Saint Mary's has room for all Saint Dominic students

Rick Wagner • Jan 27, 2010 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — Saint Mary’s School in Johnson City can take all the Catholic and non-Catholic K-5 students from the closing Saint Dominic School in Kingsport, according to the principal of Saint Mary’s and an official of the Knoxville Diocese of the Catholic Church.

Also, Deacon Sean Smith of the diocese said Saint Dominic Catholic Church will continue to offer partial or complete tuition assistant to Saint Dominic members’ children to attend Saint Mary’s, based on family income.

Parishioners and parents of students received a letter dated Jan. 22 informing them of the school’s closure, citing low enrollment and a church subsidy of almost $380,000 a year in tuition assistance and operational assistance.

Saint Dominic Pastor Michael Nolan made the decision to close the school after conferring with diocese officials. The Saint Dominic Church Council voted Jan. 21 to recommend closure of the school after reviewing information on the school finances. The school has 53 K-5 students and 47 pre-K students, compared to 176 K-8 students at Saint Mary’s School.

The comments about capacity at Saint Mary’s are directed at what Smith called “100 percent inaccurate” statements by Susan Barnes, former vice chairwoman of the Saint Dominic school board, that Saint Mary’s had a waiting list.

“I think that’s a nice gesture,” Barnes said Wednesday, adding that she learned after media interviews earlier this week that most of the waiting list issues at Saint Mary’s were limited to kindergarten classes. “We want a chance to save our school.”

Barnes said she’s received no response to a request made earlier this week to meet with diocese Bishop Richard Stika. Barnes said she has resigned her position on the school board and will, for the time being, no longer attend services in the parish.

Plans are to use the parish bus at Saint Dominic to take students from Kingsport to the Saint Mary’s campus if there is enough interest.

“We indeed can take all of the students, both Catholic and non-Catholic, in the K through 5,” Smith said Wednesday, following a Tuesday night news release from the diocese.

Randi McKee, principal of Saint Mary’s who will be a member of a transition team for Saint Dominic, said Saint Mary’s has 176 students in its K-8 school but has slots available in each grade level for both Catholic and non-Catholic students from Saint Dominic.

“Our in-school families are given priority first. They are considered in-school families. So we would take non-Catholics,” said McKee.

McKee said she’s already had some inquiries about Saint Dominic students attending Saint Mary’s. In addition, she said her school generally picks up some sixth-graders from Saint Dominic since the Kingsport school discontinued its middle school grades years ago.

However, Saint Mary’s has no preschool or pre-K program, so only rising kindergarten students from Saint Dominic could move straight to Saint Mary’s this fall.

McKee said Saint Mary’s Church subsidizes the Saint Mary’s School through tuition assistance to students and operational assistance for the school, but she had no figures available.

She referred the question to Father Aniete Akata, pastor of Saint Mary’s. He responded with a faxed statement that in part reads: “We believe that detailed discussions or comparisons about finances of the schools should be reviewed on an individual basis with the families involved. That transition team is working on the numerous factors that may lead to absorbing some of Saint Dominic’s students into the Saint Mary’s system.”

A letter detailing Saint Dominic School subsidies from the Saint Dominic Church is online at www.saintdominicchurch.org/.

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