Sisters eye plan to avoid $102,000 tax bill at Fatima

fatima high school

fatima high schoolFaced with a tax bill they say they can’t hope to pay, the owners of the vacant Our Lady of Fatima School on Market Street have come up with a plan — open the school again on a limited basis.

After years of declining enrollment and increasing costs, the Sisters of Saint Dorothy closed their tax-exempt school in June 2012, putting the property up for sale for $8.1 million. Several months ago, Warren Tax Assessor Cathy Maisano sent the Sisters a tax bill for $102,104.36, reasoning that since the building was no longer being used as a school, it was no longer exempt from town property taxes.

Though Ms. Maisano and Warren Town Solicitor Anthony DeSisto agreed that the town was on solid legal footing for sending the bill, the Sisters promptly appealed the assessment; that appeal is pending.

In the meantime, Sister Dorothy Schwarz said she and Sisters attorney John Garrahy came up with a plan to return the building’s educational use, on at least a limited basis: By holding weekly classes.

Starting next month, three Sisters will hold weekly one-hour classes on Thursday nights for middle school age students seeking general remedial help, and high schoolers seeking remedial math help. In addition, there will also be a Bible class for adults.

Sister Schwarz said she hopes using the school again will save the Sisters from what she said is a crushing tax bill:

“The problem is we closed the school because we didn’t have the money to subsidize the school,” she said. “Consequently we got taxed to the tune of $102,000, and we find ourselves really in a hardship situation.”

“We’re not trying to be adversarial; we understand the town’s position,” she said. “We’re just trying to survive.”

Ms. Maisano was on vacation this week and unavailable to comment on whether the Sisters’ plan will change the tax situation. However, their original appeal is still pending.

The Sisters of Saint Dorothy is an international religious order, founded in Italy, that is broken into provinces. The North American province, of which Sister Schwarz is head, is broken into six religious “communities” in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York and Texas.

Note: The weekly classes run Thursdays from 7 to 8 p.m., through December. Call the Sisters at 253-5434 for more information.

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