Greenwood’s only Catholic school will be closing after more than 70 years of operation.
When St. Francis of Assisi School concludes its school year on May 20, it will be permanently shuttering an institution that has been educating mostly Black and Hispanic children since 1951.
The closure announcement was made by the Franciscan Friars of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Province, the Wisconsin-based religious community that runs the school and its affiliated church.
“Our assessment to close the school was a painfully difficult, yet necessary decision,” the Rev. James Gannon, the provincial minister of the Assumption Province, said in a release
“We had been grappling with this decision for several years, during which we had to plan each new academic year without knowing if we would have the financial resources to actually open the school at the start of each fall semester,” he said. “We friars are saddened and disappointed to close down an institution that has been vital to the education and faith development of thousands of students in our Greenwood community. But steadily declining enrollment and diminishing resources — coupled with growing budget deficits and deteriorating conditions of an aging physical plant — have made it abundantly clear that the long-term operational viability of St. Francis of Assisi School is no longer a sustainable reality.”
The Franciscans will continue to operate the church.
Gannon said the province was making the announcement now in order to give parents adequate time to enroll their children in other schools and to give faculty and other staff members the ability to pursue other employment.
St. Francis School has been suffering from declining enrollment since at least 2015, and there have been previous discussions about its possible closure.
This year, the school had an enrollment of 50, a drop of almost 60% since 2015. Only 41 students had been registered for next year.
The province said due to the decline in enrollment and a steep drop in donations, the school had been operating with increasing budget deficits. The school ended the 2016-2017 academic year with a $35,000 shortfall. This year’s deficit is approaching $100,000, and next year’s was projected at close to $175,000.
The release said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, federal relief in the form of the Paycheck Protection Program helped reduce the operating deficit for a short period, but that assistance has ended.
Donations to the school for tuition assistance, building operations and other costs have fallen from $168,000 in the 2016-2017 academic year to $30,000 this year.
In the past couple of years, the school has also been tarnished by a clergy sex abuse scandal dating back to the 1990s. A former teacher and principal, Paul West, was convicted in April of abusing one former student at the grade school and has been accused of abusing two others. Franciscan officials have come under criticism for how they responded to the abuse by West and one other friar at the time it occurred and more recently how they handled the settlement offers made to the victims.
Gannon said that “no one is at fault” for the school’s closure. “This decision is the result of conditions beyond everyone’s control.”
He said, “The support of our parent community, and the dedication and perseverance of the administration, faculty, staff, Franciscan sisters and friars have been nothing short of amazing during these very challenging years.”
- Contact Tim Kalich at 662-581-7243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.