HOWELL – A group of parents trying to stop Mother Seton Academy from closing at the end of June and blaming the school’s financial situation on its management.
Mother Seton was created in 2019 by merging two struggling Catholic schools, St. Veronica School in Howell and St. Aloysius School in Jackson, into the building of the former.
Some parents say the school has been a boon because it has resisted ending classroom instruction during the pandemic except when the state requires it.
But the financial struggle continued and only got worse during the pandemic, according to the Reverend Peter James Alindogan, co-head of the school.
“While the two schools that merged to form MSA in 2019 together had over 300 students, we now have fewer than 126 children in grades 1-8. This is well below the level of academic and financial viability of any Catholic school and led to a school budget shortfall of $140,000 in September 2021,” Alindogan wrote.
The diocese has also provided $250,000 over the past two years. The two churches’ fundraising efforts have also been hampered by a drop in attendance, rendering them unable to support the schools. A recommendation for closure was made by the financial boards of both churches and accepted by Bishop David M. O’Connell.
“This announcement is painful for us personally and for all of us. We recognize the
disappointment this news brings to our dedicated faculty, staff, children and families at the Academy,” Alindogan wrote.
Parents at Mother Seton Academy ignore fewer financial issues
A group called Save Mother Seton Academy posted an online petition which garnered 1,000 signatures in 24 hours in hopes of keeping the school open.
Group member Matt Callahan, who has children in first and fourth grades, told New Jersey 101.5 that parents were surprised by the announcement and said the trustees and board had not given to parents of indication that low enrollment or finances would cause closure.
“We don’t know what we could have done because nothing was communicated to us and it was closed because they felt like closing it,” Callahan said.
The enrollment count of 126 is a “misrepresentation” because Callahan said they did not include kindergarten or pre-K students. This is where students start and hopefully stay enrolled throughout their elementary school years. Counting those students would bring the enrollment number to between 170 and 180, according to Callahan.
No tuition hike, says parent
Callahan thinks Reverend John Bambrick of St. Aloysius wants to close the school but can’t put his finger on a reason.
“It’s his MO. He doesn’t like siphoning money from one of the parishes to help a school. He breaks everything down into expenses and tries to make it look as bad as possible in order to get the bishop O’Connell which appears to have succeeded,” Callahan said.
“Our tuition has never been increased, so if there’s a problem with money, you’d think the trustees or the board would say ‘hey, we’re in financial trouble. We need to raise tuition,” Callahan said.
Callahan said the group is trying to take inspiration from the parent group that saved St. Paul’s School in Burlington County.
“They tried to come together and get what the root of the problem is and what the root cause is and the reasoning behind the shutdown,” Callahan said, adding that the band would like to get an audience with O’Connell and throw a look at the books. There are also plans to separate the school from the parishes themselves and make it a school of the diocese.
“The optimum is there, the energy is there from the meeting we had Monday night with the concerned parents. We think we have to at least try,” Callahan said.
Mother Seton Academy Student Benefit
Callahan thinks Mother Seton is an attractive alternative to other schools in Monmouth and Ocean County where there is a waiting list as the school has not closed unless there is a mandate throughout the pandemic.
“We’ve been open 24/7 and we need to explain to parents that classroom training values maybe they should consider Mother Seton Academy because we’ve been open,” Callahan said.
The school Tuesday afternoon did not respond to New Jersey 101.5’s request for more information.
Contact journalist Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ
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