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May 9, 2011 11:20 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Stella Maris School To Close At End Of Year

May 10, 2011 5:51 PM

The Stella Maris Regional School will close at the end of the current school year, according to a letter sent to parents over the weekend by the Reverend Michael J. Rieder, a member of the Catholic school’s board.

Rev. Rieder’s letter said the school received commitments from the parents of only 44 children to enroll their kids at Stella Maris for the 2011-12 school year, barely a third of the number registered prior to revelations about financial difficulties at the school and the imposition of an austerity budget by the Diocese of Rockville Centre, which oversees all Catholic schools on Long Island. It also scolded Stella Maris parents for the “apparent division in the Body of Christ that is this school community” and called for “healing and reconciliation.”

“It is a sad reality that we cannot run our school with these numbers,” Rev. Rieder, the pastor of St. Therese of Lisieux Catholic Church in Montauk, wrote in the letter, which was sent to the parents of the 127 students currently enrolled in the school’s kindergarten through eighth grade classes. “This is not just a financial reality, but also an academic one. Five of the grades have three or fewer students enrolled for the coming year. This would not make a healthy learning environment. We have no choice but to close our school at the end of this academic year.”

The news hit hard with parents, and especially with teachers who are cast into an uncertain job market where most schools are paring down their teaching staffs.

“I’m not only losing my job, I’m sort of losing my home,” said teacher Kiersten Simmons, who is also a former Stella Maris student. “I was there from age 4 to age 13, and then I worked at the summer camp during high school and college, and then they were my first job. I still can’t honestly believe it’s going to just be gone now.”

Last month, the diocese acknowledged that Stella Maris had been operating at a deficit for at least three years and was expected to be some $480,000 in debt by the end of the 2010-11 school year, following a 20-percent drop in enrollment this year alone. The school’s principal, Jane Peters, tendered her resignation in the wake of the revelations, and the four parents association representatives on the board left their posts in protest over having been kept in the dark about the severity of the deficit.

The diocese said it would set aside more than $300,000 owed to it by the school for liability insurance premiums and pledged to contribute $90,000 per year for the next two years to keep the school operating. The diocese typically does not support its schools through direct financial contributions.

Meanwhile, last week parents pledged to raise more than $100,000 by midsummer and contributed more than $30,000 last week to help keep the school open.

But the diocese also said the school would need to enroll at least 102 students for the 2011-12 school year to meet the financial needs of the austerity budget it drafted for Stella Maris’s future operations. The budget was based on the number of students who had already registered for the coming school year, according to diocese officials. To ensure that at least that many students actually enrolled, the diocese asked parents, at a meeting at the school on April 11, to submit a signed letter of commitment to enroll their students by last Wednesday, May 4.

Just 44 students were committed to enrolling by the deadline. Parents this week said the poor turnout was due to a combination of anger over the diocese and school administration keeping the deficit a secret, concerns that educational programs at the school would suffer under an austerity budget, financial stresses in a struggling economy, and old-fashioned procrastination.

Rev. Rieder issued a sharp rebuke of parents in his letter for the apparent lack of dedication to the future of Stella Maris.

“As sad as it is to see any Catholic school close, the sadness is magnified at Stella Maris by the apparent division in the Body of Christ that is this school community,” he wrote. “I understand anger and frustration on the part of parents as we began to face the realities affecting your children. However, lashing out at brothers and sisters in need, as has happened here recently, does not fit into the picture of who we are as Christians in a Catholic school. I pray that this community can now move toward healing and reconciliation.”

Founded in 1877 as the St. Andrew Parish School by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Mary, Stella Maris is the oldest Catholic school parish on Long Island. It will be the third school the diocese has closed in the last 18 months due to declining enrollment.

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They should have target Latino families as they strongly believe in Catholic education......OLH has a very high percentage of Latin students........
By Bel (86), southampton on May 9, 11 11:41 AM
So........Who is going to pay the outstanding $480,000.00 bill?
By SHNative (554), Southampton on May 9, 11 11:52 AM
The supporting parishes
By C Law (354), Water Mill on May 9, 11 12:41 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By AARGHHH (12), Hamptons on May 9, 11 12:29 PM
Fr. Mike should practice a little of what he preaches. So should the principal. It is they who divided the school.
By cindylouwho (1), Sag Harbor on May 9, 11 3:47 PM
All of the staff will now lose their jobs. That is the sad reality.
By Mrs.Sea (268), Sag Harbor on May 9, 11 4:18 PM
2 members liked this comment
The supporting Parishes.....
How many parishes support the school? This does not sound right.
By SHNative (554), Southampton on May 9, 11 4:56 PM
1 member liked this comment
Not for nothing, but has Rev. Rieder ever had to worry about a mortgage, property taxes, a family grocery bill, and all the other "normal" family household expenses?

