Thursday, 4:30 PM
Savio Prep students and parents prep for closing
By Stephanie Ebbert and April Simpson
Bill Gates didn’t bite. Oprah Winfrey’s Angel Network shot them down, twice.
Now, students and staff of St. Dominic Savio Preparatory High School, who have been searching in vain for a wealthy benefactor, plan to kick off a last-ditch fund-raising effort to keep their school open.
On Sunday at 2 p.m., friends of the school plan a rally in the gymnasium as a show of support for an East Boston institution.
‘‘We’re basically at the end of our rope with monies coming in and the lease coming to the end,’’ said David Langone, a 1986 graduate and a school trustee. ‘‘Now, we’re trying to reach out and find someone to help us out financially.’’
Savio Prep’s century-old building is in disrepair, and its enrollment has dwindled to 25 students in this year’s freshman class. Unable to fulfill its lease to the Catholic order that previously ran the school or to buy another building, the close-knit Catholic high school may graduate its last senior class this June.
The school’s board of trustees, which took over the school when it was nearly closed 14 years ago, has officially decided not to renew the lease, leaving faculty and families confused.
‘‘The board seems to have thrown their hands up, and we can’t figure why,’’ said Gerald Sullivan, a teacher and National Honor Society adviser who spearheaded the letter-writing campaigns to wealthy philanthropists and alumni. ‘‘I realize they must have tried a lot of different things. But had they contacted the parents earlier or made known publicly the difficulty, I think we all could have done something to prevent it from coming this far.’’
Many consider the potential closing of the school, founded in 1958, a travesty. Savio, which staff members say sends a half-dozen seniors to Ivy League schools each year, counts among its notable alumni Senate President Robert E. Travaglini and Ian Bremmer, an international policy specialist and political scientist. The school excels in athletics and sent its hockey team to the state championship final last year.
Much of the lore of Savio is the legacy.
‘‘It’s a part of my life,’’ said Jim Caruso, a 1976 alumnus who taught and coached cross-country and track and whose son graduated last year. He recalled how the freshman dean used to ask new students where they lived and offer them a unifying rejoinder: ‘‘From this day forward, you’re no longer coming from East Boston. You’re no longer coming from Revere. You’re from Savio.’’ His daughter, a junior, has to decide where to go to graduate if Savio closes.
‘‘For me, this is my second time around; I’m losing my school twice,’’ Caruso said.
The Catholic order that founded the school, the Salesians of Don Bosco, tried to close the boys-only school 14 years ago, citing dwindling resources and vocations. Alumni formed a board, refashioned it as the co-ed Savio Prep, and continued.
Five years ago, rumors began circulating again that the school might close, and enrollment began to plummet. Parents pulled their children out or decided not to enroll them. In 2002-2003, the school enrolled 374 students. Now, 165 students attend the school, which costs $7,050.
Paul Capurso, a 1988 graduate and chairman of the Save our Savio committee, said the issue ‘‘comes down to the Salesians turning their back on the teachings of St. Don Bosco,’’ who strove to ‘‘teach the children first.’’
‘‘It’s disturbing to people who want to hold on to the faith that the Catholic order wouldn’t want to keep this tradition alive,’’ he said.
The school was also beset by scandals. A former athletic director pleaded guilty in 2003 to indecent assault and battery for molesting three female athletes. In December, a former wrestling coach was sentenced to five years in state prison after pleading guilty to raping two Savio students and assaulting and hazing three others inside the school during the 2003-2004 school year.
‘‘We had some bad press,’’ Capurso said. ‘‘Did that affect enrollment? Sure. That was a PR disaster.’’
All the while, the school had maintenance problems, according to the Salesians. The order still held the lease, which called for the board to maintain the facilities and invest in capital projects.
‘‘As owners of the buildings, we could not allow them to continue to deteriorate,’’ the Rev. James Heuser, provincial of the Salesians of Don Bosco in New Rochelle, N.Y., said in a statement.
Heuser said by phone yesterday that the Salesians have given Savio supporters no reason to believe that they would reconsider the decision if they raise money; the president of the board agreed to vacate the school in June, Heuser said. ‘‘I think the decision not to renew the lease is final.’’
The president, Steven A. Giannacarro, declined to comment yesterday.
Now, some juniors fear they may not graduate from their school next year.
‘‘I don’t think the community realizes what we’re dealing with right now,’’ said Marianne Salza, a 17-year-old from East Boston. ‘‘It means so much to us. It’s not just individuals, it’s a family.’’