Peter Watts relishes the bonds he forged with coaches, teachers and classmates at Verbum Dei High School, an all-boys Catholic campus with a long tradition as an athletic powerhouse and a haven from strife in South Los Angeles.
Now a successful educator, Watts assumed his son, Avery, would carry on the tradition as a proud Eagle at "the Verb." He and his wife were stunned when the 13-year-old's application was rejected. The reason: The school is now dedicated to serving only poor students, and the Wattses' income is too high.
That policy is the source of growing contention among alumni, many of whom attribute their success to the school and feel they are being punished for their achievement. They argue that legacy admissions are common at private schools and alumni can be a lifeline for fundraising.
In 2000, Verbum Dei was cash-strapped and struggling with low enrollment. Cardinal Roger M. Mahony asked the Jesuits to take over, and linked Verbum Dei with the Cristo Rey Network of Catholic schools, which provides a college preparatory experience for disadvantaged urban teenagers. Students participate in a work-study program that finances part of their education, which school officials say averages about $13,000 per pupil. Annual tuition and fees are about $2,900; the difference is made up through grants and fundraising.
Spaces are reserved for low-income students rather than families such as the Wattses, who can afford to pay higher tuitions at other private schools.
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