St. Francis Supporters Vow to Save School

City of Tonawanda, NY – Thursday night, more than two-hundred parents, teachers and alumni gathered at Saint Francis of Assisi School to talk about how they are trying to save it.

The Catholic school in the City of Tonawanda is one of ten the diocese says will close next school year.

"We are going to continue. There is no army coming here to shut the doors," says Mark Saltarelli.

Saltarelli is determined to keep the tradition of Catholic education at Saint Francis alive.

"It's business as usual here. We will continue to register students. We will continue to keep these doors open," he says.

The 1969 Saint Francis graduate is leading the effort to petition Bishop Malone to keep the school open next year. Saltarelli says, so far, the Bishop has remained silent.

"What would you say to the Bishop if you could talk to him right now?" asked Channel 2's Kelly Dudzik.

"Talk to me. We are here. Show us the criteria that you presented that caused this school to close because when we look at it, it simply doesn't meet up to the standards of closing the school," says Saltarelli.

Saltarelli says enrollment has grown over the past ten years and now sits at 189, which includes the pre-K and three-year-old programs. The diocese puts the student population at 152. Saltarelli says if you use the 189 population number, Saint Francis is the largest on the closure list.

Kathy Deyell has three children at the school.

"Our whole life is going to be disrupted if the Bishop does not change his mind," says Deyell.

If Saint Francis closes, Deyell says she will most likely leave the parish which has been her home for twenty years.

"If my children can't go to school here, I may very well, due to financial reasons, have to send them to public school which breaks my heart," says Deyell.

Deyell and Saltarelli both think keeping the school open is a realistic goal.

"At the moment, it seems like an unjust decision. I would say, Bishop, please take into consideration all of the families who can't be bused, who can't afford to go to a different school," says Deyell.

"You think you have the funds to keep the school open?" asked Dudzik.

"We've always had the funds. We have a half a million dollar endowment fund that gives alone $35,000 a year in cash. Our alumni raised $75,000, and put all new windows in last year. Money's never been an issue here," says Deyell.

Ultimately, the decision to close the schools came down to declining enrollment and increased costs.

Bishop Malone said the closures could have possibly been avoided if state lawmakers had passed the "Education Investment Tax Credit." It allows individuals and businesses to write-off donations to programs for schools or scholarships at private schools.


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