Marist High School may be at risk of closing if unable to raise about $1.5 million by April 24. The reasons include years of declining enrollment (only 76 freshman students enrolled by the February 4 deadline and 306 in total); the closing of Catholic elementary schools that graduate students to Catholic high schools; increased costs and tuition;and competition from charter schools. These factors have contributed to a structural deficit and possible closing of Bayonne’s only Catholic high school, which will celebrate 63 years of operation in September.
Since 2008, the number of freshmen enrolled declined by half. “Fewer students results in less revenue, creating a deficit that has depleted the school’s reserves,” reads the school’s fundraising page on its website, adding that the school’s founders, the Marist Brothers, “are not in a financial position to assist Marist High School going forward.”
Other private schools, charter schools, and magnet schools in the area have increased enrollment in the same period, such as Jersey City’s McNair Academic, County Prep High School, and Saint Peter’s Prep, all while Catholic elementary schools that used to feed students into Catholic high schools like Marist continue to close. “And free is free,” said Head of Schools, Alice Miesnik, noting the competitive challenges private Catholic schools have in today’s school market.
“First, it was the downturn in the economy back in 2008, then we raised our tuition and people couldn’t bare it, then charter schools start springing up,” she said. All this, despite Marist offering “a really warm family spirit, a lot of special programs, like engineering, focus programs for kids with [individualized education programs], and a fantastic art program.”
News of the school’s possible closing did not come as a complete surprise to Miesnik, who was well aware of its recent financial challenges and already working to address them. An online “save the school” campaign was already underway, as were efforts to raise money through various events, a spring fundraiser (a super 50/50 raffle); a fall walk-a-thon;and mandatory student-run bake sale. “We’re planning all kind of events small and large to make money,” Miesnik said.
The administration is putting all its energy into fundraising. Miesnik said it’s planning to ask its long list of successful alumni for donations, as well as certain corporations that have donated in the past.The Marist Parent Association is pitching in, hosting a “card party” on April 22, which is similar to a tricky tray.
“I can’t say that it’s definitely closing,” Miesnik said. “If we’re effective and can raise the money within a month, like I think we can, and increase enrollment, we’ll be OK.”
Marist’s fundraising efforts in the coming weeks are critical for the school’s survival; news of its possible closing hit parents and teachers hard.
“Some people get angry, some get sad, others get creative,” Miesnik said. “We’ve had the whole range of emotions. But now we’re doing what families do which is pull together in a crisis.”
“If we’re effective and can raise the money within a month, like I think we can, and increase enrollment, we’ll be OK.” – Alice Miesnik
Meeting with the public
At a meeting held on Tuesday, March 21, Marist High School hosted about 200 parents, teachers, administrators, and alumni to discuss possible solutions to prevent the school from closing.
Councilman Gary La Pelusa, a 1984 Marist graduate, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said he is dismayed to hear that Marist is at risk of closing.
“I would hate to see Marist close because they have such a stellar reputation for their academics,” he said. “I will try to help them in any way I can. I really believe in a Catholic education. I think it’s very important that people have that option.”
La Pelusa said that he hopes the Marist Brothers and the school administration will heed the concerns and suggestions of parents and alumni. He suggested that, in addition to Marist’s fundraising campaign, it hold a “paver campaign,” where the school can lay bricks engraved with donor family names some place on Marist’s campus.
Others at the meeting raised the idea of the school selling some of its land to raise the money. “Now everyone thinks that’s a possibility, and we don’t really know that,” Miesnik said of the possibility of a land sale.“That’s something we’re exploring, but I don’t know that it has any legs at all.” The Marist Brothers would ultimately decide whether to sell any land.
If the school can’t raise the money, a contingency plan needs to be in place.
“In the weeks ahead,” reads the press release, “school administration and the Archdiocesan Schools Office will work with parents and current Marist students to assist with the transition to other Catholic schools within the Archdiocese. Currently faculty members will be placed on a preferred eligibility list for positions at other Archdiocesan schools.”
For now, all Alice Miesnik’s efforts will be put toward fundraising in time for the administration and the Marist Brothers to make the final decision in May on whether to close. “I’m doing everything I can to make this place a home for generations to come,” Miesnik said.“It’s a great place. Otherwise, people have to move on.”
Marist’s next public meeting will be Wednesday, March 29, at 6:30 p.m. in the cafeteria at Marist High School.For more information or to donate to Marist High School, visit marist.org/savemaristnj.
Rory Pasquariello may be reached at email@example.com.