Faced with possibly closing its doors only a few months ago, Holy Cross Academy took a major step Tuesday to keep the only Roman Catholic high school in Burlington County open.
The Trenton Diocese and school officials signed a 20-year lease to transfer the sprawling, 94-acre campus on Route 130 in Delran to a new board that will operate Holy Cross as an independent Catholic school beginning July 1. The school has educated high school students for more than 60 years.
"It's been a lot of hard work by a lot of people to get it to this," said Pete Sciortino, a member of the founding board of Holy Cross 2.0, which will operate the new school. "This is the final hurdle."
Sciortino, 48, of Mount Laurel, a 1988 graduate of Holy Cross, is part of a five-member group of experts who rallied to develop a plan to save their alma mater after Bishop David M. O'Connell announced that the diocese was pulling its annual $500,000 subsidy to the school. O'Connell gave his blessing to allow the alumni board, composed of business and academic leaders to take over the school.
The board has a commitment for about $500,000 toward its fund-raising campaign and hopes to secure an additional $250,000 by July, officials say. The school has a $4 million annual budget, with tuition generating about 90 percent of that. The board set up two nonprofits to handle finances, one for day-to-day operations and another, the Lancer Fund, as the fund-raising arm. It also plans to create an endowment.
"We are on target," Sciortino said.
Tuition for the coming year will remain at $10,600 for incoming freshmen who attend the school for four years, officials say.
Currently, Holy Cross enrolls nearly 400 students in ninth through 12th grade. During its heyday, it had as many as 1,600 students who filled the 160,000-square-foot school and its 40 classrooms. The school has graduated more than 16,000 students since it opened in 1957.
The new school will be known as Holy Cross, although its legal name will be the Holy Cross Preparatory Academy, officials say. There will be a new principal and possibly changes in the classroom. The 22-member teaching staff and administrators must reapply for their positions. The terms of employment for teachers could change, but board members have said salaries and benefits would be competitive. The school has 40 employees.
Curriculum changes will likely come later, but block scheduling, popular among students, will remain. There are also plans to convert antiquated classrooms into lecture-style layouts. The school hopes to eventually enroll about 500 students.
Like many Catholic schools around the region, Holy Cross has suffered from a declining enrollment, escalating costs, and rising tuition that has put a parochial education out of reach for some families. Holy Cross has faced tough competition from nearby Catholic schools, where in some cases the tuition is lower.