The future of St. Mary School in Platteville is in serious financial trouble. According to a letter sent from Fr. Faustino Ruiz to St. Mary's parishioners on March 21, Ruiz outlined the school's difficult position. "Our parish is experiencing a serious financial crisis," he said, noting the situation is critical.
In late 2011, Ruiz explained that the parish accepted the assistance of the Diocese of Madison to have two of their accountants help put the parish's financial accounts in order. "There has been much financial activity by many different groups and there was not a single set of books to clearly indicate what the total income and expenses were for our parish," he said. "Their assistance has validated our severe financial situation. Our operating loan has reached its maximum limit of $190,000. In addition, we have about $90,000 in outstanding debts."
Ruiz noted they have already cut as many expenses as possible.
"Unless there is a drastic change in the income of the parish, it will be with a heavy heart that I would have to tell you that we will need to close the school at the end of the school year," Ruiz stated in the letter.
Ruiz informed parishion-ers that $160,000 needs to be donated before April 15 and payable by April 30 as well as pledge cards received that will increase the weekly offering to $11,500. According to Ruiz, weekly contributions have fluctuated from approximately $3,000 to about $8,000 weekly.
"The $160,000 in immediate contributions would retire enough debt that we could manage to stabilize our finances," he said. "The $11,500 per week would allow us to meet our budget."
"If these goals are not met, then the school will be closed," said Ruiz.
Ruiz indicated that typically the parish offers teacher contracts by April 1. That process is being moved back to April 30 to see if the school will continue.
Brent M. King, executive assistant to the bishop, explained that the diocese of Madison has been in close contact with St. Mary's Parish and school officials. Bishop Robert C. Morlino met with a few St. Mary's Parish families recently and King noted he will be back in touch with those families for his vision for the parish and the school.
"In the big picture it is the hope of the bishop and the diocese to have the school stay open," said King.
The decision-making and the budget of each parish is decided autonomously from the diocese, according to King.
As previously reported, when former Fr. Charles Schluter left the parish in 2010 he was replaced by priests associated with the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest. That change resulted in some parishioners leaving the parish.
In a previous letter to parishioners, dated March 3, Ruiz acknowledged the dissatisfaction some parishioners have with the changes that were made when Fr. Schluter left. "There are some other people unhappy with the changes we have made, but be sure that we have done what we believe is best for our congregation and for you to reach the Kingdom of Heaven," said Ruiz.
King noted it is not an option to bring back Fr. Schluter or replace the current priests. In addition to Ruiz, the parish is also served by Fr. John Del Priore, parochial vicar.
Principal Joseph Hood, along with Assistant Principal Julie Addison-Fulton and the teaching staff, have been working on a consolidation plan for the school, as previously reported. Hood said they would continue that plan should the school remain open past this school year. "Hopefully, we will be able to stay open," he said.
Hood noted he is hopeful that the parish can match the financial contributions outlined by Fr. Ruiz.
According to Hood, sometime shortly after April 15, parish officials will look at the monetary donations and the pledges to see if there will be enough money to keep the school open.
St. Mary School leases the former O.E. Gray Early Learning Center from the Platteville School District. According to its website, the parish has raised nearly $1.9 of the $2.1 million through a capital campaign to purchase the building; however, with the operating expenses of the school in question, that leaves the building acquisition in question also. Hood noted the capital campaign money is in the bank and is earmarked for the sole purpose of purchasing the building if that ever happens.
"This is a hard thing for anyone in the parish to deal with," said Hood. "The next couple of weeks are going to be tense ones, to say the least."