Seems to me the root of the problem is fiscal responsiblity. On the parent's side, it boils down to keeping a roof over the family's head. $5k in tuiition, is easily six months worth of groceries to a family of four. A faith based education is nice to have, but not a necessity in lean times. On the Reverend's side, well ...more
May 9, 11 5:03 PM appended by Mr. Z
"Tuition is $5,500 for one child who lives within the four parishes surrounding Stella Maris, according to Mr. Dolan. For a family with two children living within the parishes, tuition is $9,170, and for three children, it’s $12,370, he said. For families living outside the parishes, tuition is $6,030 for one child, $9,700 for two children, and $12,900 for three children."
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on May 9, 11 5:03 PM
Do you have access to their books? Do you have any facts to back your assertions?
By razza5351 (551), East Hampton on May 9, 11 5:11 PM
"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'. "

Apr 18, 2011 4:54 PM
May 9, 11 5:24 PM appended by Mr. Z
Try reading the articles. You may find some facts on your own.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on May 9, 11 5:24 PM
A lack of facts never stops you...
By RealityFirst (597), Bridgehampton on May 9, 11 5:21 PM
Mr. Z, I read the article and I see a set of numbers, the same as you saw, but I do not see any proof of your accusation that the cause of this school's problem was fiscal irresponsibility, which is your accusation.

I have friends whose children attend that school, who are you to say whether or not sending their children there is a "necessity"? And what does the Reverend not having a mortgage or property taxes or "normal" expenses have to do with anything? Sounds like you have an axe ...more
By progressnow (556), sag harbor on May 9, 11 6:01 PM
I have rarely, if ever, seen anyone read so much, into so few words.

Faith based education is a CHOICE, not a necessity. Your average homeowner pays school taxes, regardless of where their children attend school. They already pay for their children to attend public school. Seems to me, it's more of a "luxury" sending children to private school, from a fiscal standpoint, at least.

When there is a defecit in your household, do you address it, or let it go for a few years? What ...more
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on May 9, 11 6:42 PM
faith based education has never been nor will it ever be a necessity in this country-its a parents choice
By EastEnd68 (888), Westhampton on May 9, 11 6:08 PM
1 member liked this comment
Who are you to dictate what any person considers a necessity? People of faith may have a different definition than you and Mr. Z. I am not a Catholic, but I certainly respect that some parents may feel differently than I do about education and faith. Additionally, I know of parents whose children were bullied so terribly in public school that they felt they had no choice but to send their kids to a private school and they made great sacrifices in order to do so.
By progressnow (556), sag harbor on May 9, 11 6:32 PM
1 member liked this comment
I was actually bullied as a child in middle school. It didn't mean I went to private school. It meant I got creative, and used a couple of great resources like DIPLOMACY, and the ADMINISTRATION of the school to quell the problem. Mom raised me to be a pretty independent thinker. I sat down with the guidance counselor (he was a stellar individual), explained all that was happening, and said that I didn't want to get anyone in trouble, just that I needed it to stop. I refused to make any additional ...more
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on May 9, 11 6:58 PM
Bullying occurs in every grade at school, even Kindergarten. And you know what, those children are too young to handle those situations. Sometimes the school administration does nothing to help. And their response is the wrong one. It only gets worse and parents need to look out for their kids, no one else will. That is why this is a national issue right now, we read about it everyday. Schools need to do more. You were lucky in your situation because it stopped but most of the time it does not.
By Stanford (1), East Hampton on May 10, 11 6:27 AM
1 member liked this comment
Mr. Z., if you're last posting was not a joke, then you are in need of some serious help. For all of those children not possessed of your superhuman abilities (and ego) bullying can cause serious damage and, as everyone in who pays attention knows, many children end up tragically taking their own lives.

Your postings are insulting to so many people in so many ways.
By progressnow (556), sag harbor on May 10, 11 8:15 AM
1 member liked this comment
The bullies don't let up, you don't let up. You find a way. Do you think that was the only time I was bullied?

I was the skinniest, scrawniest thing you could imagine until I hit 14.

I simply refused to let them win. Just my take, and take it as you like it. Have a nice day...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on May 10, 11 3:47 PM
to Mr. Z:

Bullies prey on the weakest. If you "found a way" to stop them then you ceased to be a member of that category and the bullies simply devoted all their attention to more susceptible children.

Suggesting that children have to "suck it up" (like you did) is unhelpful braggadocio.

The public school system is not doing enough to identify children with this anti-social personality and to correct it and/or to isolate them from normal children. Bullies poison ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on May 17, 11 9:47 AM
2 members liked this comment
Accidentally clicked "Like".

Just to clarify, my personal behavior was "unhelpful", singling out a bully, and putting a stop to the "antisocial" behavior by "sucking it up", or was suggesting anyone is capable of it, "unhelpful"?

"...all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

~ Edmund Burke
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on May 19, 11 6:52 PM
Where has America gone so wrong? actions regarding bullying have been around since the dawn of time. Children HAVE to learn how to to deal with all kinds of people. Best to start learning early. Of course, hateful and harmful actions must be dealt with by the adults in the school system. As far as I know this is a problem to be dealt with across the whole spectrem, public school or private school, faith based or not.
It is a shame when a school has to close for what ever reason. Past history ...more
By summertime (589), summerfield fl on May 18, 11 9:42 AM