MANVILLE: Parish to close Christ the King School in the fall (updated)

Christ the King elementary school in Manville will close at the end of June. (Photo by Mary Ellen Day)

Parents were notified Monday evening that Christ the King School will not reopen for the 2015-16 school year. Low enrollment and finances were cited as reasons.

Rev. Stanislaw Slaby, pastor of Christ the Redeemer Parish, said the decision was made after consultation with the parish finance and pastoral councils, the school advisory committee and diocesan schools office and has been approved by Metuchen Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski.

There are no plans to sell the building at present, according to a diocese spokeswoman. The building belongs to the parish, which will continue to use the building for its religious education program and for parish events and activities.

The closure of Christ the King School, which opened its doors on Sept. 6, 1968, is due to low enrollment, which already has resulted in a parish deficit of more than $1 million, according to Father Slaby. Further subsidizing the school would place an enormous burden on the parish, and even threaten its existence, he added.

Currently, there are 125 enrolled students at Christ the King School, which is on North 13th Avenue. Student enrollment is the lowest it has been in the past 10 years, the pastor said, and is about half of the number needed to make the school viable, with student tuition covering only half the operating costs.

Also problematic is the loss of student bus transportation, which resulted in the parish paying two-thirds of busing costs in the 2013-14 academic year alone. Bus transportation was eliminated this year, due to low interest among school families.

"In reality, we would need 200 students for the school to be considered financially healthy," Father Slaby said. "Right now, we are in a serious deficit and the parish cannot afford to undertake additional debt to keep the school open."

According to the pastor, the parish has spent more than $1 million to subsidize the school over the past five years. In the 2013-14 academic year, the parish subsidy totaled $277,000. The projected subsidy for the current school year (2014-15) amounts to $295,000, a figure he said may increase with a further drop in enrollment or other unforeseen expenses.

Pointing to additional factors that may have contributed to enrollment issues, the pastor said a downturn in the economy has brought about increased financial hardships for many parishioners, making it difficult for them to afford tuition. As a result, there are fewer families with young children attending the parish school.

Currently, less than one-third of enrolled students at Christ the King School are parishioners, while 187 students who attend other local schools are enrolled in the parish’s religious education program.

According to the school’s website, parishioner parents pay $4,300 for the first child in grades 1-8, $3,225 for the second, $2,150 for the third and $1,075 for the fourth. Non-parishioner parents pay $5,200 for the one child in the school, $3,900 for the second, $2,600 for the third and $1,300 for the fourth.

A change in demographics over the last 10 years may have played a part in the enrollment decline, too. Father Slaby said many active parishioners are older and are not being equally replaced by younger parishioners. For instance, there have been 15 baptisms at the parish this past year compared to 61 parishioner deaths, according to the diocese.

Other residents, he said, are moving out of the borough due to the flood problems that have plagued the community.

Despite challenges of recent years, raising funds for the school was something to which Christ the Redeemer Parish was committed, said Father Slaby. Each month, a collection for the school was taken up at both parish worship sites, Christ the King and Sacred Heart.

This year, the parish also introduced a Mega Raffle fundraiser to benefit the school with a goal to sell 3,000 tickets in order to raise $150,000, which would have cut this year’s deficit in half. In the end, the parish and school together raised $30,000, or one-fifth of the goal amount. The outcome was not what the pastor had hoped for.

"Despite our best efforts in fundraising, marketing and investing money into the school in an effort to create an excellent, safe, modern learning environment that was appealing to students and their families, we find ourselves in the difficult and undesirable position of having to close the school, which is greatly troubling to me," Father Slaby said.

Some of the investments cited by the pastor included the purchase of new computers, smart boards, and copy machines; creation of a library-media center, which doubles as a computer lab; and installation of a new camera security system. It also included facility renovations and improvements to common areas like the gym, cafeteria, entrance lobby, restrooms and outdoor landscaping.

According to the website, the school has one principal, 10 classroom teachers, six specialty teachers (art, physical education, computers, Spanish, music) and two aides.

The pastor and principal and representatives of the diocesan schools office met Monday afternoon with teachers and staff to tell them of the closing. The pastor described the meeting as being "very professional."

The school will close in June, at the end of the school year. The schedule for the remainder of the academic year remains as it was originally planned.

The pastor said, "I have a great love for the school and I’m really sorry that I was unable to keep the enrollment high. I assure you that I — along with our very committed principal, teachers, staff, home school association, and school advisory committee — tried everything to keep the school running.

"I pray that the last few months of Christ the King School will be some of the best months for our children and will provide an opportunity for all of us to celebrate the rich history and achievements of our school," he said.

The pastor stressed his belief in the importance of Catholic education and its mission and encouraged all families of Christ the King School to continue to make Catholic education a priority for their children.

Christ the King is the only school in the diocese that, at present, has indicated that they will close.

Father Slaby urged families to attend the upcoming open houses to be held at parochial schools within a 10-mile radius, such as St. Ann School (pre-K to grade 8) in Raritan; Immaculate Conception School (K-8) in Somerville; St. Matthias School (pre-K to 8) in Somerset, and St. Bernard of Clairvaux in Bridgewater (pre-K and kindergarten only). All of these schools, he said, would be excellent options for those parents who intend to send their children to another area Catholic school.

Diocesan Superintendent of Schools Ellen Ayoub, who was at the meeting, assured those gathered that the Office of Schools will continue to work closely with families who wish to transition to other schools in the Diocese of Metuchen.

Open houses will take place at Catholic schools across the diocese during National Catholic Schools Week of Jan. 25-31. To locate a school in the Diocese of Metuchen, visit http://diometuchen.org/find-a-school.

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