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St. John the Baptist school

In this Feb. 2, 2006, file photo, Shannon Hanks, 6, of St. Louis, gets escorted back to her kindergarten class by Sarah Clarr (left) and Ronda Staples after a trivia game at St. John the Baptist school. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

An emergency appeal to raise $250,000 is under way at St. John the Baptist Elementary, a St. Louis Archdiocese parish Catholic school in the Bevo Mill neighborhood.

The school, which is just two years away from its 100th anniversary, must have pledges for the money by Dec. 31 or it could face closure at the end of the school year. In a letter posted on the parish’s website, the Rev. John Keenoy wrote that the school is facing what seems to be an “insurmountable financial deficit.”

“It is critical that we reach our $250,000 goal in order to stay viable for the 2013-2014 school year,” Keenoy wrote. “This will allow our kids to bridge to a more permanent solution that is in development for Catholic education in South City.”

Keenoy declined to comment on Wednesday and referred questions to the Archdiocese office.

Superintendent George Henry said in a statement that the school has experienced a steady decline in enrollment for the past several years while operational costs have continued to rise. Despite efforts from the archdiocese to provide financial assistance over the past four years, a large financial deficit has accumulated, he said.

Kelly Sullivan, a parent of two at the school, is one of those rallying to save it. She said many parents are just learning of the possible closure and fund-raising goal, and feel hopeless. About 60 percent of the students qualify for free or subsidized lunches, and 27 percent of the students come from families where English is their second language, she said.

“For them to give us this huge goal in such a short time, it felt very unfair to me,” Sullivan said. “We’re very tight-knit and I feel like I need to fight for that.”

And if talk of a more widespread merger of parish schools in south St. Louis comes to fruition in 2014, Sullivan worries that closing St. John the Baptist this year will mean students will go through not one, but two transitions.

Overall, Catholic school enrollment has dropped by 14,000 in the last 10 years to about 42,500 students, according to the archdiocese.

Earlier this year, Archbishop Robert Carlson announced a new scholarship fund to fill 1,800 vacant seats in St. Louis-area parish schools. And in September, the archdiocese announced that its 2012 annual Catholic appeal had raised nearly $14.4 million, beating its goal of $12.25 million. The money helps support scholarships, tuition grants and other education costs.

St. John the Baptist’s high school closed in 2008.