St. Martinville — A St. Martinville Catholic primary school that diocesan officials warned faced closure because of low enrollment is close to registering enough students to ensure it remains open next year.
As of Friday, Trinity Catholic School had 116 students enrolled, 54 short of the number needed to meet a March 25 registration goal of 170 students for the 2015-16 school year, according to information provided by Monsignor Richard Greene, vicar general for the Diocese of Lafayette.
Greene, who also acts as the diocesan spokesman, provided information prepared by the Rev. Rusty Richard, pastor of St. Martin de Tours and Trinity Catholic School in St. Martinville.
The diocese set an enrollment goal of 170 students for the school in a statement released by the Diocese of Lafayette last week. This school year, 172 students are enrolled, and the school anticipates a budget shortfall of $250,000 or more for 2015-16, according to information released by the diocese.
An online petition to save the school drew nearly 600 signatures as of Monday and brought attention to the plight of the school, which has had roots in the community since 1881 and is the only Catholic school option in St. Martinville.
“Bishop Michael Jarrell has instructed that every effort and avenue is to be explored to keep the school open for the 2015-16 academic year,” Greene said in a diocesan news release.
“Emergency measures are being implemented in addition to fundraising and a possible loan from the Diocese of Lafayette,” he said. “Success is also contingent on having a sufficient number of qualified teachers. We appeal to the local community to encourage registration and financial support.”
Annual tuition is $3,790 plus $220 in registration and fees for the school that operates on a budget of about $1 million, Richard said.
The pastor attributed the shortfall to a combination of factors: low enrollment; an economic downturn; and increasing costs of health insurance and other benefits for teachers and staff.
He said some parents are choosing charter school options. The closest charter schools to the Catholic school are those that opened in Lafayette Parish in the 2014-15 school year.
Richard said operational expenses haven’t increased at the school.
“The school has been and continues to be very frugal, but utilities and textbooks are very expensive,” he said.
Parent Carrie Pratt said her family is praying the school remains open because of their close ties to it.
As Pratt talked about how much the school means to her and her family, she grew emotional.
“My husband and I attended here. Our family members attended here. My mother-in-law taught school here for more than 30 years,” Pratt said. “I love this school, and we love the teachers. So many students who attended here have gone on to be the valedictorians and salutatorians of their high schools.”
Her 6-year-old daughter, Chloe, attends first grade at the school.
Pratt said her daughter is conditionally enrolled at St. Bernard School in Breaux Bridge until the fate of Trinity Catholic is worked out. St. Bernard and other area schools have worked with parents, allowing them to conditionally enroll and even deferring registration and tuition payments until the situation is clarified, she said.
“That’s our backup plan,” she said.
But, Pratt said, they’re hopeful that Chloe will stay at Trinity.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.
Editor’s note: This article was changed on Tuesday, March 10, to reflect that Trinity Catholic School had 116 students enrolled for the next school year, 54 short of the 170 goal to keep the school open.