Today’s news:

Diocese may shutter five boro schools

The Brooklyn Catholic Diocese announced that it is likely to close five schools in Queens and merge another three at the end of this school year as funding and enrollment problems continue to plague the parochial education system.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio Monday proposed that 11 schools in the Diocese — which covers both Brooklyn and Queens and represents more than 1.5 million Catholics — close at the end of the school year.

In Queens, DiMarzio recommended closing St. Benedict Joseph Labre in Richmond Hill, St. Anthony of Padua in Jamaica, St. Catherine of Sienna in Jamaica, Blessed Sacrament School in Corona and St. Aloysius School in Ridgewood in June.

The reconfiguration plan also envisions merging St. Michael School, St. Ann School and St. Mary’s Nativity School in Flushing into one entity on a single campus at the site of St. Mary’s at 146−28 Jasmine Ave.

DiMarzio said the persistent decline in enrollment rates and rising costs have forced the changes to the regional Catholic school system, which has seen nearly a third of its schools close or merge during the last five years.

“I am committed to ensuring that our Catholic schools are accessible geographically and financially to the people of our diocese,” DiMarzio said. “When we determined that our schools are operating at only 85 percent of capacity, it became clear that we had to consider why this was happening and how we might reverse the trend.”

The drop in enrollment has forced the Diocese to consider a new tax on its congregants that would generate an estimated $3 million for the school system to balance dropping revenues from student fees.

The Brooklyn Diocese also recommended that three more Queens schools — Our Lady of Grace in Howard Beach, St. Anastasia in Little Neck and Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in Ridgewood — close and reopen as academies by the end of the 2008−09 school year.

If they do not, they will also be subject to closure by the diocese at the end of the year. The Diocese is expected to make its final decision by the end of February.

U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D−Forest Hills), who led a summit of parents, business leaders and church officials in 2005 to find a solution to the Catholic school system’s woes, expressed his displeasure with the diocese’s recommendations.

“The loss of parish schools is a body blow to our communities. The Diocese of Brooklyn faces substantial financial challenges in operating these schools, but simply shutting them down is lamentable to the families of Catholic school students,” Weiner said. “Losing these schools is a crisis not only for the families of students, but for students in our already overcrowded public schools as well. We have to find a better solution than wholesale school closures.”

Bishop Frank Caggiano, who conducted the study that led to the recommendations, said although the closures are not the most ideal solution, it is the best decision for the diocese moving forward.

“We are confident that as a result of this process our schools will have more resources to ensure that children have greater access to Catholic education,” Caggiano said. “Our schools will be better able to meet the diverse and changing needs of students and parents and we will provide thriving Catholic schools that are better able to offer teachers and staff competitive compensation and benefits while remaining vibrant institutions for generations to come.”

Representatives for several of the schools contacted by TimesLedger Newspapers deferred comment to the diocese’s press office, which had nothing further to say.

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e−mail at sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 138.

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