Las Vegas Sun

January 20, 2019

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City’s oldest Catholic school falls victim to low enrollment

St. Joseph to close doors at end of year

St. Joseph School

After a decade of declining student enrollment, Las Vegas' oldest Catholic school will shutter its doors at the end of this school year.

St. Joseph Catholic School, which opened in 1948, no longer has the funds to continue operating past July, said the Rev. Dave Casaleggio, who oversees the school.

"Despite our best efforts, we have no alternative, but to close the St. Joseph Catholic School at the end of the current academic year," he said in a letter to parents. "The leadership of the school and parish has done everything possible to keep our school open; but as painful as this decision was to make, we knew it was the right decision and in the long run, is in the best interest of our students."

Enrollment at the K-8 school, 1300 Bridger Ave., has dropped by half – from a maximum of 315 students about 12 years ago to 140 students this year, Casaleggio said. That decline has meant a loss of tuition money – up to about $3,000 per student.

Nationally, student enrollment at Catholic schools has been dropping.

Between 2000 and 2013, the number of students in Catholic schools across the country declined by 651,300 students, or about 25 percent, according to the National Catholic Educational Association. About a quarter of Catholic schools closed during that same timeframe.

St. Joseph fell victim to the national trend, but was also hurt by "competition of location," Casaleggio said. The school is sandwiched between two other Catholic schools located within two miles to the north and south.

The school's parish – St. Joan of Arc – is also the smallest traditional parish in Las Vegas, which makes it difficult to recruit and fundraise for the school, he said.

Despite its size, the parish tried to keep the school open as long as possible, Casaleggio said.

The school hired a new principal a couple of years ago, and it tried to improve its curb appeal with new paint, carpets and landscaping. This year, the parish subsidized $340,000 toward the school's operations.

Enrollment rose slightly, but it was "nowhere near enough and nowhere quick enough," Casaleggio said. School and church officials moved to close the 65-year-old school and possibly start looking for a buyer for the property.

"With just 140 kids, you can't keep (the school) open and we can't ask teachers to work for free," he said. "It was a disaster personally and emotionally, but from a practical point of view, there was no other choice."

Casaleggio said he broke the news to his students Tuesday during Mass. It was the hardest task he's had to do during his two years overseeing the school, he said.

"What happens when something ends?" Casaleggio asked his students.

They answered: "Something new begins."

"Hopefully what we taught you at St. Joseph will make the next school you go to a better place," Casaleggio replied.

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