Friday, March 26, 2010

A School That Is Moving

I read about something in yesterday’s Union Leader that disturbed me.

St. Joseph Regional Jr. High in Manchester is moving. As of the 2011 school year they will be located at the St. Anthony School, located on the property of St. Anthony of Padua Parish on Manchester’s East Side.

I have to admit that I’m really bothered by this. And it’s personal; two of my three kids went to school there. They got excellent educations from teachers who were – are – dedicated to what they do. The current school building is approximately 80 years old but it has character. It has a separate gym and cafeteria as well as a sizeable auditorium that has a history all of its own including an urban legend about one of the nuns dying in the balcony.

Part of the reason given for the school’s moving is the repairs required to keep the building current. My understanding is that a sprinkler system needs to be installed to keep the building current to fire codes. There are other improvements that need to also be made, according to news reports. I don’t know what those other improvements are, but the reported cost of all of this work is approximately $180,000.00.

There are some practical reasons for this to happen. Probably the most significant is the enrollment in the school: next year there are 130 students enrolled, down from somewhere around 180 when my older daughter was a student there in 2004-05. And that number, from what I understand, is expected to dwindle down further.

One of the other things that I have heard that I can’t confirm is that the move is intended to possibly prompt sale of the building with proceeds going towards the Cathedral itself. To be honest, I can’t really imagine this being a legitimate reason for the move. Even though the Cathedral parish owns the property that the school building resides on, it really doesn’t make sense for this to be a factor. The pastor of the Cathedral parish is a good friend of mine, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t have a lot to do with any of it. In fact, my  understanding is that he doesn’t really know any of the details of the move or whether or not a sale of the property is intended. Much of what happened with this situation apparently involved the Superintendent of the Diocesan schools (along with the school committee) and the Bishop of Manchester.

Now a considerable number of people are blaming the Bishop for making “yet another bad decision concerning the operation of the Diocese.” I supposed it could be construed that way. At the same time, if this is the case it isn’t an isolated incident; consider how things have gone since the Diocese was implicated and charged regarding the sexual abuse cases involving priests over the past 50 or so years. All of that was put on the Bishop here also, although I have to admit that this wasn’t without merit. If you consider his involvement in the situation in the Archdiocese of Boston when that came to light, it shouldn’t be a total surprise. And many of the decisions made have been associated with the Diocesan financial situation, so I suppose the things that are happening shouldn’t be a total surprise to anyone.

As I see it, the bottom line in all of this seems to be the protection of the Diocese at all costs. This seems to be the case with so many cuts that have been made over the past few years: relocating and combining parishes, cutting programs, and now moves like this. And it doesn’t seem to matter that with this situation so many parents made commitments to send their children there with un-refundable deposits prior to the announcement of the move.

Coincidence? Maybe. But it’s a circumstance that is pretty unfair to those families who were expecting to send their children to that school.