Tc Deserves Answers

Our View: The Leaders Of Towson Catholic High Need To Explain Why They Didn't Seek The Help Of Alumni And Why They Gave So Little Warning Before Closing The School

July 14, 2009

Towson Catholic High School was not the first parochial school in Baltimore to close, and given declining enrollments and a tough economy, it most certainly won't be the last. But it would be hard to imagine a school doing a worse job of handling such a difficult situation. The abrupt announcement, coming less than two months before school is due to resume, left students and faculty alike scrambling to find placements for the fall. The school's leadership made no attempt to reach out to alumni for help before the closure, and it has made no effort since to explain itself to the justifiably angered community. The school is holding a meeting Tuesday night to help students find slots in other Catholic schools, but it needs to take the opportunity to do more than that. It needs to provide answers.

The 87-year-old high school faces a $650,000 deficit, and its finances were made worse by the decision of 81 students - about a third of the school - not to come back in the fall. It is understandable that such a mass exodus would put the school in a precarious financial position, but it wasn't the first sign of trouble. According to the archdiocese, efforts to shore up the school's finances have been going on for at least a year, and the parish hired a consultant to help it find ways to survive.

But what it did not do was to reach out to its alumni. Unlike its bigger and richer neighbors, such as Calvert Hall, Towson Catholic doesn't have a large endowment to help it weather tough times. The reaction of alumni to news of the school's closure suggests that's the product of a lack of effort, not a lack of will by the Towson Catholic community to support the school. PTA leaders say they tried to organize fundraising campaigns but were rebuffed by the school's leadership. Perhaps things are past the point at which a fundraiser could save the school, but that might not have been the case a year ago. School officials need to explain why they didn't even try.

Equally egregious is the lateness of the announcement and the lack of advance warning that closing the school was a possibility. As recently as last month, Monsignor F. Dennis Tinder told school staff that Towson Catholic would reopen in the fall. Parents and students said they were completely blindsided, leaving them little time to find new schools. Since deadlines for most Baltimore-area private schools passed months ago, their options are more limited than they might have been if they had gotten more notice. And the chances that suddenly unemployed teachers and staff can find jobs in the fall seem slim indeed. The school needs to explain why it couldn't provide any more advance warning than a July e-mail from Monsignor Tinder.

The rising juniors and seniors at Towson Catholic now find themselves forced to split up and find their way in new schools. Athletes will have to find slots on new teams, and students will have to navigate new curriculums. Trivial as it may seem to some adults long removed from school, the prospect of graduating with a class of strangers is no small matter, either. Could the school have been phased out instead of being abruptly closed? The students deserve to hear personally from the school's leaders what they did to try to avoid breaking up Towson Catholic.

But we have not heard a word yet from Monsignor Tinder or any of the parish officials who managed the school and decided to close it. Instead, they have hidden behind the archdiocese and its spokesmen. That fact has only fueled the suspicion among many that Monsignor Tinder had no real interest in saving Towson Catholic. He and other parish officials need to speak personally to the Towson Catholic community and to provide them with complete, honest and unflinching answers about how the school was managed and how the decision was made to close it. Towson Catholic alumni, parents, teachers and students deserve no less.

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