July 30, 2013

St. Camillus is closing

Declining enrollment, low funding blamed for shutdown

By Jeff Noble


There will not be school at St. Camillus Academy this fall.

In a letter sent to parents of children planning to attend the Catholic school in Corbin, the academy’s board of directors said enrollment for the new school year was “substantially below the threshold of needed income to successfully meet the school’s financial obligations.”

The letter was emailed Monday by the school’s board. It stated the income projected, along with some large donations, would barely cover the first month’s opening expenses, and “would leave us with significant hurdles to overcome each and every month thereafter.”

St. Camillus had planned on opening its doors for the new school year on Monday, Aug. 5.

The academy, located on a 30-acre site on a hill at the end of Roy Kidd Avenue, would have celebrated its 100th birthday on Sept. 8.

In the letter, parents who transferred their children from St. Camillus to other schools were told transcripts would be sent to their new school “as those schools request them.”

Parents who have already paid registration, book fees, or tuition to St. Camillus would be fully refunded. In addition, any pledge money collected by the school would be refunded, and money raised by charitable events and the school’s recent yard sale would be used to pay any outstanding bills.

The letter noted the school’s board of directors “continues to meet to discuss the details of all which must transpire now. …We plan to meet with the Sisters to discuss any other payments which may be required.”

The Sisters of Divine Providence — a community of sisters based at St. Anne Convent in the northern Kentucky city of Melbourne, located on the Ohio River in Campbell County — own the buildings and property.

Saint Camillus Academy of Corbin Inc. is the non-profit corporation formed by parents after the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington announced in January they would end their agreement to operate the school a year early.

In May of this year, the corporation secured a lease agreement with the Sisters for the school property during what would have been the upcoming school year.

Phone calls and an email to the school, asking about the closing, were not returned as of press time Thursday.

Dr. Jeanne Martin, a Corbin dentist who planned to send her daughter to St. Camillus, was one of those who got the letter.

“I’m very upset with the decision. I’m very disappointed in how the Diocese in Lexington handled the school in recent years. The Diocese didn’t come down and look at the school, or look at ways on how they could save it. As far as I’ve been told, Bishop Gainer has never been to St. Camillus. He came to London to visit at St. William, but never stopped here, and we’re just down the road. We lost parental help, we lost funding, and people started pulling their kids out. Parents wanted a guarantee that it would open in August and stay open for the rest of the school year. But there’s no guarantees in life. It would take a lot of volunteers to keep that school open,” said Martin, who volunteered with several school projects.

Libby Farmer, a London resident who was a former board member with St. Camillus Academy of Corbin, confirmed the letter was sent to parents.

“A friend told me they got the letter two days ago that the school would close. I understood they raised tuition, lowered teachers’ salaries and kept the curriculum the same. Because the decision was made not to change the curriculum, I left the board. The problem is, students have been leaving, and there have not been new enrollments to replace those who left. Over the last few years, the Sisters have had declining influence of the administration of the school. There are two few young women doing religious orders, and the current group of nuns are getting older. It’s sad that some did not want the school to change. If you’re not attracting new students, you need to chart a new course,” she said Thursday.

During a phone interview Thursday afternoon, a St. Camillus parent who did volunteer work for the school said the lack of money for scholarships to the school also contributed to its closing.

“We had a lot of students who needed scholarships, and we couldn’t find the money for it. We asked permission from the Diocese and the Sisters to be called a Catholic school, to help us get funding for the scholarships. We never got it. As a result, enrollment declined. We called the St. Camillus Alumni Association, who wanted to get a Catholic high school re-established here. We had several people meet with them, requesting scholarship money and it never happened. It’s a shame it’s closed. There’s no alternative to public schools in Corbin now,” the parent pointed out.

During a phone interview Thursday, the Diocese’s Superintendent of Schools, Tim Weaver, commented, “We were putting in money to keep it open until the end of the school year. Our last payments were on May 31st, and now the current board is closing it. They needed a couple of hundred thousand dollars to keep the ball rolling, but they couldn’t do it. It’s very difficult, very unfortunate for that to happen, and they had a beautiful campus. It’s really sad.”

Phone calls Tuesday to Scott Webster, a London attorney and secretary of Saint Camillus Academy of Corbin, were not returned as of Thursday night.

What formerly began in 1908 as Sacred Heart School became the current St. Camillus on Sept. 8, 1913, when the school was established by the Sisters of Divine Providence.

In February of this year, a month after the Diocese of Lexington told school officials they would end their agreement, the Sisters told parents at a meeting they would be willing to lease the building for a dollar a year, if the parents can keep the school open this school year.

St. Camillus announced during an open house in April that the school was saved. A new board of directors was put in, and the Diocese would continue to run the school until the end of May, with Saint Camillus Academy of Corbin taking over the school’s operation afterwards. The lease agreement between the board and the Sisters was signed the next month.

Martin said size and spirit were big reasons why she and other parents chose to have their children attend the school.

“What I liked about St. Camillus was number one, religion. They teach respect and they pray every day. That’s import an to you as a parent. Second was class size. The students got a lot of individual attention,” she noted.

The letter the board sent to parents and students closed with two sentences.

“We offer our sincere appreciation to the Sisters of Divine Providence for faithfully serving this community for over a century, and we hold them in our prayers always. We also continue to pray for each of you and your families on a new school without our beloved academy.”

Farmer said, “It’s sad. It breaks my heart. And as a Catholic, it’s a shame they’re losing that presence in southeastern Kentucky.”

Martin added, “It’s a big loss to our community because we don’t have school choices. It’s very sad for the staff and the Sisters, too. They recently spent $15,000 putting a new roof on the building. Maybe later this year they can evaluate things and try again to keep it open. It would be nice. I think people are very sad about St. Camillus closing, and we were getting ready to celebrate 100 years on the hill. Now it’s gone.”