Parents told St. Gabriel School will close

St. Gabriel School parents got news Tuesday night that they had been dreading: A facilitator told them that St. Gabriel School in Milford will close at the end of the school year.

Facilitator Dave Larson, who worked as an intermediary between the St. Gabriel Parish and Archdiocese of Hartford for more than a year as financial struggles put the school in jeopardy, told a packed St. Gabriel’s Church Hall, “The school must close at the end of the school year.”

Larson said the decision was a parish decision, and not one made by the Archdiocese of Hartford.

He said that for the calendar year ending Dec. 31, 2015, St. Gabriel School had a $111,709 operating deficit, and that declining enrollment is making financial matters even worse.

The St. Gabriel Parish owns the school and has operated it as a mission since the school was founded in 1965, he said, repeating to parents that the decision to close the school was parish based.

He said costs to maintain the school have risen, including teacher salaries and benefits, and he cited declining birth rates within the Archdiocese of Hartford, which suggests continued declining enrollment.

He also cited state population trends, saying that more people have moved out of Connecticut than have moved into Connecticut in the past five years.

The enrollment at St. Gabriel School was 139 students in October, and Larson said that when a Catholic school’s enrollment drops below 200 the “viability of the school continues to drop.”

“The decline of 68 students in the last five years means a $350,000 loss in tuition,” Larson said.

Parents were told that the Office of Catholic Schools will provide $500 in tuition for two years at any other Catholic school in the Hartford Diocese. Larson said St. Mary School in Milford will provide an additional $500 in tuition for two years for any students who transfer there.

There also will be help for teachers at the school looking for new jobs, he said.

Parents were not happy. One yelled out, “We don’t want St. Mary’s. We want St. Gabriel’s.” Several yelled out that St. Gabriel School offers special education at a level that St. Mary’s does not.

Parents said they were angry about being kept in the dark, and they said they were angry that a piece of school property that could have been sold to get the school out of debt was not sold.

John Judge, a parish trustee, responded, saying that the former pastor, Father Maurice Maroney, and he took the plan to the Archdiocese but were told that since the Archdiocese was in a pastoral planning process, no assets could be sold. He also said the sale may have fixed the immediate problem but not the long-term financial problems caused by declining enrollment.

James McKeand was one of many parents outraged by the news. He said he has two children at St. Gabriel School and they love it. He doesn’t know how he is going to break the news to them that their school will close at the end of the school year.

The news is late in coming, McKeand said, adding that he has no idea yet where he will send his children to school next year.

“They kept telling us the school wasn’t closing,” McKeand said.

Check back later for more details about the issues discussed Tuesday and parents' reactions.