SETON UPDATE: THE CLOSING OF SETON SCHOOL
SETON UPDATE: THE CLOSING OF SETON SCHOOL
Dear Seton Parish Family:
It has been a trying two weeks since we were informed of the closing of our school and 19 others in the Archdiocese of New York. Wonderful adult memories shared have been salted with children’s tears. Past successes have been weighted by present realities. Assumptions begin to give way to a fuller understanding.
Despite valiant attempts by the clergy, principal, administrative staff, faculty, Home and School Association leaders, and determined families to promote the school and to stabilize enrollment, the school has fallen victim to the pandemic and its far reaching effects. As of July 1
, only 103 students were enrolled for the coming academic year. Far too many families were not able to make a commitment given understandable financial concerns and the questionable educational landscape come the fall semester.
As soon as I heard the news, I immediately began to piece together some facts in order to offer a measured response. Our accountant was able to unearth subsidy figures from the 2006-07 academic year forward. I appreciate the effort made by the school staff to search through archived files for enrollment information from years past.
Although there were an outstanding academic record and superior facilities to bolster my case, bottom line enrollment figures and budget realities did not help us. As anyone could see, enrollment has been steadily dropping for many years now. Seton’s years of excellence in Catholic Education, pioneered by Sister Gabriel, other Sisters of Charity and numerous lay teachers, lost momentum in the 2000’s as enrollment began to decline noticeably from an all-time high of approximately 525 students. Over the last five years, our aggressive in-house parish recruitment drives at Sunday Masses and parish events, and among the Religious Education Program (an average of 1,100 children enrolled the last few years) and CYO families yielded few new students for the school.
There were a number of factors at play:
As we all know, fewer Catholic parents were having large families.
The changing economics of living in Northern Westchester – Putnam made it increasingly difficult for interested parents to choose Catholic education for their children.
Increasing school costs (particularly salaries/benefits) and high levels of uncollected tuition were a persistent challenge. The problem of uncollected tuition has only been fully abated the last two years.
School Choice legislation in New York State became politically impossible.
The capping of full deductibility of State & Local Taxes (SALT) starting in 2018 had a detrimental effect.
Surplus parish funds available for school subsidy were beginning to dry up as early as 2003. As I explained upon my arrival in 2014, just after the school became regional, years of significant financial support
---in some years, approximately $700,000--- by the parish had not only exhausted parish savings, but also resulted in a backlog of necessary repairs, upgrades and improvements to the entire parish physical plant.
Regionalization of the school removed administrative and financial responsibility from the parish, but it did not solve the enrollment challenge. In fact it may have exacerbated it. The 2014 Archdiocesan Superintendent’s decision to begin reducing the number of classes per grade from two to one in order to mitigate the sizable deficit initiated a noticeable decline in enrollment.
A last minute decision in the summer of 2019 to combine first and second grades resulted in staff layoffs and an unplanned loss of students. If this last grade consolidation had not been imposed on the school, Seton would have had 147 students in 2019-20 thereby marking the first positive trend since 2011. (See the fact sheet below.)
Seton School’s tuition has been significantly higher than neighboring Catholic schools for the longest time. The fact that parents were willing to pay more for a Seton education speaks volumes of the school’s academic excellence and faith filled environment. However, my relentless petition for tuition parity with neighboring schools met with silence from Archdiocesan officials. At a time when prospective families are presented with an increasing array of education options, Seton’s higher cost became a heavy liability.
I know that all of this is no comfort to those families facing the reality of our beloved Seton School closing. However, I believe it is important to let the larger parish community know as much information as possible. Some of you would be aware of this history, others may not. We may not agree with Cardinal Dolan’s decision and the way it was announced, but these figures provide the context for at least understanding it. Needless to say, my argument to the contrary was not persuasive.
As we look to the future, the well-being of our children must be our primary concern. Be assured that every effort will be made to settle our students into neighboring Catholic schools if their parents so desire. For those who choose public or private education, our excellent Religious Education Program will aim to complement the faith formation being done in the home. And the entire Seton Parish Family will continue to offer love and support.
Let us not forget our dedicated administration, staff and faculty personnel who are facing their own difficult choices at this time. They have been promised career assistance by the School’s Office of the Archdiocese.
Please continue to pray for our students and their families. We also keep in prayer our administrators, staff and faculty.
May the Holy Spirit guide us as we move ahead.
on Thursday, July 23 at 11:00AM