Saint Jerome Elementary Schoool’s Closure Draws Opposition From Former Principal

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Although Saint Jerome School in Weymouth is scheduled to close for good at the end of this school year, some still hope that the Archdiocese of Boston reverses that decision — including the school’s former principal.

Kathy Puleo, who worked at the elementary school for 41 years and served as its principal for seven — up until the end of the 2017-2018 school year — says there’s no good reason to close, since the school has enough money to operate.

“We don’t honestly know,” Puleo said, asked why the school, established in 1957, is closing. “Our school and pastor weren’t represented at the discussion. There’s speculation that it’s because the property is desirable. There’s no debt. There’s been $600,000 in capital improvements to the building in the last decade. We’re in the top 10 percent academically in the whole archdiocese.”

Puleo said the archdiocese cited a couple of reasons, but that they could not be the actual reasons.

“The two things they commented on in a letter sent out to the parents were that the effects of COVID were going to make problems for all schools and make our school not viable. We presented a budget that showed we could be viable this year and we set up a fund for those impacted by COVID. We’re prepared to help them in the coming year,” Puleo said in an interview with New Boston Post.

Puleo added that the school has about $300,000 in cash reserves that would help them get through another year.

Anne Marie Clogston, who has many connections to the school, said the school has been in strong shape over the past many years. She has had three children attend it over the past 13 years. She has spent eight years on the school board, taught computer science at the school, and coached the robotics team.

“I know from being on the school board how profitable we are,” Clogston told New Boston Post in a telephone interview. “We’ve been profitable the last nine years — even this year with COVID. There was only $21,000 in outstanding payments this year. We’re anticipating a good profit from this school year which will add to our reserves.”

“It’s a complete travesty that they could afford to keep their teachers in jobs and kids in Catholic school is being closed down,” she added. “They’re putting people out of work and kids out of Catholic education. Being at 140 to 150 students isn’t full, but we can run with it.”

Kelly Manick has had three children attend the school and wants to see it stay open. One of them is going to be an eighth grader next year.

“Saint Jerome’s school  is a wonderful faith-based academic-excellence school,” Manick told New Boston Post in an email message. “Everything happening right now to the school has no Catholic charity. The Archdiocese has turned on the people of Saint Jerome’s.”

“The Archdiocese and Catholic school office offered no help in placing the children, they only gave a list of schools,” she added. “The tuition has increased to the other local Catholic schools in Weymouth and there is also not enough seats in the classroom to place each child. During these uncertain times the Archdiocese has turned the cross into a money sign. It’s very very unfortunate how they have said this is COVID related. It certainly is not! The school is viable and they know it.”

The letter sent out to parents and faculty by archdiocese school superintendent Thomas Carroll said that enrollment for the 2020-2021 school year would have been 110 students, and that there has been a consistent decline in enrollment. It said that the school had 210 students in 2010, 181 in 2015, and 158 this school year.

Carroll could not be reached for comment on Friday, but Terrence Donilon, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston, sent New Boston Post the letter in full.

“There is no scenario under which the current enrollment level of 158 students will be attained in the year ahead,” it reads, in part. “At 110 students or any number around that level, the school could face a large and growing deficit, which will widen as enrollment continues to drop in this weak economy.

“The latest drop is no doubt a direct result of the pandemic, which has caused high unemployment that has not been seen in this area and the country since the Great Depression,” it continues. “Unfortunately, this is part of a broader national trend in Catholic schools this year, as hundreds of Catholic schools across the nation from Massachusetts to California will likely close because of the economic shutdown prompted by the pandemic.”

The letter also disagrees with the contention that the school would be viable next year financially.

“Although some folks have claimed to me and others that a reasonable school budget could be constructed at 125 students, this simply is untrue.  A budget at this level – an enrollment level we don’t even have for next year — requires an extraordinary level of risk and wholly unrealistic assumptions.”

Puleo said that the archdiocese’s figure of 110 students for next year is inaccurate and that the school has actually increased its numbers by 15 students over the past two years.

“The number that they used was a reflection of a number they pulled when COVID was happening and people hadn’t re-enrolled yet,” she said. “There was no tours of the building. But we enrolled 39 kids while in lockdown. It’s crazy.”

On Thursday, June 4, about 150 people turned out for a demonstration outside of the school showing their support for it and opposition to closing it down, she said.

“We were so heartened that night,” Puleo said. “That was pulled together in a day. We had parents of kids who had been there 30 years ago. We had every group. Kids, parents, former teachers. When you see that many people come together, it’s heartening. It’s a community, and that’s what we’re fighting for.”

As for the need to social distance next school year, Puleo said the school is capable of doing it. She noted that there is a school gym that could provide extra space, as could the downstairs portion of Saint Jerome Parish, which is known as Saint Paula Hall, among other spaces.

“We have our eyes wide open on the challenges of being a parochial school at this time, but we think we should be open,” she said. “When the parish council, alumni, and parents rally to our side, we hope we get a second look and our kids can come back to an environment that they’re familiar with. They’ve been through enough already to tell them there’s no school for next September.”