Principals of two Catholic schools reverting to parish control say the strength of their parishes’ support makes them confident that the parish-run schools will succeed.
As of July 1, St. Lawrence School in Greece and St. Joseph School in Penfield will be operated by the parishes with which they are affiliated rather than by the Diocese of Rochester. Both schools have been part of the Monroe County Catholic Schools System since the system’s formation in 1994.
St. Lawrence parents were informed of the decision Jan. 20; St. Joseph parents were informed of the decision Jan. 19.
Meanwhile, studies are under way to determine the feasibility of reverting St. Louis School in Pittsford and St. Rita School in Webster to parish operation as early as the 2011-12 school year, according to diocesan spokesman Doug Mandelaro. No decision on such a move has yet been made, he said.
The decision to return St. Lawrence and St. Joseph schools to parish control was approved by Bishop Matthew H. Clark in consultation with the pastor of each parish.
"We welcome the opportunity to solidify the partnership with the parish, and based on the generosity of the parents and parishioners here, we are confident that we will be a success," said Susan Sak, principal of St. Lawrence School.
Felician Sister Christina Marie Luczynski, principal of St. Joseph School, said parents are eager to begin a five-year sustainability plan for their school.
"I think it’s a very positive move," said Sister Luczynski, who worked at parish-run schools in the dioceses of Buffalo, Syracuse and Ogdensburg. "Are there going to be challenges? Yes. Can we meet the challenges? I think we can. We’re fortunate to have a very large parish and a very supportive parish."
Father Jim Schwartz, pastor of St. Joseph Parish, noted that the announcement coincides with the parish’s 150th-anniversary celebration. St. Lawrence celebrated its 50th anniversary in August 2009.
Under the new configuration, each parish will have direct control over and responsibility for its school’s daily operation and finances. The Monroe County Catholic Schools System will assist the schools with information technology and human resources and staffing, and the schools also will continue to follow the diocesan curriculum.
"From a parish perspective, faith formation is a major parish priority as it is expressed in Catholic school," Father Schwartz said. "We see this as a rich and wonderful opportunity to provide faith formation for the growth of our parish."
Sak echoed that thought.
"The mission of the church is to teach," Sak said. "That’s what Jesus wanted us to do."
Father Schwartz said he is optimistic that local control over the school will encourage parishioners to feel more connected to it, allowing the school to continue providing a high-quality education.
"(Sister Luczynski) is confident that with the current staff that we have, that the transition can be made seamlessly," Father Schwartz said. "From a parish perspective, our finance council will have oversight of (the school’s) finances."
Father Schwartz said tuition at St. Joseph School for 2010-11 will rise to $3,300 from the $2,950 rate set by the diocese for the 2009-10 academic year. The priest noted that tuition does not cover the full cost of educating a student, and that the parish plans to subsidize a portion of such costs.
He said the parish hopes marketing efforts to increase the school’s enrollment will be bolstered by the announcement about the school’s return to parish control. The school currently has about 407 students out of a maximum of 428 spots, he said.
"The viability and the future of the school has just taken a giant step forward," Father Schwartz remarked.
That sentiment was echoed by Father Frank Falletta, pastor of St. Lawrence Church.
"St. Lawrence School is our pride and joy, and we believe the parish-school partnership will be a tremendous benefit to the long-term future of the school," Father Falletta said in a statement.
The parish-school partnership was hailed by several parents at both schools.
Tina McAuliffe, a parent of three St. Lawrence students in grades five, three and kindergarten, said the transition will make St. Lawrence School feel even more like a family.
"That’s the kind of school St. Lawrence is anyway," McAuliffe said. "I think it’s a wonderful change for the families and students here."
McAuliffe, a resident of Brockport who also works in St. Lawrence’s office, said she believes the announcement of parish control will help spur the school’s enrollment.
"Lots of parishioners are very supportive and would like to see their kids go here, so I think there will be a parish impact on enrollment," McAuliffe said.
Linda Wojciechowski, who has a second-grader at St. Joseph School, said she is confident that Father Schwartz and Sister Luczynski will help the school make a successful transition to being parish run.
"We have a great chance to explore some new opportunities for the parish and school to be more fully connected and to expand outwards to the community," Wojciechowski said.
The prospect of returning schools to parish control had been among the recommendations made by a Catholic schools task force appointed by Bishop Clark in 2007. That task force also recommended the 2008 closure of 13 schools in the Monroe County Catholic Schools Systems in light of declining enrollment and a $1 million budget deficit that was projected to rise to $5 million by the end of the 2008-09 school year.
The possibility of local control at several schools does not allow for the reopening of any of the closed schools, Mandelaro said.
"None of the closed schools are being reopened," he said, noting that one reason Bishop Clark approved the task force’s recommendation on school closings was concern that if some or all of the schools slated for closure had been allowed to remain open, they might have drawn students away from the county’s other 11 schools, thereby destabilizing the entire school system.
That concern persists, especially in light of an 8-percent enrollment drop at the remaining schools this past year despite heavy marketing efforts, Mandelaro said. He attributed the decline in part to the economic climate and changes in demographics.
Monroe County diocesan schools had been operated by parishes until the 1988 creation of a quadrant system that centralized services and pooled resources. The quadrant system evolved into the consolidated Monroe County Catholic Schools System in 1994.
The idea of returning to the parish-run model "has been studied, bandied about and discussed" since the task force recommended it two years ago, Mandelaro said, noting that the idea has picked up steam in the past several months.
"It would be the same model that is used outside of Monroe County and the same model that was used for the first 120 or so years of Catholic education (in Monroe County)," Mandelaro said.