Ursuline High School, a Catholic all-girls school that educated generations of young women in Santa Rosa for 130 years, will close at the end of the school year because of lack of funding.
Ursuline's staff of about 35 people were notified on campus Tuesday afternoon of the decision by the Ursuline Sisters of Santa Rosa to shutter the school. Families were noticed via e-mail after school.
"We'd received notice that we are in a lot of financial difficulty," said Sister Joanne Abrams, president of the Santa Rosa Ursuline Corporation Board of Directors.
The board of directors agreed to use $1.2 million in retirement and ministry funds to operate the school through June 2011 but concluded that "running Ursuline High School is no longer financially feasible."
"We thought long and hard about what we are going to do in the future," said Abrams. "We cannot continue to subsidize the school."
Officials at neighboring Cardinal Newman, the all-boys Catholic school which shares upper-grade classes and many activities with Ursuline's 280 students, were caught off guard by Tuesday's announcement. The school was notified at 1:30 p.m., said Graham Rutherford, Newman's principal.
Newman officials almost immediately announced that beginning next year, girls would be admitted to the historically all-boys school.
"We are going to make every effort to take girls that want to be here," Rutherford said. "We'll make sure there is a place for them and they are not going to be treated as secondary applicants."
The recession took a toll on families' ability to pay tuition at Ursuline, which is $11,000 a year per student. The school has seen its enrollment decline 30 percent since the 1999-2000 school year. More students are applying for financial aid, according to Principal Julie Carver.
"This is the first year we have had a cash-flow deficit," she said. "We haven't had the situation where we have actually had to ask for a loan. This is a new situation for us."
Carver, who is also an Ursuline alumna, said the decision by the Ursuline Sisters to close the school was "heartbreaking." She was told last Wednesday of the Sisters' decision.
"I was surprised the choice was to close," she said.
Abrams said the Ursuline Sisters were called to action after receiving a letter from the board of directors last month that outlined the school's current financial woes.
"We got a letter on Oct. 1 from the board at Ursuline High School," she said. "More or less it said that they could not continue financially as it is right now and they would need a loan of $1.2 million from the sisters in order to get them through the school year."
That is not sustainable, Abrams said.
While Ursuline will close in June, the Ursuline Sisters are not abandoning their educational mission. The organization is planning to open a charter school "based on social justice" on the campus in 2012-13.
The Ursuline Sisters "have a call to try to mission and respond to" the poor, she said. A charter school will help meet that aim, she said.
But on Tuesday, the current Ursuline community was left reeling from the news.
"It came as a total shock to faculty and staff," said Jennifer Gray, president of the Ursuline Faculty Organization. "Our faculty and staff are dedicated to being stewards for these young women and we are deeply distraught to learn of the Ursuline Sisters' decision.