Bishop Matthew H. Clark has accepted recommendations that he close 13 of the 24 Monroe County Catholic schools, cut tuition by more than 27 percent and provide a financial incentive for families to re-enroll displaced children in the county’s remaining diocesan-run schools.
The bishop announced his decision Jan. 18 during a 3 p.m. press conference at the Diocese of Rochester’s Pastoral Center in Gates. The decision was communicated to principals and pastoral leaders earlier today, and a letter from the bishop was sent home to parents this afternoon.
The moves — recommended to Bishop Clark Jan. 3 by the Catholic School Task Force — are intended to stem “a growing financial deficit, rising costs, declining enrollment and a number of schools operating well under capacity,” the bishop’s letter to parents states.
“I firmly believe that the changes we are implementing are essential,” Bishop Clark told parents. “By acting now, we can free the system of potentially crippling financial woes and work to ensure our overall Catholic School program will not just survive but thrive in the future.”
The bishop’s letter offered parents his “heartfelt support and … prayer in what is surely troubling news to those affected by the closings. I give you my sincere thanks for all you have done in the past to support these schools. Please know also that I am committed to offering Catholic education for all families who wish it for their children. Our remaining schools are ready and willing to help you.”
Approximately 1,950 of a countywide total of 4,883 students will be displaced by the closings. The announcement does not affect diocesan schools outside of Monroe County, which continue to operate under direct parish management.
Also unaffected by the closings are five diocesan-affiliated but independently operated schools in Monroe County. Due to the fact that the restructuring will leave only one diocesan-run junior high school, however, these schools are announcing plans to expand their junior-high offerings for 2008-08 or to accommodate more students in existing programs.
Diocesan spokesman Doug Mandelaro said 197 faculty members also will be displaced by the closings and that a separation plan has been developed for them.
Families whose children are being displaced are encouraged to re-enroll them in the remaining diocesan-operated schools in Monroe County. The diocese is offering a one-time credit of $500 per displaced family that re-enrolls its children in one of these 11 schools.
Bishop Clark appointed the 23-member
task force in September 2007, asking it to address the following issues:
- A projected deficit of more than $1 million for the current school year. The accrued deficit was expected to exceed $5 million by the end of the 2008-09 school year.
- Escalating tuition rates that have put Catholic schools financially out of reach for many families.
- An enrollment decline of nearly 45 percent since the 1997-98 school year.
“I have a strong commitment to keeping alive the possibility of Catholic-school education for people in our diocese who want that for their children. I think it’s a very wonderful way to form our young people in the faith, and at the same time give them a quality education,” Bishop Clark said in an exclusive interview with the Catholic Courier.
Yet, “we’ve simply come to another stage in this evolution where we have to make another significant adjustment if we’re going to be able to keep the option open,” he said, noting that “a rapidly deepening threat of indebtedness … is not going to serve anybody.”
Diocesan officials said cutting tuition — to $2,950 for 2008-09 from $4,050 in 2007-08 for one student in a parish-registered family — is critical to stabilizing and increasing enrollment. Yet unless overall costs were somehow reduced, any reduction in tuition would only magnify systemwide deficits, they noted.
Even at the 2006-07 tuition level, average per-student costs exceeded tuition by about $2,000.Absent major changes, the gap between cost and tuition was expected to grow even larger next year because enrollment was projected to decline again, officials said.
According to a document enclosed with the bishop’s letter to parents, the task force weighed a number of factors in recommending which schools to close: past enrollment trends and projections; area population trends; class size; cost per student to operate the school and projected future costs; building and maintenance costs; availability of other Catholic schools in close proximity; and the overall condition of the buildings.
Mandelaro said the task force also made recommendations about governance of diocesan Catholic schools, but that these would require further feedback and analysis.
Declining enrollment and restructuring of Catholic school systems are both national trends. According to the National Catholic Educational Association, Catholic elementary enrollment has dropped 15 percent nationwide since 2001-02, and more than 212 U.S. Catholic schools were closed or consolidated during the 2006-07 school year. Similar restructuring efforts also have taken place in neighboring dioceses.