What is happening at Bishop Central Catholic H.S. in Park Slope is a tragedy. It’s a school that serves an underserved population. Unfortunately, it’s an expensive proposition. When there’s not enough money coming in to match the money that needs to go out, there is a problem. And at Bishop Ford, it’s called a projected deficit of $4 million.
Last week, the student body and staff respectfully rallied outside the Diocese’s Chancery building that happens to be right next to the school. This week, alumni plan to do the same thing. The sentiment is right; the site is wrong.
The name of the school tells the story in itself. When it opened in the early 1960s, it was known as Bishop Ford Diocesan H.S. It was staffed mostly by Franciscan Brothers, who were given the charge of running it. It was one of five “diocesan” secondary schools, which meant that ultimately the Diocese had the responsibility to keep it open.
By the 1970s, the cost of education was increasing, and the numbers of religious men and women available to teach had dramatically decreased.
The world was changing. The concept of Church was changing. The Diocese realized that it did not have the money to subsidize such a system of diocesan schools. So it turned them over to independent boards that were responsible for keeping the schools open. The idea was to lease the buildings at a nominal fee as long as they housed Catholic education. The Diocese retained ownership of the property.
The cost of running these schools has continued to rise along with tuitions and fundraising efforts, including generous alumni donations, and the schools have managed to survive. Some even thrive under this model.
But at Bishop Ford, the numbers no longer add up. The cost of attending is $8,900, a tough nut for working-class Brooklyn families. The enrollment – once an all-boys school but now co-ed – had dropped over the past eight years from 1,347 to a projected 422 next September. The money is no longer there.
A year ago, the Diocese loaned $2 million to Bishop Ford in an attempt to revive a school with no reserves, a 75 percent cut in enrollment and a $4 million debt. Hopefully, it would give the administration time to get operating costs under control. New staff was brought in. A new board of directors took over. An appeal to alumni with a goal of $250,000 raised only a few thousand dollars. Rumors persisted that Bishop Ford was in trouble. It was too little too late.
One possible solution would have been more scholarship money to needy students. The seven dioceses of New York State put all their efforts into supporting an Education Investment Incentive Bill in Albany. It was proposed by Brooklyn State Sen. Marty Golden, who has never been shy about his concern for all schools. It had wide support from business and education leaders. The bill would have allowed dollar-for-dollar tax credits for anyone who made a donation to a scholarship fund. Millions of dollars in aid would have flowed through the proper channels to needy students. But the public school teachers’ union exerted pressure on Assembly Leader Sheldon Silver, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo refused to use his political clout. The proposal died without ever being put to a vote, which it would have won.
There’s blame to be thrown around for the closing of Bishop Ford. But it is not with the Diocese. The blame is on changing economic and social times and politicians turning a callous eye on helping the private sector. Our politicians have failed us, and we need to hold them accountable for their actions.