NJ Catholic school that kept in-class instruction during pandemic is shutting down
HOWELL — A parents group trying to stop the closure of Mother Seton Academy at the end of June and lay blame for the school's financial situation at its leadership.
Mother Seton was created in 2019 by the merger of two struggling Catholic schools, St. Veronica School in Howell and St. Aloysius School in Jackson, at the former's building.
Some parents say the school has been a godsend because it has resisted ending classroom instruction during the pandemic except when mandated by the state.
But the financial struggle has continued and only became worse during the pandemic, according to Rev. Peter James Alindogan, the school's co-director.
"Whereas the two schools that merged to form MSA in 2019 together had more than 300 students, we now have fewer than 126 children in grades 1-8. This is well below the level of academic and financial sustainability for any Catholic school and has led to a deficit in the school budget of $140K as of September, 2021," Alindogan wrote.
The Diocese also provided $250,000 over the past two years. The two churches' fundraising efforts were also hampered by a drop in attendance leaving them unable to support the schools. A recommendation to close was made by the financial councils of both churches and accepted by Bishop David M. O’Connell.
"This announcement is painful for us personally and to us all. We acknowledge the
disappointment that this news brings to our dedicated faculty, staff, children and families of the Academy," Alindogan wrote.
Mother Seton Academy parents unaware of less financial problems
A group called Save Mother Seton Academy posted an online petition that collected 1,000 signatures in 24 hours in hopes to keep the school open.
Group member Matt Callahan who has children in first and fourth grade told New Jersey 101.5 that parents were surprised by the announcement and said the directors and the board did not give parents an indication of the poor enrollment numbers or financials would lead to the closure.
"We don't know what we could have done because nothing was communicated to us and it was closed because they felt like closing it," Callahan said.
The enrollment number of 126 is a "misrepresentation" because Callahan said they don't include kindergarteners or pre-K students. It's there where students start off and hopefully stay enrolled through their elementary school years. Counting those students would bring the enrollment number to between 170 and 180, according to Callahan.
No tuition increases, parent says
Callahan believes Reverend John Bambrick of St. Aloysius wants to close the school but can't put a finger on a reason.
"It's his MO. He doesn't like to siphon off any money from any of the parishes to help a school. He's breaking everything down into the expenses and trying to make it look as bad as possible in order to get Bishop O'Connell which it seems like he succeeded," Callahan said.
"Our tuition has never been raised so if there's a money issue you would think the directors or the board would say 'hey we're having trouble financially. We need to raise the tuition," Callahan said.
Callahan said the group is trying to model itself after the parents' group that saved St. Paul School in Burlington County.
"They tried to rally and get what the root of the problem is and what the root cause is and the reasoning behind the closing," Callahan said, adding that the group would like to get an audience with O'Connell and get a look at the books. Also under consideration is separating the school from the parishes themselves and making it a Diocese school.
"The optimum is there, the energy is there from the meeting we had Monday night with the concerned parents. We feel like we have to at least give it a shot," Callahan said.
Advantage for Mother Seton Academy students
Callahan believes that Mother Seton is an attractive alternative to other Monmouth and Ocean County schools where there is a waiting list because the school has not closed its doors except when mandated throughout the pandemic.
"We have been open 24/7 and we need to explain to parents that value the in-school training maybe they should consider Mother Seton Academy because we've been open," Callahan said.
The school on Tuesday afternoon did not respond to New Jersey 101.5's request for more information.