June 17, 2014 at 3:40 PM
MONTCLAIR, NJ - Immaculate Conception High School board members and faculty addressed a packed audience at a special meeting last night to address concerns over the possible school’s closure. More than 200 parents, students and alumni filled the gymnasium to ask questions about the finances and future of Immaculate Conception High School.
Principal Jo Ann Degnan told the audience, “This has been a trying time for all of us.”
This comes as a result of the Archdiocese making a decision last week to close the school. The school officials and parent community, including several alumni, have vowed to fight the decision. They have raised $185,000 in less than a week and are hopeful that this effort sends a strong enough message to the Archdiocese to change the decision.
Jaime Smith, a 13-year member of the Board of Trustees said, “We believe in Immaculate. I believe in the wonderful tradition of this school. We were all affected by the recession in 2008 and now we set out to implement our strategic plan.” “Unfortunately, the Archdiocese did not see our progress as aggressive enough, but we are here to tell you that we are taking action,” Smith continued.
Faculty at the school have agreed to take pay cuts to save the school and board members have pledged $87,000, but parents are fearful that may not be enough. In less than a week, Carlos Franco, a teacher at the school created a www.gofundme page that has raised almost $185,000. The board is hoping to use these funds to show the Archdiocese that they need time. The board is asking the Archdiocese to keep them open at least another year. In that year, the board has proposed to launch an aggressive fundraising effort to keep the school open indefinitely.
Smith told the audience, “Reducing operating expenses is a temporary band aid. We will develop and implement a long range goal to seek outside resources.” “Despite our efforts, we may indeed close, but we will do everything possible to keep Immaculate open.” Smith continued.
Students and parents were initially invited to a meeting on Monday night to select a new school where recruiters were invited to sign students up for other schools. However, when Immaculate was able to raise almost $185,000 on their www.gofundme website, then the school officials became more hopeful about the school’s future.
Bruce Reitz, member of the board of trustees said, “We will do all we can to keep it open.”
Graduating Senior and student council president, Madrid Smith addressed the audience with a message of hope and faith that was met with cheers from the crowd. Madrid Smith said, “I am here to convey a message of inspiration and faith.” He continued, “I was hoping to come back for my 50th anniversary. This school has almost 90 years of history. Do you think we’re going to take that lying down? No, we’re fighting because in 6 days we raised $190,000.”
Suzanne Alworth, a 3rd generation alum, expressed her concern over the school’s closure. “The school serves a more important purpose today than ever. These students need this school and what it has to offer.” “I have been on social media and contacting elected officials to get help,” Alworth continued.
During the question and answer portion of the meeting, parents expressed their anger and frustration over not having definitive answers from the Archdiocese. Parents and staff expressed hope that the school would remain open for another year behind their fundraising efforts, but demanded answers from the Archdiocese about the long term plans for the school. Parents also articulated that they have been calling the Archdiocese, to no avail.
A financial official on the board, Gary Bishop, told the audience that the school has fallen short of $200,000 each year due to low enrollment. He said, “We hadn’t brought in enough money year after year and were using the Archdiocese as a bank to borrow from.” “Enrollment and fundraising is now up. Our long term goals are that we need to fundraise more and parents need to pay tuition on time,” he added.
Principal Degnan said, “We need to market ourselves more to increase enrollment.”
Mary Beth Franco, parent of a Sophmore stated, “I was devastated by the timing. Students were in the middle of finals when the Archdiocese made the decision to close.” “My daughter has been in private school since she was four. She chose Immaculate over other schools. Now I want a guarantee that the school will stay open for more than one year. I have called the Archdiocese and no one picks up.”
Parents and alums were encouraged to contact the Archdiocese directly to ask any questions about the school’s future. The Archdiocese could not be reached for comment.