Education / Religion

In debt, St. Ignatius may close

St. Ignatius School

Students at St. Ignatius School, educated in separate classes for boys and girls, score high on tests.

Supporters wage last-ditch campaign to save school

Parents and teachers are scrambling to save St. Ignatius School, with a fundraising campaign that must raise $1.3 million in a matter of weeks to prevent the school from being closed.

The small middle school on Manida Street “will most likely cease operations in June, 2013,” parents, teachers and supporters learned this week from a letter signed by the chairman of the board Timothy McGovern and the vice chair Daniel Dougherty.

“Barring an extraordinary change in circumstances, the Trustees expect to confirm, by 3 May 2013, the decision to close the schools of New York Nativity at the conclusion of the academic year,” they said.

Supporters of the school have organized Save Saint Ignatius, and are using social media, along with old fashioned word-of-mouth in an effort to raise funds.

The letter from the board’s leaders blamed years of budget deficits, but Maryann Hedaa, the managing director of Hunts Point Alliance for Children who founded St. Ignatius’s girls’ school, blamed “gross mismanagement.” Hedaa, who said she is working with members of the board to find a way to save the school, asked, “How could a non-profit board let the school get into this kind of debt?”

But John Predovan, one of 12 full-time teachers, who is part of Save Saint Ignatius, said of the board, “They’re not the kind of people who would be careless or neglectful. They care about the mission, not only of the school, but its Jesuit faith.”

The school’s financial difficulties, he said, were “not surprising,” because “we’re a school that runs completely on donations.” Students pay $75 a month.

Both he and Hedaa pointed to the school’s small size as a source of strength. Some 90 students, divided between boys’ classes and girls’ classes, make up the student body. Classes are small and the school is “close-knit,” Predovan said.

All of the school’s students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch, the state’s measure of financial hardship. “In an area of great need, our students score twice as high as their peers at area public schools on state and national tests in English and math,” said Save Saint Ignatius in its appeal on Facebook. It added, “As a Jesuit Catholic school, however, we are unable to receive state funding.”

Hedaa called St. Ignatius, which is a constituent school of the Alliance for Children, “the best middle school option for kids in Hunts Point.” Her organization has been paying tuition for residents whose Zip code is 10474 and has continued to help its graduates to pay for high school and college.

Opened in 1995 as a school for boys that occupied various storefronts in Hunts Point, St. Ignatius moved to its present location in 2004 and completed an expansion in 2010 that allowed all the students to study in the same building.

Now, just three years later, it faces extinction. “More than anything else, if there’s one message,” said Predovan, “it’s come visit our school. Anyone who comes couldn’t help see how much we’re thriving,” he said, and want to help it continue.

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