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Catholic Schools Closings Impact Local Districts

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – The announcement that four Catholic schools will close this June means changes ahead for hundreds of students and faculty. But the consolidation plan will also impact the other parochial -- and public schools -- that will be filling the void.

In September, there will be about 336 students in need of a new school. They will no longer be attending the four Catholic elementary schools in Cheektowaga and Depew that the Catholic Diocese last week announced will close. The diocese hopes that most, if not all of them, will choose to attend one of its other nearby Catholic schools. And they will extend just such an invitation this week during the celebration of Catholic Schools week. But as Diocesan Spokesman Kevin Keenan points out, some of those schools may not be able to handle the overflow.

"There are some schools that are close to capacity," Keenan explained. "Once they reach capacity, students will be placed on a waiting list or provided an opportunity to enroll in a neighboring Catholic school."

Keenan acknowledged that the diocese could lose some of the displaced students. Locally, enrollments in many Catholic schools have been steadily declining -- down by as much as 66 percent.

The closing of two of the Catholic schools will leave a dramatic void in Cheektowaga-Sloan. It's the public school district that provides some services for -- Our Lady of Czestochowa and Saint Andrew -- two of the schools that are closing. James Mazgajewski, superintendent of Cheektowaga Sloan Schools, says in September, there will only be one Catholic school left in the district. And, he says, in many ways, that will make their job easier.

"Perhaps we can focus better on the parochial school in the community and cooperate a little more," Mazgajewski said. "For example, when we provide nursing services, or any special education services, we'll be dealing with one school, rather than three."

Mazgajewski says that will likely offset the district's expenses if it has to take in any former Catholic students who choose to attend public school in the fall. He added, however, that most of those students are Buffalo residents and would have to enroll in the financially struggling Buffalo Public School system.