By Marjorie Nesin
---- — St. Ann School will close its doors at the end of the current academic year, citing a significant drop in enrollment and promised funding that never arrived.
In a letter addressed to parents and dated Thursday night, school Board of Trustees Chairman Joseph Parisi III cited a drop in enrollment, from a high of 189 students in 2010 to 90 students this year, as the reason for the closure after 128 years of serving the community .
“Despite the best efforts of St. Ann’s leadership enrollment has declined,” Parisi wrote. “The school’s projected enrollment, with an average of fewer than eight students per grade, cannot sustain the school.”
The loss of tuition revenue would also “compromise” the school’s ability to secure grants and financial assistance, Parisi wrote.
Cape Ann’s only remaining Catholic school has taught six generations of Gloucester and Cape Ann families since 1885. The school had seen a 76 percent jump in enrollment in 2008, with most of those students transferring from Beeman, after focusing money from a new campaign on marketing the school with decreasing tuition costs.
St. Ann School also reduced tuition to $3,508 at that time, down $700 from the year before. Tuition at the school, however, now costs $4,600 for children in kindergarten through eighth grade. Pre-school tuition costs range from $3,000 a year for two days a week to $5,500 for five-day-a-week schooling.
Principal Michele Butler directed all questions Friday to the communications director of the archdiocese, Terrence Donilon, but she conceded “this is devastating to our community.”
Donilon said that, even at times of lower tuition fees, the school never hit its goal of enrolling between 224 and 261 students per year.
Also, though an outside group launched a campaign to raise $4.5 million for the school in 2008, Donilon said the Campaign for Catholic Schools raised just over $265,000 in pledges for St. Ann School over the past five years. He said the school never received the $4.5 million in commitments.
“Building additional support for St. Ann’s from prospective donors living in Gloucester and surrounding North Shore communities was not possible,” Donilon wrote in a Friday email to the Times. He added that “the Archdiocese does not have the funds to subsidize St. Ann’s operating budget.”
Parents were notified of the school’s pending closure in a letter sent by mail Thursday, after leadership searched unsuccessfully for solutions, according to Donilon.
“St. Ann’s leadership explored and reviewed the challenges and opportunities in building a stronger foundation at St. Ann’s,” he said.
For parents, many disheartened at seeing the beloved school close, St. Ann School will host an open house with information about other Catholic schools next Thursday from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The closest kindergarten through 8th grade Catholic school is St. John the Evangelist School in Beverly.
The Archdiocese’s Catholic Schools Office will also work with St. Ann School’s teachers and staff to help some find positions at other Catholic schools. According to Donilon, 80 percent of the faculty and staff of closing Catholic schools are rehired in new positions.
Still, the news in Parisi’s letter struck a sad note for many in the community.
“There are many wonderful memories to remind us of the many good years that St. Ann’s has served our community. With this announcement we recognize our loss,” Parisi wrote. “We also take time (to) celebrate all that we have achieved and treasure these achievements and honor our students, teachers, staff, and alumni.”
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.