Archdiocese wants consolidation plan


by BRIAN NADIG

The Archdiocese of Chicago recently asked six Northwest Side parochial schools to decide on a consolidation plan by the fall of 2016.

The schools that have been asked to participate in the regionalization program are Saint Tarcissus, Saint Cornelius, Saint Pascal, Saint Thecla, Saint Constance and Our Lady of Victory. Schools that choose not to consolidate risk losing financial assistance from the archdiocese.

In a Jan. 20 letter to parents at Saint Tarcissus, principal Michael Johnson wrote: "Over the next few years, it is proposed that we look at creating a new educational model, one that will have fewer schools but stronger ones for children to attend. We will all be involved in this process and have the ability to shape the discussion of what we want in our new school model and how this model can provide our children with a high quality educational experience.

"In this manner, we will continue the work that we have begun this year to develop a critical curriculum that challenges our students to be critical problem solvers. We will also be able to suggest new programs that we don’t have to be incorporated as well as new opportunities involving fine arts or other areas, such as broadcasting."

If the school does not participate in the consolidation program, the archdiocese will no longer provide financial assistance to the school, the letter states.

"The school must then be self-sustainable without incurring any debt to the parish. In the event that the parish did not show sufficient cash reserves to cover the school’s deficits, the school would be closed," Johnson wrote.

Several area parochial schools have experienced significant decreases in enrollment since the mid-1990s, especially during the recession. However, some schools have reported that enrollment has stabilized or increased slightly in the past 2 years

Last year Our Lady of Victory held a successful fund-raising drive that kept the school from being closed.

The enrollment of the six schools is about 1,250, compared to 2,700 in the mid-1990s, according to a letter that officials at Saint Thecla sent to parents on Jan. 20.

Saint Thecla administrators had been assured last fall that the school was not on a list to be closed or consolidated, according to the letter.

"Be assured that we had no knowledge of this plan and after Monday’s (Jan. 19) meeting we did not commit our school to anything until we have had the chance to share this idea with you, our parishioners," pastor the Reverend Gene Dyer and principal Dan Gargano wrote in the letter. Saint Thecla has a Feb. 13 deadline to inform the archdiocese whether the school will be part of the regional plan or will operate on its own.

If Saint Thecla does not participate in the plan, the school faces immediate closing "at any moment there is a deficit," the letter states.

"The six schools in our area are all within a very small geographical proximity, all of which are falling below the sustainability benchmarks for enrollment and financial support.

"The Archbishop (Blase Cupich) rightfully acknowledged that our schools, administrators, teachers and staff are doing an exceptional job of educating our students, and there is great pride in our individual schools. Yet, he, like all of us, also wants to ask not only where are we going to be next year, but in 5 years and more," the letter states.

Saint Constance recently notified the archdiocese that it would not participate in the pilot regional plan and that it would continue to operate independently, according to Office of Catholic Schools chief operations officer Tom McGrath, who spoke at a Jan. 26 community meeting at Saint Thecla.

As of Monday, none of the other five schools has notified the archdiocese of their decision, McGrath said.

It is expected that at least two of the school buildings would have to close in order to make the regional plan feasible, but schools would have to commit to the plan before knowing which facilities would remain open, McGrath said. Once committed, schools would not be allowed to opt out of the project, he said.

McGrath said that representatives of the participating schools would serve on an advisory board that would make facility and curriculum recommendations, and the archdiocese would serve as the arbitrator if board members cannot come to an agreement, he said. He said that the board would be asked to consider whether it would be better to have schools which serve all grades or to have a school offering classes from pre-school through fifth grade and a junior high school.

The regional plan is designed to ensure that parishes have the opportunity to create a sustainable educational plan that best serves their needs, McGrath said. Feedback from parents at recently closed parochial schools has indicated that parents were disappointed that their only option was to find another school instead of being involved in a planning process, he said.

Some parents at the Saint Thecla meeting expressed disappointment that the archdiocese was giving the parish less than a month to make such an important decision. One parent said that the six schools should be given the enrollment and financial status of the other schools that they are being asked to partner with.

If Saint Thecla were to decide not to join the regional project, there would be no restrictions on its ability to enroll children from other parochial schools, including students from parishes that are participating in the regional program, McGrath said.

Some parents expressed concern that Saint Thecla could be closed if it were to join the program because the school building is not as large as the others. It was reported at the meeting that Saint Thecla does not receive financial assistance from the archdiocese and that 90 percent of its current students and about a dozen new students are registered for next school year.


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