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School likely to close
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After serving Catholic students for nearly 80 years, St. Mary School in Platteville is likely to close at the end of the school year. The school was founded in 1935. Bishop Robert C. Morlino of the Diocese of Madison, was expected to announce his decision this week on the future of the school. The St. Mary's Parish pastoral council and finance council met jointly on April 17 to discuss the school's finances. On April 18, facing insurmountable debt, Fr. Faustino Ruiz, recommended to Morlino that the school be closed after conclusion of classes on June 1.
According to Brent King, executive assistant to the bishop, Morlino makes the final decision in regard to whether the school will be closed. That announcement was expected sometime this week (following press time).
As previously reported, the catholic schools in the state operate their finances autonomously from the diocese. King explained it would be unprecedented for the diocese to bail out St. Mary School financially.
"The financial gap is too great," said Joe Hood, St. Mary School principal.
The school needed $160,000 before April 15 and payable by April 30 in addition to an increase in weekly giving from an average of $6,000 to $11,500 to keep the school operational.
"This has been a significant disappointment for all of us," said Hood. "It's very sad. I am most sorry for the students who deserve a Catholic education and can't get that here at St. Mary's."
Enrollment at the school dipped from 108 students at the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year to 85 students at the beginning of this school year.
The drastic decline in enrollment began following the replacement of Fr. Charles Schluter with priests from the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest. Schluter currently serves St. Peter's Parish, north of Madison.
King acknowledged the diocese has received communications from Platteville parishion-ers demanding Fr. Ruiz and Fr. John Del Priore, parochial vicar, be removed from St. Mary's Parish.
According to King, there are 45 Catholic elementary schools in the diocese and only Platteville and Sauk City are served by the Society priests. St. Aloysius Catholic School in Sauk City is currently operating. King noted the most recent school closing came in Beloit because of declining enrollment. Society priests were not serving there at the time.
St. Mary School staff includes nine full-time teachers, three part-time teachers, a secretary, a custodian, a cook, a cook's assistant, the principal and assistant principal.
The teachers' contracts run through the end of August.
This decision will not impact the parish-operated daycare operation, which is housed in the church.
As previously reported, the parish has raised $1.9 million of the $2.1 needed to purchase the current building, which is being leased from the Platteville School District. Hood said donors will be asked if they would like their money returned or if they would want it directed elsewhere in the parish.