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St. Rita School students, faculty in transition after closure announced

April 3, 2015
Christina Gray

More than 100 St. Rita School students are unsure where they will attend school in the fall. Principal John Black announced in a letter to school families on March 23 that the nearly 60-year-old K-8 school in Fairfax will close effective June 2015.

“Our current eighth graders will be the last class to graduate from St. Rita Catholic School on June 9,” wrote Black. “We know that while Catholic education in Marin County will carry on, it will never be quite the same without the spirit of St. Rita School.”

In the same letter Black said the school intends to reopen in August as The International School of Marin, an independent, nondenominational school implementing the International Baccalaureate Program launched by the school in 2013.

The school averted closure in 2013 over mounting debt and falling enrollment. It received a two-year reprieve after clearing its debt and introduced the IBP program in the hope of attracting new students.

In January, St. Rita Parish pastor Father Kenneth Weare and Black asked the archdiocese for a second extension, but Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone rejected the plan in February. According to Black, despite a balanced budget for the 2015-16 school year and a last-ditch appeal by Father Weare in March, the archbishop made a final rejection on March 19 citing a lack of reserve funds to protect against a potential enrollment decrease.

Superintendent of Catholic Schools Maureen Huntington told Catholic San Francisco on March 28 that she has urged the principals of the county’s other Catholic K-8 schools, including nearby St. Raphael, St. Patrick, St. Anselm and St. Isabella, to take in as many St. Rita students, faculty and staff as they can.

“Eligible St. Rita students will have access to financial aid from both the archdiocesan endowment and the St. Rita School endowment funds,” she said.

In a phone interview with Catholic San Francisco, Black confirmed that the other Catholic schools in Marin County are trying their best to accommodate those St. Rita students who wish to continue their Catholic education.

“Most were waiting for the archbishop’s final decision to pursue other options but have now begun to explore both other Catholic and public schools in the district,” he said.

The International School of Marin can move forward if, according to Black, a minimum of 70 students enroll for the 2015-16 school year by April 24. He noted that tuition has increased significantly from $8,500 a year at St. Rita School to $13,500 at ISM because the school would have to pay the archdiocese rent for the existing school property.

Faculty and staff are also holding on until then, hoping to transition to the new, independent school.

“Most of our faculty and staff are hoping to remain,” Black said. “But I have encouraged all of them to have their own Plan B.”

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