By Emily Drooby and Allyson Escobar
OZONE PARK — Facing a budget deficit and declining enrollment, St. Mary Gate of Heaven Catholic Academy, Ozone Park, is closing in June.
“We feel terrible about this news and of the decision — it’s just terrible for our children. It was difficult for everyone,” said Philip Heide, the principal.
Enrollment has fallen by about half since 2015, and the school is projecting a $750,000 deficit by the end of the school year, according to a March 6 press release from the Diocese of Brooklyn.
“The Diocese of Brooklyn is committed to making sure that each child currently enrolled in St. Mary Gate of Heaven Catholic Academy will be able to continue receiving a Catholic education,” Thomas Chadzutko, the diocese’s superintendent of schools, said in the release.
“As you can imagine, this is an emotional time for this school community because closing a school greatly impacts the lives of students, parents and faculty. The decision was reached after intense analysis of enrollment trends and the financial status and forecast of the academy,” he said.
Enrollment has fallen to 163 students this academic year from 321 in 2015, according to the school, which was founded in 1904 by the Montfort Fathers and Daughters of Wisdom.
The Catholic Foundation and Futures in Education has invested more than $500,000 through tuition assistance to families, and St. Mary Gate of Heaven Parish has given $1.5 million to the school to help pay for operating expenses and building repairs, according to the diocese.
“When resources are constrained, it affects all aspects of the learning environment, which eventually impacts students and their needs,” Chadzutko said. “Our children always remain our first priority, and it is our goal to place all students who wish to continue their Catholic education in one of our neighboring academies.”
Frank Gulluscio, chairman of St. Mary Gate of Heaven Academy’s board, said that it has been an emotional time for the community.
“After 120 years, we have an enormous legacy,” Gulluscio said. “But it’s been very difficult to enter each school year with a deficit. Because that happened, a decision had to be made. We want to grow [Catholic education]; we don’t want to be stagnant.”
Students can transfer to neighboring Catholic academies, and they will receive a $500 tuition-assistance grant from the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Trust, if they attend an academy or parish school within the diocese and meet financial obligations.
Parents were notified of the closure at a meeting on March 5. An information and school registration session, featuring several neighboring Catholic schools, will be held next week.