr 26, 11 11:21 AM
1 member liked this comment
It could also be that the very wealthy only summer out here and bring the family back to the city for their kids schooling. The public school system is still the most economical. I also believe due to benefits and pay the public schools attract better teachers
By razza5350 (1911), East Hampton on Apr 27, 11 12:31 AM
Dude, sag harbor elementary is a TERRIBLE school
By STELLABELLA (2), Sag Harbor on Apr 22, 14 9:12 PM
close this school
By one who knows (3), sag harbor on Apr 27, 11 8:09 PM
1 member liked this comment