St. Joseph Catholic School to close at end of school year


Pine Bluff’s St. Joseph Catholic School will close at the end of the current school year, school officials said in a letter to patrons on Wednesday.

“(D)ue to several factors, including unstable enrollment for next year, we cannot secure a balanced budget that allows our school to be sustainable,” says the letter, which bears the names of principal Alex Pritchett, superintendent Vernell Bowen and board President Mary Lensing. “After much prayer, it is with great sadness that we announce this will be the last year that St. Joseph Catholic School will operate.”

Pritchett said Thursday afternoon that the decision to close the school was finalized late Tuesday and the letter to parents was sent out late Wednesday.

“I met with the students this morning and the new priest at St. Joseph [Father Frank DuPreez] was also there,” Pritchett said. “I told them that yes it is sad that the school is closing and that it’s not what we wanted to hear but that God’s got a better plan. We started out this school year with the theme Voyage of Faith. I told them that they will need to go out in the community and create their own voyage.

“We still have a school year to complete,” Pritchett said. “We are on our voyage of faith. I told the students and staff that we need to be receptive to what He wants us to do going forward. For us it is business as usual. We just know that this will be the last year the school operates. We also really want to thank the community for all of its support.”

Pritchett said the last day of school for students will be May 24.

St. Joseph was faced with possible closure in April 2012, when Bishop Anthony Taylor of the Catholic Diocese of Little Rock told school officials they had to secure $200,000 and an enrollment commitment of 60 students for the fall 2012 semester.

On May 2, 2012, the school was given a reprieve when Taylor granted an additional three days to reach the fundraising and enrollment goals. Nine days later, Taylor delivered the school’s commencement address and announced that St. Joseph would remain open although it still had not reached the prescribed numbers.

Wednesday’s letter says the closing is the result of ongoing financial concerns.

“The reasons for this decision are basically that the enrollment is not high enough to support the financial obligations of operating the school and the inability of St. Joseph Parish to continue to subsidize the school,” the letter says. “The feasibility study also indicates that the demographic changes of Pine Bluff have impacted the enrollment and financial sustainability for the future.

“… Our heart aches for the children who will have to find other schools to attend, for the families who will lose the closeness of a small school environment, and for the staff who have so professionally dedicated themselves to the students and families this school year.”

According to the letter, the school will continue to have fundraisers in order to meet its financial obligations through June 30.