Facing a declining student enrollment and an increasing deficit, St. Michael the Archangel School in Silver Spring announced that it will suspend operations at the end of the academic year.

Msgr. Eddie Tolentino, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish, announced the school's suspension of operations in a Feb. 24 letter to students' parents and guardians. He called it "my unfortunate responsibility" to inform the parish and school communities of the decision.

This past fall, the school hosted extensive consultations with parents and guardians, administrators and teachers, parishioners and community members to address the situation.

The school has 156 students enrolled in kindergarten through the eighth grade this academic year, down from an enrollment of 258 during the 2002-2003 school year. It ended the last academic year with a $63,000 deficit, and had projected a $50,000 deficit for this year. Because of lower than anticipated enrollment, a reworked budget showed a deficit of $99,608, nearly twice what was anticipated.

"Over the past months, parishioners, school parents, students, staff and alumni have worked diligently to find a solution to the school's recurring financial challenges. Our efforts have failed to raise the projected annual deficit of $100,000," the priest said in his letter. "We are also unable to guarantee the increase in enrollment necessary to offset future financial deficits."

He noted that in the past four years, "we have accumulated a school debt of almost $600,000 that has been borne by the archdiocese... We can no longer assume or guarantee, with our current financial resources, the school's growing deficit."

The Archdiocese of Washington - through tuition assistance and a special pastor's fund - committed a total of $190,000 to St. Michael the Archangel School this year. Last year, more than 35 percent of the parish's income went to supporting the school.

Msgr. Tolentino wrote in his letter that "we cannot fulfill our mission at the expense of depending upon archdiocesan resources that must be shared among all the children of our parishes."

Larry Savoy, principal of the school, told the Catholic Standard that "everyone here is sad and disappointed, but there is definitely learning that still has to be done, and we are going to make the best of the time we have with our students now."

Deacon Bert L'Homme, superintendent of Catholic schools for the archdiocese, said in a statement that with the suspension of operations, "it has been very painful to realize we will no longer pass on the Gospel message to students within these classroom walls."

"I am grateful to all those who participated in this consultation process and for their support of quality education for the students, especially the pastor, principals, faculty, staff, parents and parishioners," Deacon L'Homme said in his statement.

School and archdiocesan officials have teamed to help currently enrolled families in finding another Catholic school for their children to attend next school year. A special Catholic school fair will be held March 6 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in St. Michael the Archangel Parish's Williamsburg Room.

"We are looking forward to helping all our students to be placed next year in a Catholic school," Savoy said. "This is part of our long history of caring about our students."

Representatives of St. Andrew Apostle School, St. Bernadette School, and St. Francis International School, which are in close proximity to St. Michael the Archangel School, will be at the school fair. Also at the fair will be representatives from St. Jude Regional Catholic School in Rockville, Our Lady of Lourdes School in Bethesda and the Consortium of Catholic Academies in Washington, as well as representatives from the archdiocesan Catholic Schools Office.