GENEVA — A month ago, spirits at DeSales High School soared.
The board of trustees announced June 28 that the only Catholic high school in the region would open for its 101st year this fall. Its budget was balanced, its financial footing on more solid ground than it had been for years.
This morning, the shocking news that began circulating on Facebook last night was confirmed: DeSales High School will close.
The board met in special session Tuesday night, at which time the decision was made. Board chairman Peter Cheney of Phelps issued a press release this morning saying the school, a landmark at 90 Pulteney St. since 1929, will not reopen due to declining enrollment and insufficient funds.
It’s unclear if the school will close for good or only for the upcoming academic year.
“We are saddened by this decision, but we must make it, given all the circumstances,” Cheney said. “The decision to close DeSales was not made lightly, but through the hard work, objective analysis and heartfelt prayers of all of us on the board who dearly love this school.”
“It’s a sad day for DeSales and the community at large,” 1967 DeSales graduate and city Judge Tim Buckley said this morning. “We have great memories of great friends, dedicated teachers and staff. Geneva and the Finger Lakes have suffered a significant loss.”
Virtually all of Buckley’s family attended DeSales, including his four daughters.
In his press release, Cheney thanked all those who supported and sustained the school for so many years, along with the community as a whole, generous donors, families, students and staff.
“The memories we have of DeSales and its impact on our lives and the lives of many will live on in our hearts and minds forever,” Cheney said.
The school, founded in 1912, celebrated its 100th anniversary earlier this year.
Cheney said school officials tried many different means and public appeals to draw new students and additional resources, but efforts fell short of the minimum number required.
The decision came 33 days after Cheney emerged from a June 28 trustees’ meeting and announced — to cheers from assembled students and parents — that the school would stay open.
“We are confident that with the incredible momentum experienced in these last two weeks, the remaining fundraising goal of $90,000 (of an original goal of just under $200,000) will be closed,” Cheney said that day.
The school planned to implement three action steps:
• Restructuring its development effort.
• Invigorating its class ambassador outreach.
• Identifying fundraising activities for parents and friends of DeSales.
“We are passing this resolution on to the Diocese,” Cheney concluded June 28.
A story that appeared in the July 22 issue of the Finger Lakes Times addressed what happens to that resolution once its gets to the Diocesan level.
Diocesan School Superintendent Anne Willkins Leach, also a DeSales board member, said the Corporate Board of DeSales, a panel comprised of high-ranking Diocesan officials — Bishop Matthew Clark, Cheney, the Rev. Paul Tomasso, a DeSales board member and pastor of Our Lady of Peace Parish — would meet and decide if the school’s plan is feasible.
Cheney said the story apparently worried enough parents that some began withdrawing their children from the school or not registering them as planned. That meant the budget — it had been predicated on a 105-student enrollment for 2012-13 — would no longer be balanced.
Cheney said enrollment dropped to a point where the carefully crafted budget was too far out of balance.
Each student pays $5,200 annually in tuition and fees.
Cheney issued an appeal for parents to stay with the school and ignore rumors, asking that parents enroll their children by 11 a.m. Monday.
Apparently, not enough did, although the Times has yet to confirm how many decided to drop out or not enroll.
Students who would have attended DeSales will likely enroll in their local public high schools or seek other Catholic high schools, the closest of which is in Rochester.
The school and its property will revert to Our Lady of Peace Parish because of its role in the school’s founding.
During its 100 years of existence, more than 5,000 boys and girls graduated from the school. Cheney said many of them distinguished themselves professionally and in service to their families, communities and nation “in large part, thanks to their DeSales education.”