Fresno Catholic school may soon shut doors

FRESNO, Calif.

The Fresno Diocese is looking at ways to save the school but at this point, the future isn't looking too bright for the Catholic institution.

Students at Sacred Heart Elementary in Central Fresno may soon have to find another school. "The worst case scenario is to be closed and for our students that means they'll have to search out other schools," said Sister Kathleen Drilling, principal at Sacred Heart.

The diocese conducted a viability study to determine the financial future of the 63-year-old institution. According to the report, the school's enrollment is the lowest in the Fresno Diocese. This school year, there are only 94 students enrolled at Sacred Heart, that's down from 116 in 2009.

The diocese expects a 39 percent drop in enrollment over the next six years. "The enrollment has been slipping due to the economy due to the area that we live in," said Drilling. Administrators point to the destruction of more than 1,000 homes when Highways 168 and 180 were built, which caused many people to move out of the area.

The school has been losing money and now owes the diocese more than $400,000. "Right now the school cannot meet its operating expenses on an annual basis and it's taking a substantial amount of money given to it by the parish," said Richard Sexton, Superintendent of Schools.

Officials have dropped tuition by nearly $2,000 dollars a year to attract more students but it's not helping. "They're afraid that if they raise tuition, they will lose enrollment. It's kind of a spiral, it gets worse and worse. We have some schools that charge quite a bit more than they do but they're in healthy areas that can sustain that tuition," said Sexton.

"We need to change things, things need to change," said Judy Soper. Soper's daughter attends Sacred Heart and fears she'll have to find another Catholic school. "It would be sad for her because she's been there since preschool, and that's what she knows and that's what she loves," said Soper.

School officials will be meeting with parents and community members in the coming days to find ways to move forward without closing down the school. The Bishop is expected to receive recommendations by May 1st and has the final say on the school's future.

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