SOMERS POINT — When St. Joseph Regional Catholic School students return to school in September, they will see a new computer lab, a new gym floor and a newly paved parking lot.
Preschool classes will be extended to 3-year-olds, and the school’s new sound system will be up and running.
As private schools throughout the state close their doors due to declining enrollment in a struggling economy, many of their students have flocked to others, including St. Joseph, providing a boost to their new school’s enrollment and fundraising capabilities.
But while these updates are positives for St. Joseph, the school’s principal, Ted Pugliese, said the school is not happy to see the decline of other schools.
“As a regional school, that is what our role is, to welcome students from throughout the region,” Pugliese said. “It is sad and unfortunate that those other schools closed. But I am just happy that some of their students are able to continue their religious education within the Camden Diocese.”
Ocean City’s St. Augustine Regional Catholic School, Ventnor’s St. James School and Margate’s Blessed Sacrament Regional School all closed in 2008 due to restructuring by the Camden Diocese.
St. James and Blessed Sacrament were later merged in an attempt to continue accommodating the students affected by the closing. But that new school, Holy Family, also closed in 2011 due to low enrollment. The K-8 school had 92 students and a deficit of more than $170,000 at the time.
“There’s no one to the east of us anymore,” said Pugliese, adding that the only remaining schools in relative proximity are Bishop McHugh in Cape May Court House, St. Vincent De Paul in Mays Landing, Assumption Regional in Galloway Township and Our Lady Star of the Sea in Atlantic City.
Peter Feuerherd, a spokesman for the Camden Diocese, said enrollment in the diocese’s schools has dropped nearly 5 percent since last year, from 12,298 to 11,684. Part of the decline was due to the closing of the Notre Dame school in Newfield, Gloucester County, and St. Mary Magdalene in Millville, he said.
“It’s always a struggle,” Feuerherd said. “But the recent economy has definitely had an impact. The cost of tuition is an expense for parents, and making that decision is becoming more difficult for some.”
Enrollment to more than half of the diocese’s schools that have remained open — 13 of the 25 — has either increased or stayed level over the past couple of years, Feuerherd said. And the remaining dozen have seen only a slight decline, he said.
“The goal is not to benefit one particular school. The eye on the prize is maintaining catholic school education for everyone who wants it,” Feuerherd said.
Assumption Regional’s enrollment is up 54 students this year, while St. Joseph’s enrollment has stayed between 470 and 480 during the past few years, Feuerherd said.
“This helped us be able to justify some of the upgrades that we have been able to make,” he said.
Feuerherd said the diocese funds teacher salaries but that its schools fund their own improvements through “advancement and development” fundraising programs.
Most of St. Joseph’s upgrades — including the computer lab — were made possible through fundraising efforts, Pugliese said.
“As both an administrator and a parent of St. Joe’s students, I am proud of what we’ve accomplished,” Pugliese said. “And I’m optimistic that it will continue.”
Contact Rob Spahr:
Follow @TheRobSpahr on Twitter