One hundred years ago, Americans elected William Howard Taft to be President of the United States; the Ford Motor Company created the Ford Model T; and Catholic children in the area began attending the Immaculate Conception School in Irvington.
This 100-year milestone is bittersweet for members of the school community. In March, members and friends of the school attended a gala "which turned out to be celebrating [the school’s] history instead of its future," said Victor Presto, the school’s principal. That same month, they learned that the school would be closing its doors at the end of this academic year.
Throughout its 100 years, the school has educated such notables as Eric Ogbogu, a former NFL player for the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys.
Top: School Principal Victor Presto
The school also displays a picture of its alumnus, Michael McNaughton, jogging with a prosthetic leg with President Bush on a track surrounding the White House lawn. McNaughton, a staff sergeant with the U.S. Army, lost his right leg from wounds sustained in Afghanistan. The president met McNaughton at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he was recovering, and wished him a speedy recovery so that they could run together in the future.
Despite its rich history, the pre-K-8 school could no longer stay afloat. "The cost of running the school exceeds the amount of tuition it brings in," Presto said during a chat in his office last week. Even though the school is set to close, it was alive and well during the interview. Children’s class projects were displayed on the walls and the classrooms boasted SMART Boards while the Peace Garden was set to bloom for the summer.
This year, the maximum class size for the younger grades is 16, while the older grades are even smaller. Catholic schools are known for their affordability, and teachers often choose this route in search of teaching at a school without discipline problems.
"The teachers certainly make the sacrifice at a lower salary," Presto said. But the $4,000-$4,500 that Immaculate Conception receives from each child could no longer sustain the rising expenses, such as health insurance costs. Presto said that the school used to be able to afford this when nuns and other religious officials ran the school. Medical expenses were less costly back then, partly because Catholic clergy don’t marry, and the salaries were less as well.
"Our story isn’t unique," Presto said. But he gave clues as to why the New York Archdiocese singled out Immaculate Conception, such as the fact that the Irvington Public School District has an excellent reputation in the community. As a result, there are only 128 students attending Immaculate Conception this year since many students opt for public school.
Where are all the kids going after the school closes? Some of the students might be entering public school for the first time, but most will be attending other Catholic schools in the area, such as Transfiguration School in Tarrytown or St. Augustine’s School in Ossining.
"It’s sad because it’s like losing a family," said Gina Mucciacciaro, a Pre-K teacher’s assistant and mother of Danny, a fifth-grader who will be attending Transfiguration next year.
Ellen Galano, another parent, said, "It’s hugely disappointing." When asked, she confirmed that many parents were disappointed that they weren’t given an opportunity to help keep the school afloat.
An unnamed parent said the Village of Irvington didn’t help matters because it refused to allow the school to display a sign advertising an open house on the public bulletin boards.
But Village Administrator Larry Schopfer said the school wasn’t being singled out and that organizations are only allowed to advertise community-wide events. For example, if Immaculate Conception were holding a craft show, they would have been allowed to post the sign. But organizations aren’t supposed to place recruiting materials on this bulletin board.
Of course, the school could have raised tuition to keep itself afloat, but this wasn’t an option, according to Presto. "You don’t want to raise tuition and exclude people," Presto said. "It would go against the whole purpose of a Catholic education."
To close up shop, Presto said the school must secure all the records and store it in a room inside the building. The building itself will remain part of Immaculate Conception Church and will be used for the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) and religious school.
Despite the sadness, Presto said he takes solace in knowing that the future will be alive and well in the minds of the children who were educated by the school. "To provide a service for 100 years and educate people is quite an accomplishment," Presto said.