St. Mary’s School in Middlebury to close

MIDDLEBURY — Hit by the same trend of declining enrollment that is sapping public school districts throughout Vermont, St. Mary’s Catholic School in Middlebury will officially close its doors on June 15, the final day of classes.
Father William Beaudin, pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, confirmed the imminent closing of the school during an interview on Friday morning. He had previously shared the news with school parents, faculty and St. Mary’s parishioners.
“Keeping the school open was untenable and problematic on both an educational and financial level,” Beaudin said, noting classes would have been too tiny.
He explained a student enrollment of at least 50 is needed to financially sustain St. Mary’s School. And even with 50 students, the church has to raise a lot of money to make sure the bills get paid and the children’s families have access to tuition assistance. While St. Mary’s School tuition runs between $4,000 and $5,000 a year, Beaudin noted the true cost per student runs around $13,000 — similar to the per-pupil costs at Vermont public schools.
When the pre-registration deadline arrived late last month, only 22 students had been confirmed for the 2016-2017 academic year — less than half of the bare minimum of 50.
Faced with that reality — and the looming April deadline for presenting contract offers to teachers for the following year — Beaudin called a special meeting of school and church leaders to decide the school’s future. Participants unanimously concluded the numbers did not add up for continuing St. Mary’s School beyond this June.
While the decision to close was a difficult one, student families and supporters have been graceful in accepting the news, according to Beaudin. St. Mary’s School families will now be looking for other education options for their children for this fall.
“Everyone has been very understanding,” Beaudin said. “People have been kind, supportive and understanding in every way.”
St. Mary’s School has had a long, interesting ride since it was launched at its Shannon Street location in 1940. Competition from other emerging schools and tight finances led to its initial closure in 1970. The former Gailer School eventually stepped in to rent the Shannon Street space until June of 1998, when it relocated to Shelburne. This gave St. Mary’s leadership an opportunity to study the feasibility of re-establishing the Catholic school. Boosters received commitments from 94 prospective students, which clinched the opening of the school in the fall of 1999.
The school began as a K-4 operation and gradually expanded. It currently serves children in grades pre-K through six.
A principal and around a half-dozen teachers form the core of the St. Mary’s School staff.
Beaudin said there are no plans to reuse the school building, or rent out the space.
“The future use (of the school building) will be determined by the parish leadership and myself, in consideration of our future needs,” Beaudin said.
Kevin Parizo, a widely renowned organist, has served as music teacher at St. Mary’s School since its reopening.
He will be sad to see the school close, but is resigned to the fact there was no realistic alternative.
“These decisions are never easy,” Parizo said. “(Enrollment) numbers have been dwindling for a number of years, as has been our ability to raise the funds to keep the school going.”
Parizo noted private schools have not been immune to the phenomenon of low student numbers statewide. Vermont is educating 20,000 fewer students today than it was 10 years ago, according to the Vermont Agency of Education.
“Our decision (to close) was made in a very logical, methodical manner,” Parizo said. “It is consistent with the trend that has been going on.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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