Family of Catholic schools strengthened by plan

    One of the major results of the strategic plan for Catholic schools was to establish a consistent grade-level structure for elementary and secondary schools. Why was this so important?
    Our discussions about grade-level structure were very involved over the last two years, but I dare say variations of this conversation have been taking place for the last 45 or 50 years. Ultimately, this was done to ensure the long-term health and growth of our family of Catholic schools. It simply was time to address this in a conscientious way through prayer and dialogue. We began by having outside experts and consultants from Catholic University look at our situation and make recommendations. It helped having outside eyes to identify the challenges we face. Unknowingly, over the last 50 years, we have brought some of those challenges upon ourselves. The study recommended that we offer kindergarten through seventh grade in the elementary schools and eighth through 12th grade in the high schools. After a great deal of prayer, research, consultation and discussion, we agreed with that recommendation. We believe this change will provide each child in our schools with a uniform transition from elementary to high school and give schools a more stabilized way to plan their curricula and finances from year to year.
    Obviously, this decision affects every school, but it affects some schools more than others.
    I truly believe that all schools will have to make a sacrifice in this regard. In trying to plan for the future, we took into consideration the needs and preferences of all of our schools. I liken this to a family. In a family, the perfect gift is not always the gift that is the best for the individual person but the one that is best for the entire family. We honestly believe these decisions will foster the health and longevity of our family of Catholic schools and the archdiocese. Change is always difficult, and I am sympathetic to those who are affected by this. I know some people feel some disappointment that exceptions were not made for certain schools. But in order for us to be good stewards, in terms of pastoral leadership, and for us to be people of integrity, we have to look at what is best for the whole family of schools and make decisions that will benefit the entire family. We have to acknowledge that our family of schools is going through challenging times. It might even be considered a crisis, because we want to ensure the vitality of Catholic schools into the future and provide the very best in Catholic formation and education. We believe this uniform, grade-level structure will enable us to do so. Compared to other dioceses, we have had incredible diversity in grade-level structure, and that has produced a sense of confusion and chaos. Where there is confusion and chaos, there is not good stewardship and perhaps not even the best of education. We hope this new way of doing things will bring some focus and stability to a situation that has become somewhat unmanageable. I truly appreciate and am profoundly grateful for the incredible cooperation we’ve received from principals, presidents, pastors and religious superiors. Even when the exceptions that schools had asked for were not granted, we had very honest and helpful conversations, and that has helped us move forward for the health of the family of schools.
    One of the challenges going forward will be the differential in tuition that currently is being charged for eighth grade at elementary school and eighth grade in high school.
    We have informally suggested and will formally suggest to high schools that they give serious consideration to adjusting eighth-grade tuition to accommodate families who would have preferred to keep their children in elementary schools for eighth grade. We’re also going to ask – and this will vary from school to school – that some scholarship money be made available to help eighth graders who would have been able to afford education in an elementary school but will have trouble doing so in high school. The ability to do that will vary from school to school, but we believe our high schools are aware of this  challenge and will want to extend generosity and charity whenever they can.
    Another possible concern for the future is the tenuous nature of the state scholarship or voucher program. What about that?
    We are grateful for the state scholarship program because that has allowed us to help educate and offer Catholic formation to 3,241 students. We also know that the scholarship program has been challenged legally, and the state Legislature has to approve its continuation every year. We hope it remains in place because it helps us offer Catholic education to those who want it but could not otherwise afford it.
    What about the future financial challenges, both to individuals and to parishes?
    The committee that worked on this aspect of the plan came up with some ideas. One might be a diocesan-wide second collection taken up annually in all parishes. There also was a recommendation that I would host an annual dinner to raise money for Catholic schools. The committee also is suggesting that a modest fee be charged to students who are in Catholic schools in order to provide funds for others who cannot afford it. The larger reality is that as time goes on, Catholic education does get more expensive. There are a large number of people who would like to attend Catholic schools who cannot. There are many children in our Catholic schools who cannot afford the full tuition who are on scholarships from parishes or from the school itself. The larger question is where would this large “bucket of money” come from that would be able to sustain Catholic education for many decades into the future? To truly be effective, that fund would have to be millions upon millions upon millions of dollars. I wish I had a solution, and I wish the committee and the consultants I was working with had a solution, but we are still looking at many possibilities. It is extremely challenging. One suggestion is that those who have been able to benefit from and value Catholic education would be willing to provide a scholarship for a grandchild or maybe for a child they don’t even know. That would be a great blessing to a child and to our community.
    Would you consider a capital campaign for a Catholic school endowment?
    Some people have suggested a capital campaign for Catholic school education, and that is being pondered by many consultative groups. We would have to do further study to determine if that fund would be able to raise enough money to sustain Catholic education. Ideally, a large endowment that would allow us to use the interest for scholarship help would be a tremendous blessing. We need to lift all these needs in prayer. Our schools educate children and teach the faith. They produce inspired individuals who anchor a community. They are fundamental to the mission of Jesus in our archdiocese, and they need our support.

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