After closure announcement, uncertainty looms at St. Helen's School of Fresno

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The kids at St. Helen's remain upbeat even though their school is scheduled to close, but their parents are scrambling for a plan. (KFSN)

Fundraising at Catholic schools is a way of life. But financial debt at the St. Helen's School of Fresno continues to mount - so much so the Fresno Catholic Diocese says the school must shut down at the end of the school year.

The kids at St. Helen's remain upbeat even though their school is scheduled to close. A letter informed parents on Friday, and a school closure would break up three best friends.

"It makes me feel sad, because I've been going here since 'Junior K' and it's like my second home," 4th-grader Maddie Fuentes said.

"I might have to go to a public school, and I don't really want to," student Tevy Pel added.

"The teachers are nice, and they're caring for others," student Kate Lopez said. "We get to go to mass."

Tuition at St. Helen's in southeast Fresno starts at $402 a month.

"And as demographics change, it becomes harder and harder for people to raise money," diocese superintendent Mona Faulkner said.

The 60-year-old school owes the Catholic diocese close to $500,000 for debts dating back seven years.

"We have a situation where the school can't afford to pay the salaries and benefits for their employees," Faulkner explained.

In December of 2015, Bishop Ochoa forgave $350,000 of the school's debt. Principal Jason Garza says the battle to keep the school open is not over.

"We fight not for ourselves," he said. "We have to fight for the 205 kids that walk through these gates every morning."

Parents will meet on campus to talk about a now urgent plan to find large donors.

"I think it's important whether you're Catholic or not," parent Amy Butler said. "We talk about teaching values, traditional values. Again, it's a small community."

The community hasn't given up hope. They pray a solution can be found.

Monday's meeting at St. Helen's starts at 6 p.m.

To stay open, the school not only must pay off the debt, it must also show donors can keep the school afloat.
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