Saddled with half a million dollars of debt on top of declining enrollment, the oldest Catholic school in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, in Sag Harbor, at the end of the school year, displacing scores of students from kindergarten through eighth grade, and leaving other local schools to absorb them.
That includes in Southampton Village, which, according to Principal Sister Kathryn Schlueter, has accepted 64 Stella Maris students of as Monday.
The additional students bring the school’s September projected enrollment in grades K-8 to 360 students.
“It helps us to have a full enrollment,” Schlueter said, adding that despite the state of the economy and the school’s tuition cost of $4,350 per year, parents are still signing up their children.
With the swelled enrollment, Schlueter said the school is looking at each class having between 27 and 35 pupils and two teachers.
Sister Joanne Callahan, the superintendent of schools for the diocese, had asked parents to commit to sending their children to Stella Maris for the 2011-12 school year, and to help with the bleak financial situation of the school. But by May 4, only 44 students were registered. There had been 102 students enrolled in the 2010-11 school year.
"Five of the grades have three or fewer students enrolled for the coming year,” the Rev. Michael J. Rieder, the executive pastor of the school board, wrote in a letter to parents. “This would not make a healthy learning environment. We have no choice but to close our school at the end of this academic year."
"When I learned of the potential closing I was totally devastated," said Sag Harbor parent Jodi Allardice. "Stella Maris was an amazing experience for my son ... They really accepted each child for who they were, and were able to teach each child regardless of where they were either below or above grade level and all different levels of energy, etc."
Allardice said Stella Maris was one of the best private school on the East End, noting that her stepdaughter graduated from Ross School. "I've had the opportunity to see both in action for a long time."
By the time the closure became official, financial aid and admissions deadlines at other local private schools were past, but those administrators reported this week that they were sympathetic to the family’s situations and opened enrollment.
There are no Catholic K-8 schools to the east of Stella Maris, but Our Lady of the Hamptons in Southampton Village is about 12 miles to the west.
, where Stella Maris is located, will take in students to because of the closure as well, including Allardice's son, who is entering fourth grade.
“We’re going to have about a dozen more students as a result, but it won’t be very significant,” Superintendent John Gratto, Ed.D. said Friday, adding that the students can be accommodated without any staffing changes or additional expenses.
"In fact, it saves us money," Gratto said, explaining that the district no longer has to supply the private school with a nurse, special education teachers and teaching assistants.
The Ross School, a secular private school with campuses in and , also reported an uptick in enrollment.
“While we have spoken to several families from Stella Maris, our increase is not directly related to its closing,” said Andi O'Hearn the director of college counseling and enrollment management at Ross.