St. Francis-St. James United School in the West Seventh neighborhood of St. Paul is closing at the end of the 2012-2013 school year, school officials announced Nov. 30.
Although it was sad news for the school’s 75 students and their families, principal Gail Rappé said she and her staff saw it coming for a while. Enrollment had been dropping steadily in recent years, she said.
The present financial crisis was precipitated by the recent loss of a major tenant in one of the parish buildings, but there also were significant underlying sustainability issues.
A task force of parish and school leaders and other stakeholders was set up in the fall to discuss the future of the school. It determined the school was not financially sustainable and recommended closure.
“They have been financially fragile for a few years,” said Laurie Acker, director of urban education in the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Schools. “They looked at all the statistics and finances and realized that the school, with  kids and a lot of the families not being able to afford it, was just not financially viable.”
St. Francis-St. James has received financial support to ensure its operations will continue through the end of the 2012-2013 school year.
Two parish schools merged in 1988 to become St. Francis-St. James United School, with both having operated independently just blocks apart prior to that. St. Francis opened in 1884, St. James in 1913. The two parishes merged in January 2011 under the archdiocese’s strategic plan.
With more than six months before the end of the school year, Rappé and the Office of Catholic Schools will be working to help place the students in other Catholic schools.
Leaders of nearby Catholic schools — including St. Peter Claver, Holy Spirit, Highland Catholic, St. Thomas More and Community of Saints, all of which are within roughly a 10-minute drive of St. Franci-St. James — will be coming to the school Dec. 11 to talk with parents and give them information about curriculum, tuition and financial aid availability.
“I’m confident if we have families that found a Catholic school they want to go to, we’ll do everything possible to help get them the funding to go to that school,” Rappé said.
Acker said one important funding source is the Legacy Grant, which the archdiocese uses to help students and families in financial need attend urban Catholic schools.
Archbishop Nienstedt also has asked the Office of Catholic Schools to work with teachers and staff at St. Francis-St. James United School to assist them in finding employment in other Catholic schools.