St. Mary school families face uncertain future

 Jocelyn Cariello and her daughter. (photo by Will Dendis)

Jocelyn Cariello and her daughter. (photo by Will Dendis)

After 132 years, Catholic education in Saugerties will come to an end this spring when Saint Mary of the Snow Elementary School closes due to declining enrollment, leaving the parents of nearly 100 children scrambling to find a new school and teachers new jobs.

Most students will likely attend one of Kingston’s Catholic schools, though the Archdiocese has yet to decide how to divvy up students between Kingston Catholic in midtown and St. Joseph’s uptown. Others will enter the Saugerties public school system or be homeschooled.

St. Mary is just one of 22 Catholic elementary schools that will close in June as the New York Diocese tries to close part of a $24 million deficit.

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“Enrollment of less than 100 students is not viable,” said spokesperson Fran Davies. She said closing some schools will make those that remain larger, allowing them to offer more programming.

This explanation provides little comfort to parents, at least at this point. Elementary schools can feel like an extended family, and the pain of separation is real.

“Many kids have been going home crying since the notification,” said parent Victor Manoli. Some will have to go to public school against their wishes, he said. “Many are afraid they will never see their friends again.”

Manoli’s daughter attends Saint Mary of the Snow, where his son attended until he graduated last year. The Manolis live in Greene County. They are no strangers to Catholic school closings. Their son began elementary school at Saint Patrick’s in Catskill. When they found out it would be closing, they transferred him to St. Mary in second grade. With no other Catholic school near their home, the Manolis drive their daughter 27.5 miles each way.

The Manolis do not know where they will send their daughter now. The drive to Kingston would be an extra 60 miles a day, and the travel time and cost of gas is not feasible. “Saugerties was far enough,” Manoli said.

He is angry about the church’s handling of the closing. He believes the church did not give the school community enough time to raise enrollment and make budget cuts before deciding to close it. He believes the church never intended to keep St. Mary open, though families were led to believe otherwise.

“Shame on them for deceiving everyone, especially the children,” Manoli said. “I feel like the Catholic Church slapped us in the face.”

He made it clear he didn’t blame anyone local.

“The principal [Christine Molinelli] did everything she could,” Manoli said. “She laid off teachers, teachers took a pay cut, she was taking a pay cut, and she increased enrollment by 22 new children for next year.”

 

Concerned about Kingston crime

Anne and Mark Dornan share Manoli’s outrage about the closing. The Dornans have two children at St. Mary — one in fifth grade and another in third grade.

The Dornans are especially angry about the way the church handled fundraising efforts to save the school. After the list of 28 schools came out in November, parents feverishly fundraised in hopes of saving the schools, Mark Dornan said. They still closed 24.

Dornan claims millions of dollars were raised in these efforts. “Where is the money they gave in good faith? It’s a Ponzi scheme.”

Dornan doesn’t plan on sending his kids to Kingston Catholic or Saint Joseph’s school in Kingston, citing a concern about crime. Anne Dornan created a PowerPoint presentation showing crime stats in the area, which she shared with Diocese officials in Beacon.

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