Plans to close Lawrence school continue, despite efforts by supporters

LAWRENCE -- Supporters of St. Mary of the Assumption School in Lawrence say they feel frustrated that plans to close the school seem to be moving forward despite their efforts to save it.

School backers have reportedly collected $335,000 in pledges and contributions in an effort to sustain the school's existence.

"Where so many people have gone through the classrooms of St. Mary's we felt that it would be unheard of to allow the school to close without trying to make every possible attempt to keep it open," said Rosa Munoz, a leader in St. Mary's Parent Teacher Organization.

Munoz said the bulk of the $335,000 has been raised through signed promissory notes, contributing the money if it were "to be used for the operating system of St. Mary's school."

However, according to archdiocesan spokesman Terrence Donilon, the total estimated debt of the school to St. Mary's Parish and the archdiocese, including bills to vendors, would exceed $600,000.

On May 23, the Archdiocese of Boston released a statement that said in part:

"The Archdiocese has extended hundreds of thousands of dollars of subsidy to St. Mary of the Assumption School to keep its bills and obligations current. It has done so with no assured means of repayment. The Augustinian Province of St. Thomas of Villanova has provided guidance to the School. On several occasions during the past two years the Province of St. Thomas Villinova has made it clear that the Province does not provide financial aid for parish based elementary schools. The Province reiterated that position in recent weeks."

"The reality is that the school cannot continue to operate despite the great efforts, dedication and energy of the parents and the community," Donilon said in a May 25 email to The Pilot.

In April, Father Jorge Reyes, OSA, the pastor of St. Mary's of the Assumption Parish, announced that the school begun by the Sisters of Notre Dame in 1859 would not reopen in the fall. He said he wanted to give parents enough time to seek other educational options for their children.

"My decision was basically made due to the fact that last year we did not receive the funding from the Catholic School Foundation and it seemed like this year we were not going to receive it again," said Father Reyes.

Since the school year 1993-1994, St. Mary's had received a total of about $1.1 million from the CSF according to executive director Mike Reardon. He said the decision was made not to continue funding the school because the money would have gone to the operating deficit.

"It would not have been able to help them maintain Catholic education in Lawrence," said Reardon.

The CSF has allocated $100,000 for families of students of St. Mary's for tuition assistance for those who choose another Catholic school in the archdiocese.

"There are wonderful Catholic school options available to parents to choose from for next year. The CSO (Catholic Schools Office) coordinated an open house on April 26th and continues to work to make the transition as smooth as possible," Donilon stated in his email.

Munoz, however, said that a plan to turn the school around has not been reviewed by the archdiocese. She said the proposal was devised by parishioners, school supporters and others in the community to address the both short and long-term operating costs of the school.

"We did our homework. We wanted to ensure that the parish was not going to be handicapped by the school," said Munoz.

"Basically, we were just looking for that time at the table," she added.