The superintendent of Catholic schools in Fresno has given a May 31 fund-raising deadline to St. Helen’s Catholic School in order to avoid its closure after it became unable to cover the cost of employee benefits – the minimum a school must do.
Mona Faulkner said there is a chance that St. Helen’s Catholic School in Fresno will not have to close its doors at the end of the school year if it raises enough money. She told The Bee in March that the southeast Fresno school had developed about $850,000 in debt over several years to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno. In December 2015, Bishop Armando Ochoa forgave $350,000 of the amount to help the school.
But St. Helen’s later became unable to cover the cost of employee benefits again, and now faces the possibility of closing at the end of the month. On Thursday, St. Helen’s Principal Jason Garza said he is “very confident” that the school can raise $580,000 by May 31, but wants the public to help.
“I understand we cannot do this alone and our soft-money fundraisers will not get us there by May 31,” Garza said. “We do need assistance to help St. Helen’s achieve our goal.”
Garza sent a letter to parents of St. Helen’s students explaining the deadline and fund-raising efforts.
Faulkner said she met last week with Garza and the diocese’s chief financial officer. They discussed the school’s financial situation and found there had been a discrepancy between the diocese’s records and St. Helen’s about how much benefits are actually owed.
Faulkner said the diocese decided to go with St. Helen’s records and the debt was lowered from $595,000 to $580,000.
“If that debt is paid by May 31, then we can begin to plan a path for success moving forward,” Faulker said. “That plan would entail planning a budget, rehiring or giving contract to whatever staff we could hire for the number of children registered, etc.”
A committee, “Save St. Helen’s” is is working desperately to raise the funds. The committee hosted several events last month, and was given a $250,000 donation from a Fresno physician.
St. Helen’s, on Belmont Avenue near Chestnut Avenue, has about nine classroom teachers, two office employees, a preschool director, a principal and other staff. It can accommodate 325 students, but this year’s enrollment stands at 202 students, Faulkner said.
Donations can be made to a PayPal account through the school website.