Meetings focus on sustainability recommendations
By Rayanne Bennett
“If Catholic schools are to thrive well into the future they must be academically excellent, fiscally sustainable and passionately Catholic.”
This conclusion recently articulated by the facilitator of the diocese’s School Sustainability Study may not be new. But some of the ideas emerging from the study about ways to attain this ideal are new and innovative, aimed at solving long-standing problems and reversing challenging trends.
Highlights from among an extensive list of possible recommendations following the 15-month study were rolled out to parish and school representatives at two town hall meetings during April and May. Dr. John Convey, the consultant and professor at The Catholic University of America tapped to lead the study by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., walked attendees through the process and findings. Opportunities for attendees to ask questions and offer suggestions were provided.
Dr. Convey gave an overview of the scope of the study, noting that the report that is going to be finalized by the commission in the coming week and presented to Bishop O’Connell is more than 100 pages, covering such areas as Catholic identity, academics, finance, development, governance and leadership, and marketing and public relations. Prominent among the recommendations is the significant gap that exists between tuition and the actual cost to educate a student.
Proposed solutions to bridging the gap include raising tuition rates, revamping how co-sponsorship (paid by parishes which do not sponsor schools) and parish subsidy is structured, increasing tuition assistance for families in need and developing a new revenue stream from dedicated fundraising dollars.
The report also placed great emphasis on the quality of the principal, seeing that role as critical to the school’s viability; enthusiasm on the part of priests, particularly pastors, and the sense of Catholic identity, which must be very strong. As proposed, the report will also affirm the importance of having a school board, and dedicated personnel – whether paid or volunteer – for both development and marketing needs.
Dr. Convey reported that indicators were established to identify at-risk schools, and noted that 11 of the diocese’s 36 elementary schools have one or more of these indicators. Primary indicators include:
• K-8 enrollment less than 220 students, declining enrollment over a five-year period or a precipitous drop in enrollment between any two of the past five years;
• Difference between tuition and cost per student of $2,000 or more, and
• Any school that requires over 30 percent of its sponsoring parish’s income to balance the school’s budget.
Sharing sobering statistics about the current reality for Catholic education, Dr. Convey reported that only 13 percent of Catholic children nationwide attend Catholic schools and only another 35 percent are in parish religious education programs. He stressed, “That means that half of all Catholic children are engaged in no faith-based education whatsoever.”
In the last decade, 20 Catholic schools in the diocese had to be closed, Dr. Convey noted, adding, “We will lose another 10 in the next four or five years if we don’t do something.”
Acknowledging that the study will recommend some school closures, Dr. Convey reminded attendees that the outcomes will depend on which recommendations Bishop O’Connell decides to accept. Either way, he stated, “there will be time for schools to prepare, and, in some cases, time to turn things around.”
Answering questions from parents, Dr. Convey maintained, “We’re not in the business of closing Catholic schools. We are in the business of sustaining Catholic schools. Catholic schools are still the future of the Church. But we have to be realistic.”[[In-content Ad]]