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Group seeks to save Daniel Murphy High

Supporters say they will pay more, raise money and recruit students to keep the school open.

November 18, 2007|Carla Rivera | Times Staff Writer

Parents of students at Daniel Murphy High School, a Catholic boys academy scheduled to close in June, said Saturday that they would be willing to pay higher tuition, recruit students and raise extra money to keep the Fairfax district campus open.

Hundreds of supporters of the school descended on the Los Angeles Archdiocese's downtown Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, demanding that Cardinal Roger M. Mahony reverse the decision to close the campus.

About 200 parents, students and alumni marched from Pershing Square, chanting and hoisting signs that read "Don't Make the Children Pay" and "No More Victims."

They gathered on the sidewalk in front of the cathedral wearing red and white T-shirts emblazoned with the words "Save our School." They have said they are willing to foot the bill themselves to match the annual $175,000 subsidy that has been provided by the archdiocese.

"We're here to ask Cardinal Mahony to meet with parents and alumni to discuss not if, but how, we will keep Daniel Murphy High School open," Peter Brown, who graduated in 1985, said to cheers.

Jeffrey Johnson III, 17, a Daniel Murphy senior who plans to attend Arizona State University, said, "You're sending the wrong message that the archdiocese doesn't care about its children."

The archdiocese announced last month that it would shutter the 53-year-old campus because enrollment had declined to 230 from a capacity of 500. The archdiocese is also facing severe financial pressures brought about in part by increased operating costs and a $660-million settlement with victims of clergy abuse.

The school was founded in 1954 as St. John Vianney High School and became Daniel Murphy with the completion of the current building at 3rd and Detroit streets.

The school has a long history of ethnic and cultural diversity and has several noted alumni, including former Los Angeles Police Chief and current City Councilman Bernard C. Parks. He was out of town but has said that he supported keeping the school open.

Despite declining enrollment at many of its 244 schools, the archdiocese has largely bucked the school-closing trend that has plagued other large urban areas, such as New York and Detroit. Here, wealthier parishes help subsidize poorer ones in an archdiocese program called Together in Mission.

Although archdiocese officials have said there is no plan to sell off school properties to meet financial obligations, supporters of Daniel Murphy said they feared that its closing could be the first of many.

Supporters said their fundraising plans were rebuffed at a meeting last month with archdiocesan officials, who seemed intent, they said, on selling the potentially lucrative 2.7-acre parcel near La Brea Avenue to help pay for the archdiocese's portion of the abuse settlement, which could reach $373 million.

Supporters said estimates of the value of the property ranged from $25 million to $40 million, depending on the market. They said they were backed by several area homeowners groups and would fight any development plans.

The archdiocese has not commented on plans for the property, which is also home to eight members of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.

There is talk among supporters of trying to purchase the property themselves.

"This is one of the darkest periods for the archdiocese, but the answer is not to take away educational resources from students and families," said support group President Robert Barner, whose son Robert Jr., 15, is a freshman.

"We don't want another set of victims. . . . There is an opportunity here to send a strong message to young people and families throughout the archdiocese that we value children and that you will not make them pay for past mistakes."

No one from the archdiocese spoke to the group. But the decision to close the school is final, spokesman Tod Tamberg said in a statement. After graduation, about 177 students will need to find another school.

"The irrevocable decision to close Daniel Murphy High School in June 2008 was made at the end of a decade-long decline in enrollment and before significant cuts to academic and extracurricular programs at the school would have had to have been made," the statement said. "We will continue to work with parents and students to help make the transition to new schools as easy and as affordable as possible."

Tamberg said 16 principals from Catholic high schools in the area -- including St. Bernard in Playa del Rey, Cathedral and Loyola near downtown, Salesian in Boyle Heights and Verbum Dei in South Los Angeles -- have met with parents to discuss transfer options.

The archdiocese has also pledged to provide financial assistance for some needy transferring students. Annual tuition at Daniel Murphy is $5,100.

School supporters said the archdiocese had prevented them from meeting on school property and forbidden faculty and staff from assisting them.

They noted that Daniel Murphy, for whom the school was named, was a huge benefactor of Catholic causes, with his foundation donating $25 million to the construction of the cathedral. Closing the school is an insult to such patrons, supporters said.

Frank del Castillo, a 1984 graduate who is president of the alumni association, sounded an appeal.

"We are calling on all Catholics in the archdiocese to withhold their tithings and instead put a note in the collection plate with the message that Daniel Murphy should remain open."

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carla.rivera@latimes.com

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