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Published: Thursday, 1/23/2014 - Updated: 9 months ago

Parents are dismayed over planned closing

Franciscan Academy motives questioned

BY NATALIE TRUSSO CAFARELLO
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Parents and staff were told the Franciscan Academy of Lourdes University will close at the end of the year. Parents and staff were told the Franciscan Academy of Lourdes University will close at the end of the year.
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The unexpected announcement that the Franciscan Academy of Lourdes University is closing at the end of the school year has left many parents feeling deceived and angry, and questioning whether the motives were financially based or influenced by expansion plans for Lourdes.

Parents said they were asked by email Friday to attend a special meeting Tuesday at the school, 5335 Silica Drive.

“Most of us suspected it would be about downsizing the school, but very shortly after the presentation started, [Lourdes President David Livingston] said they gathered us here to say they were closing the academy at the end of the year,” Matt Logan of Toledo said. He and his wife have two daughters at the school; a third daughter graduated last year.

He said the Catholic school, which educates 172 preschool-age children and K-eighth grades, was an intimate atmosphere where parents were like family. The school has 23 full-time and 14 part-time staff.

Mr. Logan was part of Pathways to Partnership, a committee of parents and university officials.

“The school was founded 40 years ago. [School officials] acknowledge freely that it performed at or above the standards in the diocese. It is a tremendous loss — 40 years of heritage, 40 years of excellence, of families committed to the school and Catholic diocese,” he said.

Owned by the Sisters of St. Francis, the academy has been managed and operated by the university since 2009.

Deborah Ayres Budd, whose daughter, Avalon, 8, is in third grade at Franciscan Academy of Lourdes University, said the school has parents who are willing to donate time and money to keep the doors open, but school officials have offered  no indication that they were interested. Deborah Ayres Budd, whose daughter, Avalon, 8, is in third grade at Franciscan Academy of Lourdes University, said the school has parents who are willing to donate time and money to keep the doors open, but school officials have offered no indication that they were interested.
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Sister Mary Jon Wagner, congregational minister for the religious order, said in a statement the order felt sadness about the decision to close, adding that the difficulty has been one of “sustainability.”

“The sisters have subsidized operations and capital of the Academy for years and it has continued by Lourdes University while under their responsibility,” she wrote.

Lourdes holds classes in the building and will continue to do so until the sisters decide a future use for the building, said Dale Thomas, spokesman for the Sisters of St. Francis.

Lourdes spokesman Heather Hoffman said the university spent about $500,000 since 2009 subsidizing the academy, and has projected to lose about $90,000 this school year.

Parents said their offer to fund deficits or embark on fund-raising efforts were rejected.

“Families at the meeting said ‘how much to keep the school open, we will do it,’ but [Mr. Livingston] said it is not an option. What we wanted as a community is to solve our own problem,” Deborah Ayres Budd, a parent from Sylvania, said.

“We have many intelligent parents willing to donate time and money. He offered us no empowering action, which leads us to believe there’s an ulterior motive.”

She also attended Pathways to Partnership meetings and said parents were not given detailed budget figures or financial reports to support the decision.

The “ulterior motives” she referred to was a belief by some parents that the university wants the property for its own purpose. However, a Lourdes fact-sheet given to parents said “any future use of the land will be determined by the Sisters.”

In October, Lourdes embarked on an expansion on 11.4 acres of land on Brint Road to be developed as a midcampus connecting to the main campus on Convent Boulevard.

Ms. Budd’s daughter, Avalon, 8, and her friend Ciearra Bourdeau, 9, are in the same third-grade class, and said they were sad to hear the news.

“They had a ceremony in school today. Everyone was really depressed when they heard. They had a counselor at school to talk it out with some,” Avalon said.

Cierra’s mother, Michele Flanagan of Toledo, just switched her daughter from Washington Local to the private academy, which she said cost about $6,000 this year.

“I did a lot of research, and this school seemed like where she would get a great education, and now she will have to switch schools again,” she said, adding she did not know where she will send her next year.

Parents created a Facebook community page, FALU Refugees, to air their disappointments and efforts to find a new school.

Sally Koppinger, the principal of St. Joseph School in Sylvania, said, “We all grieve for the loss of the academy. We know it was not an easy decision our compassion goes out to Lourdes University, the staff, the sisters, and families.”

Ms. Koppinger said the school has received calls about enrollment, and would be able to absorb the 172 students, adding that the 22 schools within the Toledo Catholic Diocese are also available.

Ms. Hoffman said the university was putting together information for the families about upcoming open houses in the area.

Contact Natalie Trusso Cafarello at: 419-206-0356, or ntrusso@theblade.com, or on Twitter @natalietrusso.



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