Central Lutheran School, which for 130 years has educated children in St. Paul’s Midway and Frogtown neighborhoods, has suspended operations and will not be open in the fall, the principal announced last weekend.
The move follows an emotional week during which the nearby Twin Cities German Immersion School decided against purchasing the building, and a last-ditch bid by other investors to save it did not come together.
But Central Lutheran’s woes — dwindling enrollment, in particular — mirror those of parochial schools locally and nationally.
A separate effort to save the school via a GoFundMe page seeking $450,000 raised just $10,551 after its launch this spring.
The school noted then that while it once relied totally on tuition for funding, now about 80 percent of students received some form of financial aid, and that more than half qualified for free or reduced-price lunches.
In a Facebook post on Saturday, Principal Elizabeth Wegner wrote that the school board voted unanimously Friday night to suspend operations after investors were unable to submit signed purchase agreements by a deadline set for that day.
“This sudden turn of events, when everything was looking so optimistic, leaves us all sad, shaken, angry and maybe even questioning God’s will,” she wrote. “This is normal. It will take time for this to soak in and it will take more time as we go on to see the good our Heavenly Father has planned for each of us.”
Many families wrote of having sent multiple generations of children to the school, which traces its history to the beginnings of St. Stephanus Lutheran Church in Frogtown in 1890. Central Lutheran became an interparish school in 1942 and began operating at its current site at 775 Lexington Parkway N. in the Midway area in 1951.
The school served students in preschool through eighth grade, and adopted as its mission to “make Christian disciples of our students and to equip them with the fundamental knowledge and skills for responsible citizenship in the community and the world.”
In addition to Christian teachings, the school had offered music, art, physical education and STEM programming.
The school noted in a fundraising video that it has attracted immigrant children from Eritrea, Laos, Ethiopia and Myanmar.
Wegner wrote in her Facebook post to family and community members that the school would keep them updated about a farewell gathering and that it planned to send them information about other schools.
According to data collected from private schools by the St. Paul School District, nonpublic enrollment in the city fell from 11,064 in 1995-96 to 7,455 in 2015-16, a 33 percent decline. The data did not include breakdowns for individual schools or school types.
Charter school enrollment in St. Paul during the same 20-year period jumped from 200 to about 9,800 students, the district said.
For months, Twin Cities German Immersion School, a charter school that has seen explosive growth, studied the possibility of using Central Lutheran as part of a two-campus system, but it decided that plan was too expensive. Instead, the board voted last week to tear down the former St. Andrew’s Catholic Church building and replace it with a new addition.