A New Britain Catholic school facing more than $300,000 in debt will close down at the end of the academic year unless parents and community members can raise enough money for the school to break even.
The Archdiocese of Hartford announced the decision to close St. John Paul II School, which serves students in pre-Kindergarten through eighth grade, in a statement released Thursday evening.
"After substantial, careful consultation with parish and school constituent groups, the pastor of the parish school made the decision to close the school at the conclusion of the current academic year," the archdiocese said.
According to the archdiocese, sponsoring parish Holy Cross can no longer support the school. Parents who attended a meeting with church leaders and teachers Thursday said officials informed them that St. John Paul II School is at least $320,000 in debt.
Many said it was the first they'd heard of the school's financial woes.
"I was in shock... If we had been told this from the get go, when we first started this year, we could have done something," said Jud Graves, whose daughter attends Kindergarten at the St. John Paul II School. "A small group can only do so much when an entire school community can do so much more. And we weren't given that chance."
His wife, Linda Graves, said she was "devastated, heartbroken" over the news that the school that helped her daughter to thrive will no longer afford her that opportunity.
"I feel like the rug was just pulled out from underneath us. Where do we go now? Where does our child go to school?" Linda Graves wondered.
The Graves said community members are pitching in to raise funds, and third- and fourth-grade students are even making and selling bracelets during their lunch break.
"We've raised over $4,000. That may seem like pittance but in two weeks, with no notice, no planning," said Jud Graves. "My wife baked a pie and took it to work and everyone bought a piece and donated money to the school. ... We brought in $200 ourselves. It's a small drop in the bucket but if everybody gets together and works hard, $320,000 is a reasonable amount of money."
If the school stays on track to close, students attending St. John Paul II School will receive $500 toward tuition to help with the transition to another Catholic school, according to the archdiocese. Families who enroll their children at Sacred Heart School will receive an additional $500 toward tuition for the 2015-2016 academic year.
“Although the closing of St. John Paul II School is unfortunate, we are committed to maintaining the vibrant presence of Catholic school education in the city of New Britain and the surrounding towns,” superintendent of Catholic schools Dr. Dale R. Hoyt said in a statement Thursday. “There are many exceptional educational options available for families seeking the numerous advantages, both academic and faith-based, that Catholic schools offer.”
It's the second Catholic school in the Archdiocese of Hartford to announce its closure in a month's time. St. Stanislaus School in Meriden will also be closing in June.