Parents express views about closing of school

More than 100 parents of Altoona Central Catholic School students gathered in the basement of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, all of them seeking answers about the diocese’ decision to close one of the school’s buildings.

Some of them felt lied to and blindsided by the suddenness of the announcement. But others were unshaken, taking the opportunity to reaffirm their commitment to pursuing a Catholic education for their children.

The diocese announced Feb. 14 that the aging St. Mary’s middle school campus, 1400 Fourth Ave., will close at the end of this

academic year.

The 84 students entering grades six through eight will have the opportunity to attend class at St. Rose of Lima School, 5519 Sixth Ave. But many of them could choose to attend other schools in the diocese.

The St. Therese campus of ACCS, serving elementary grades, will remain in operation.

The Rev. Frank Scornaienchi, pastor of Mount Caramel Parish and ACCS, was apologetic for the sudden decision to combine with St. Rose of Lima, saying that he was faced with having to make a quick decision. The Rev. Brian Saylor, St. Rose of Lima pastor, was also in attendance.

“Father Brian and I did not cause this to happen,” Scornaienchi said. “This is the hand we were dealt.”

After the meeting, he said he first learned the building’s condition rendered it unusable through a St. Mary’s parish bulletin.

Many in the crowd criticized the St. Mary’s pastor, Monsignor Timothy Stein, who did not attend the meeting but was reached by phone after the meeting.

According to the 15-year-old consolidation agreement among the four parishes comprising ACCS, building repairs belong solely to St. Mary’s Parish, Stein said.

Last year, the parish spent $13,000 on repairs. The parish spent $83,000 on repairs since the consolidation about 15 years ago, he said.

“At the end of January, I expressed those concerns. I expressed those concerns since I became St. Mary’s pastor 10 years ago,” he said.

“I think it is unfair to put that financial burden on St. Mary’s parishioners and onus of the school’s closing on my shoulders.”

The building requires roof repairs and a number of issues the fire department requires, though no actual cost was disclosed.

Scornaienchi said there is not yet a clear picture of financial savings resulting from the closing.

The impact the closing will have on St. Mary’s four middle school teachers is uncertain. Whether all of them keep their jobs depends on factors including how many St. Rose of Lima teachers retire. Diocese Education Director Sister Donna Marie Leiden said the current outlook is three teachers may be retained. Which teachers are retained will be decided by a re-application process, she said, rejecting the notion of retaining teachers based on seniority.