Issues facing schools outlined - Catholic Courier
Matthew H. Clark Matthew H. Clark

Issues facing schools outlined

You likely have read or heard that I have asked a group of 23 people, representing a wide range of perspectives and professions, to explore ways we can preserve our long tradition of providing Catholic-school education in the Diocese of Rochester.

The well-being of diocesan Catholic schools affects not only those who send their children to our schools or work in our classrooms, but also many aspects of diocesan and parish finances and planning. Thus I feel a responsibility to share with you the nature of the work this Catholic Schools Task Force is tackling.

First, please know that I consider this is a matter of urgency. As you will read below, the challenges our schools are facing truly have brought us to a point at which we must make an honest assessment of the facts at hand, find good solutions to immediate problems, make some hard decisions and develop a precise and realistic strategy for the future.

For instance, a key issue the task force is exploring is the steady decline in enrollment, which has dropped approximately 45 percent in the last decade. In the enrollment period leading up to this school year, only a handful of our schools saw an increase in enrollment, and most saw declines. The reasons for this decline are many: the impact of a general population decline, economic stresses on families and the perceived affordability of tuition, among others.

This steady drop in enrollment has affected our schools in a number of serious ways, from half-empty classrooms in some schools to a tipping of the already delicate balance between what it costs to operate our schools and the money we collect from tuition and parish subsidies. This is because the cost of operating our schools — maintaining our buildings, paying our teachers and other expenses — has risen even as the number of students has declined.

Because of this widening gap between what it costs to operate our schools and the funds we receive to do so, we currently face, for example, a deficit of more than $1 million in the Monroe County Catholic Schools system. This deficit will only worsen unless we take decisive action now through the work of the task force.

Therefore, I have asked the task force to take a very close look at ways we can stabilize this situation, so that our students now and for generations to come can continue to benefit from this 150-year tradition of excellence. I have asked for recommendations that we can implement in the first part of 2008.

To accomplish this mission, the task force is examining ways we might lower tuition so that more families can afford to send their children and increase enrollment. As well, the task force is exploring how to reduce overall costs by reviewing in great detail the age, quality and proximity of our facilities — and whether it would be beneficial in the long-term to consider possible consolidations of our buildings, staffs and resources. In addition, they are studying how our schools are governed and the financial relationships and system of support that exist between our parishes and our schools, and whether refinements in those areas also might bolster our educational system.

It is important that you know these efforts are in every way meant to strengthen Catholic-school education in our diocese and ensure that it continues. There is much to celebrate about our schools, from our children’s test scores, which consistently outpace the statewide average, and the wonderful balance of faith and values and academic excellence they receive, to the 21st century technology and curriculum refinements already underway.

For my own part, I am absolutely committed to the mission of Catholic schools, while at the same time firm in my conviction that we must take decisive and strategic action now.

I ask you please to pray for the members of the Catholic Schools Task Force, all of whom are devoting much time, energy and expertise to this effort. I believe the recommendations they ultimately will make will benefit our schools now and for many, many decades to come.

Peace to all.

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