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Parents say St. Kevin's Catholic school's closing a shock

Parents at St. Kevin Catholic elementary school in Springfield, Delaware County, say they were blindsided when they learned Thursday night that their school was closing due to low enrollment.

Parents at St. Kevin Catholic elementary school in Springfield, Delaware County, say they were blindsided when they learned Thursday night that their school was closing due to low enrollment.

They say the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's decision was based on outdated information about the number of students registered for the fall and have asked Cardinal Justin Rigali to reevaluate his verdict based on the most recent numbers.

"All we are asking at this juncture is that he look at the figures as they are today and reconsider," said Jim Hanley, president of the St. Kevin Home and School Board.

St. Kevin is the third Catholic school closing in Delaware County announced this week. Tuesday night, the archdiocese said Our Lady of Charity in Brookhaven and St. Philomena in Lansdowne would be shuttered because of declining enrollment.

At St. Kevin, only 93 students had registered for the fall, according to the archdiocese. This year, 158 children from prekindergarten through eighth grade attended.

But parents disputed the archdiocese's numbers.

Hanley said that 93 might have been accurate when the archdiocese examined figures in early to mid-May but that the number was not correct now. He said more than 130 children had registered and noted that many parents of prekindergarten and kindergarten students do not sign up until the summer.

And, Hanley said, St. Kevin might have gotten an enrollment boost from students displaced by the announced closures of the two other Delaware County parish schools.

But Mary E. Rochford, the superintendent of schools in the five-county archdiocese, told parents, students, alumni, and parishioners who packed St. Kevin's cafeteria Thursday night that the decision to close the school at 200 W. Sproul Rd. was final.

Rochford told those at the gathering that she would carry their message seeking reconsideration back to archdiocesan officials but that she did not want to give them false hope.

"The decision was made, and as I said Thursday night, it's irreversible," she said.

Rochford said that officials from the Office of Catholic Education and other offices presented detailed data about St. Kevin's enrollment trends and parish finances when they made their recommendation to the cardinal. The school had 318 students in 2002, and 198 in 2005.

"We would not have brought this out and upset people . . . if we thought that we did not have all the critical pieces," Rochford said.

The current annual tuition of about $3,200, she said, does not cover the $6,000 the school spends to educate each child.

Even if St. Kevin managed to match its current enrollment, the school would have had a deficit of $327,000 for the next academic year, which would have drained resources from the parish, Rochford said.

Parents, though, said the archdiocese gave little warning that their school was in jeopardy, and said they would have mounted a recruiting campaign had they known.

Hanley said that at a meeting in January, the Rev. John C. Moloney, St. Kevin's pastor, told the Home and School Board the archdiocese had assured him the school would remain open for 2011-12.

Moloney told him he had been informed of the archdiocese's decision June 3. At a meeting over that weekend, parish officials reviewed the enrollment numbers and saw that the archdiocese figures were wrong.

"We tried to inform the archdiocese that the information that they had was incorrect, but they scheduled [Thursday's] meeting anyway," Hanley said.

His older son, David, graduated in 2009. His son Kevin 13, is finishing seventh grade and had expected to graduate from the school next year.

"I feel the Office of Catholic Education's decision was based on information that was not accurate and does not truly reflect the viability of St. Kevin," said Dolores O'Toole, vice president of the school's board.

O'Toole has three daughters at the school, including Alexis, 13, a seventh grader who is "devastated."

"I don't think parents are willing to accept the message that was delivered [Thursday] night," O'Toole said. "We don't feel anything is irreversible."