Stunned by school closure announcement, families protest outside Catholic Diocese

Nearly 20 adults and children gathered Wednesday morning outside the Catholic Diocese offices in Sacramento to protest the planned closure of Holy Cross Academy in West Sacramento.

“We’re trying to not give up on Holy Cross,” said John Archuleta, who as a member of the Knights of Columbus said he has helped raise funds that support both the Holy Cross Parish and its school. “We’re trying to bring to the attention of the bishop that there are people who do care about the closure of Holy Cross School and it does affect our community.”

Motorists driving by the diocese offices honked horns in support of protesters who said they were stunned by the Friday announcement. Some protesters chanted and carried handmade signs: “You didn’t ask us for help,” “What options did you give the Holy Cross families?” and “Hear us. Give us a chance.”

But inside diocese offices, Catholic Schools Superintendent Lincoln Snyder said the final decision has been made to close the small school that serves about 180 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

By the end of the next week, Snyder said, principals of schools within a 10-mile radius of Holy Cross are expected to reach out to all affected families in hopes of aiding their transitions and to lay the groundwork for scholarship support through the eighth grade.

In the West Sacramento community of Broderick, less than 4 miles from the protest, children played outside the Holy Cross Academy as they have done for 60 years. The low-slung collection of wood frame classroom buildings are separated by only a parking lot from the elegant Spanish-style architecture that graces Holy Cross Church and the smaller parish center.

The superintendent in a letter dated Dec. 2 announced to family members that the academy would close because the diocese could no longer sustain the cost of operating the school. On Sunday, the announcement was repeated at church services, and some parishioners cried. On Monday night, more than 200 people attended a meeting at Holy Cross about the closure.

Among the concerns raised by families since the announcement: The diocese turned its back on a school that serves low-income families. A charter school is waiting to occupy the vacated school site. School officials failed to consult with parents or to ask for their help in resolving financial issues before making a closure decision.

Some families fear that school officials may pull back support after the transition year.

Snyder addressed those issues Wednesday: The Catholic schools are establishing a scholarship fund that will follow affected students for the balance of their K-8 years.

“We know that once we’ve committed to a family at a certain level, it’s our presumption we’re going to stay with them at that level through their (eighth grade) education,” he said.

Snyder said the diocese exhausted all options before deciding to close the school. Holy Cross Academy tuition was lower than at other Catholic schools to enable students from the area to attend and, consequently, produced an unsustainable gap between tuition and operating costs. Academy tuition was $2,850 a year, Snyder said, but the cost of education is about $4,600 per student.

Fundraising and donations met about 10 percent of the gap, he said. The diocese covered the rest, pushing the deficit to a projected $1.5 million by the end of the current school year, May 31.

Bishop Jaime Soto on Wednesday issued a statement saying there is no decision to lease the academy facilities to a charter school.

“I want to support the neighboring Catholic schools as they incorporate the children and families from Holy Cross school,” he said. “We are not in negotiations with charter school operators for school buildings.” Soto said he would instruct the Holy Cross pastor “to consult with his pastoral and finance council” and make a recommendation on future use of the school buildings.

The diocese has 40 schools in at least 10 Northern California counties with a combined 13,500 enrollment. Any family that wants to keep students enrolled in a Catholic school will be guaranteed placement at another school in the diocese, Snyder said. He said there are a dozen other schools within a 10-mile radius of Holy Cross Academy.