2016-11-10 / Letters

Should Thornton Academy pay in lieu of taxes?

Catholic schools.

As teachers, principals and assistants, the sisters have been looked upon as role models by generations of young people. Though they are less in number, their commitment to Catholic education is stronger than ever. Each year, the community donates $25,000 to a scholarship fund at St. James.

“We are honored that the Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec are here today,” said Nancy Naimey, principal of St. James, during the service. “These sisters have contributed substantially to our scholarship program and it enables many of our students to attend St. James School. We are so grateful. It is because of the sisters that we are able to have our school here.”

“The fact that the education continues here is very special to us,” said Sister Terry Gauvin, a Biddeford native who is the Provincial of the American Province of the Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec. “As a community, we’ve always appreciated and valued Catholic education. Catholic schools are not only the future of our church, they are the present of our church.”

The connection between the sisters and the students is hardly a financial one. There is a deeper bond illustrated each month when students from the school visit the community’s convent on Pool Street. The visits include prayer, arts and crafts, snacks, singing and a genuine affinity not hampered by a difference in age or experience. One student even read a speech at the funeral of a sister.

Sister Theresa Rounds, superior general of the Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec, was among those in attendance Monday. Once the principal of the former St. Mary School in Biddeford, she says that the sisters also receive something very important from their dedication to the school and connection to the students.

“The sisters get a sense of hope,” said Sister Theresa. “A sense that the future is not as bleak as the media sometimes makes it appear. There are good people and the children, if given the chance, can lead lives that represent the values that the church stands for, that families stand for, that the country used to stand for.”

On Monday, different grades sang special songs to the sisters, and even the faculty got into the act, singing “Sisters” from the movie “White Christmas.” The students offered several prayers and songs in French for the sisters who do not speak English. At the end of the service, students presented the sisters with red roses and a large heart made of paper hands. Prayers for the sisters were written on each hand by every student in the school.

To the editor:

At a recent Saco city council workshop, Thornton Academy requested a zoning change so it could purchase the Winterhaven Assisted Living Facility for more dormitory space. I believe some reported statements made by Bill Kany of Thornton Academy’s board of trustees to rationalize having the council approve their request needs clarification.

The tuition per student paid to TA is truly below the state average as he stated, but it is not because of any act of charity on TA’s behalf. That amount is the maximum set by the Maine Department of Education and does not include other costs such as busing. Mr. Kany also mentioned the Advanced Placement (AP) courses TA makes available to Saco students, but those courses are also not offered as an act of charity. Along with their excellent sports, arts and STEM programs, I believe their AP courses are a key part of their business strategy that has successfully drawn students from all over the world to come live and study at TA. The trustees and management of TA are to be commended for expanding their private business that last year made a reported $7 million in profits. Their success at drawing international students to the U.S. supposedly earned Headmaster Rene Menard a trip to the White House to be personally congratulated by president Obama.

The reason I submitted this letter is because I have the same concerns that were brought up by council member Nathan Johnston during that workshop. With their considerable profits, TA is again poised to purchase another tax revenue generating private property and place it in its growing inventory of tax-exempt properties. Now who’s going to make up for this loss of tax revenue? Most likely it will be the rest of us property owners. I’m not suggesting we should be levying taxes on any property used for educational purposes. But, all the recently purchased properties next to the TA campus, the future purchase of Winterhaven, and the dormitories recently built by TA have nothing to do with educating students. They have been acquired to house out of town students and thus generate even more profits for TA.

The city of Saco should support a successful private business like TA and allow them to continue their expansions. But, TA should offer to ease the property tax burden they are imposing on the rest of us by contributing a small percentage of their millions in profits to at least offset their costs for city services. The program Councilor Johnston was likely alluding to is called, “Payments in Lieu of Taxes” and many institutes of higher learning have voluntarily partnered with their communities in such programs. In future council meetings, councilors should discuss with TA the possibility of such a program. If not, councilors should at least explain how they plan to make up the loss of property tax revenue that TA’s past and future expansions will cost all of us remaining taxpayers.

Ted Sirois Saco School Board, Ward 6

Return to top