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Controversy continues over St. John school

Parents and advisory council members feel left out of decision
The future of St. John Catholic School is once again the subject of concern as some school board members and parents try to piece together what, if anything can be done to save the school.
After nearly 100 years of service to the community, many are unwilling to let the school close without a fight.
At a public meeting late last month, parents and others came forward one after another for more than two hours to express why they wanted the school to remain open. The meeting followed a presentation given by Father Edison Vela during mass services the weekend before. According to a copy of Vela’s Power Point presentation, the school had about 89 students registered by May 18 of this year and needed 215 to proceed with the upcoming school year. School advisory council vice president Adam Gamble said he was stunned by the presentation, as no one on the advisory council had been told about it in advance.
“Immediately after the Saturday evening mass my phone started ringing,” he said. “It was parents and parishioners wanting to know if I knew about the presentation and what they were supposed to do with their kids for the upcoming year. They expressed sincere concern about the possibility of closing the school and it came as a shock to me because we had not been informed about the presentation.”
After several days of confusion and speculation, a public meeting was held on May 22 to better inform parents. At that time, Father Vela apologized to the crowd for his approach to the situation and because he is still learning English, had principal Chris Rebuck explain his intentions.
“The purpose of the presentation was simple – Father Vela wanted to invite people in the community to register their children at St. John,” Rebuck said. “Also, he wanted to let the community know that the school needed them to register their students, that we needed to hire a new principal and that we were looking for qualified teachers.”
Many parents left the meeting with an understanding that enrollment needed to increase and they had time for that to happen as meetings to update the diocese on the progress of the school would be held every few weeks with no definitive determination on the school’s closure being presented until all other measures were exhausted.
However, parents and school board members alike said they were shocked to learn this week that Father Vela will give his recommendation to Bishop Farrell on June 23 and that Farrell will make the final decision and inform the diocese and the parish of the decision by July 1. Gamble said this frustrated him, because he feels most parents and parishioners were not informed of this deadline.
“No one knows what is going on right now with this new decision date and it is very frustrating,” he said. “The business office at St. John is not keeping the advisory council informed so I know if we aren’t being kept in the loop, the parents and community are definitely not and it worries me. I hope parents and students as well as the community will take the time to find Father Vela and show their support for the school so when he makes his decision, he will know how much the school means to the people of Ennis.”
Gamble also said he feels like the school is in a ‘catch-22’ with the enrollment figures, which are needed to balance the budget.
“I truly believe the presentation that was given cost us about 50 students,” he said. “We saw the same thing happen last year when we were facing having to pay off three years of debt. When rumor got around that the school had money troubles, our enrollment decreased by 50 kids and I think the presentation has hurt us again this year. Our enrollment is about 140 students right now and we need approximately 40-50 more to have a balanced budget.”
He said he also feels the three-year plan presented to the diocese last year in the wake of financial difficulties should still be given a chance to succeed.
“Last year the advisory council presented a three-year plan to the diocese that in the first year would get us out of debt, focus on improving academics the second year and push for higher enrollment the third year,” he said. “We have done our part so far. We worked hard to get out of debt and now we should be allowed to continue with the plan as promised. Instead, the process of hiring a new principal has been delayed, teachers’ contracts locked us in before any changes could be made and it seems like we’re being challenged at every turn.”
Gamble’s concerns are echoed by some parents of students enrolled at St. John. An e-mail petition has been circulating urging others to show their support for the school and also includes the concerns of some students.
Student Leslie Bell sums up her feelings in a few words that speak to the close-knit community the school affords.
“I love my school and the people there are not only my friends, but my family,” she said, adding, “please keep the school open.”
Bell’s parents Les and April are also very concerned for the future of the school not just for their daughter, but the community as well.
“Not only was this the best decision I ever made for my daughter as she had grown into a great young woman and loves this school more than anyone will ever know, but is a great foundation for all of our young children in the community,” Les said. “Closing the school now would be like crushing that foundation while the students are still standing on it.”
The Bells and other parents have tried to voice their concerns to the diocese, but say they have been met with a ‘hands off’ attitude. This is also how Gamble sees the situation and he says it hurts to know that more isn’t being done to help St. John.
“The diocese has not offered any alternatives other than closure,” he said. “It hurts because earlier this year an article ran in the Dallas Morning News about how the diocese was going to help the John Paul II High School in Dallas with their $30 million debt and we paid off ours ourselves and now they are not even trying to help us keep the school open. It is very hard to see. Bishop Farrell has never even visited our school to see the daily operations for himself and it is hard to take for all of us because we all have so much invested in the school and in our kids.”
Other parents made Gamble aware of a section in the diocese handbook that can be found online that leaves them with some hope that the school will remain open for the coming year.
On the Dallas diocese website, www.cso-dallas.org, on Page 17, section 3047 of ‘Local advisory councils and business operations,’ it states “only the bishop can approve the closing of a school. For such approval, a request must be submitted to the bishop through the director of schools that addresses the following:
1. Reasons for closing.
2. Factual substantial information leading up to the decision.
3. Evidence of consultation with concerned parents.
4. Plans for routing students who are affected to other Catholic schools.”
It also goes on to say that, “requests to close a school must be submitted to the director of schools no later than Dec. 1 of the academic year before which the closing is anticipated.”
Gamble said he was not aware of any such letter being given therefore parents are hoping that at the very least they have one more year to make a difference regarding the future of the facility.

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Posted by on Jun 22 2008. Filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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