Don't Let City's Catholic Schools Fail
by Anthony Weiner
Feb 17, 2009 | 3272 views | 0 0 comments | 43 43 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Like so many New York kids, I grew up in the shadow of a parish school. As a Jewish boy who lived across the street from Saint Saviour high school, I never gave much thought to the profound impact the school had on the whole neighborhood. Generations have used the school as a central point for neighborhood meetings and sports and the schools' values provided the community with a sense of stability and safety. Before we close the doors, let's try to find ways to save these institutions.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn's recent proposal to close 14 elementary Catholic schools is a body blow to our communities. The steady decline in enrollment of our Catholic schools signals a troubling trend. The Diocese and the Archdiocese do face undeniable financial challenges, but we must do everything we can to keep these schools stay open. The Diocese of Brooklyn has closed 32 schools since 2005. We have to find a better solution than wholesale school closures.

From St. Anthony of Padua in South Ozone Park to Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament in Bayside, the loss of these schools would be a crisis not only for the families of students, but also for students in our already overcrowded public schools. The shift out of Catholic schools and into the public schools system will continue to cost New Yorkers hundreds of millions of dollars in additional taxes. Schools and communities are working together to develop financial plans to save their institutions. Let's give them time to implement these strategies.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio will make a final decision in the coming weeks on the latest proposed closings. I urge Bishop DiMarzio to consider proposals from schools such as Blessed Sacrament in Jackson Heights and grant them one year to increase enrollment and raise funds. Let's give them a chance to also benefit from efficiencies. Simple things like creating unified purchasing systems for insurance, fuel oil and food could help stave off costs for the individual schools.

I support the doubling of the per-child tax credit for middle-class parents and those struggling to make it. This will help parents who want to send their children to these schools but simply cannot afford the tuition. In 2006, I introduced legislation to double the Child Tax Credit from $1,000 to $2,000 for middle-class parents and those struggling to make it. It would help put more money in the hands of parents to buy books, clothing, or even tuition.

We need to find new sources of funding to provide better service to families with financial need. This may sound strange coming from the son of a public school teacher, but we should all pitch in to help our Catholic schools recruit students and raise money to sustain these schools. If you can donate professional services to help the parents save their schools, do it. If you are an alumnus or - like me - someone who remembers the great influence of the parish school on the community, reach out to the Children's Scholarship Fund (www.scholarshipfund.org/nyc), an organization that provides tuition assistance for students in low-income families, and make a contribution.

New York City and its residents should step forward as they always have and lend a helping hand. We need the creativity of parents, educators, and community leaders. Our neighborhoods grew up around the church sphere and the parish school. Let's all try to save this part of New York's history and New York's future.

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