Low enrollment, financial struggles force closure of Wildwood Catholic High School

With just 194 students enrolled in the current school year, and mounting financial difficulties, faculty, school staff, administration and school families were informed Tuesday, Jan. 5, that Wildwood Catholic High School will close at the end of the current school year. The announcement was made in a letter to parents from Father Michael Field, the pastor of St. Ann’s parish, which sponsors the school.

“As you know, population changes in Cape May County and in Lower and Middle Townships have adversely affected elementary and secondary school enrollments in public and private schools in the region. Wildwood Catholic High School, unfortunately, has been unable to avoid the impact of these changes,” he said in the letter.

Enrollment has declined from a peak of 376 students ten years ago to just 194 this year. In the last five years, enrollment fell 42 percent, from 336 students (see enrollment trend table at right). Projections, including those from a fall 2009 study, indicate that enrollment would further decline in each of the next five years. Further, population projections from the New Jersey Department of Labor indicate that the overall number of children aged 15-19 in Cape May County will decline every year through 2020.

The enrollment decline has resulted in falling revenues, resulting in a growing debt of more than $685,000 and annual deficits which are expected to top $500,000 this year and almost $900,000 next year, a burden that is weighing on both the school and its sponsoring parish.

Father Field, citing “insurmountable troubles,” said the decision followed a period of study and review with Bishop Joseph Galante and his school advisors. “Given the gravity of the enrollment decline and the dire financial situation, and trends indicating a worsening situation,” he said, “and having considered the reality that neither the diocese nor the parish can afford the increasing debt of the high school, we have concluded that it is necessary for Wildwood Catholic High School to close at the end of this school year.”

Acknowledging the difficulty of the decision and its impact on students and families, it was announced that a $1,000 per student tuition voucher will be provided to each family that may be applied toward tuition at Holy Spirit High School in Absecon, Sacred Heart in Vineland, or another diocesan Catholic high school chosen by the family for the 2010-11 school year. Transportation accommodations also will be explored in the weeks ahead. Moreover, school officials will work to place faculty and staff in other Catholic schools and, for those who do not secure employment, they will be offered a severance package. There are 19 full time lay faculty members, three administrators and six staff members.

Father Field also announced that the new Cape Trinity Catholic elementary school, which will join the school communities of St. Raymond’s, St. Ann’s and Our Lady Star of the Sea, will locate at the high school campus beginning in September, rather than at the St. Ann’s school campus, as previously announced. He said the high school property also will be used as an office and ministry center for the parishes of St. Ann’s and Assumption, which are preparing to merge this year as Notre Dame de la Mer Parish.

“Bringing the parish center and elementary school together will make sure the Catholic Church maintains an important educational and pastoral presence in the Wildwoods,” said Father Field.

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