Archdiocese updates St. Thecla on regional plan; at least one of the six schools decides not to consolidate
by BRIAN NADIG
Saint Constance School recently notified the Archdiocese of Chicago 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 recent community meeting at Saint Thecla.
As of Jan. 26, none of the other five schools invited to participate in the consolidation program has notified the archdiocese of their decision, McGrath said.
Those five schools are Saint Thecla, Saint Cornelius, Saint Tarcissus, Saint Pascal and Our Lady of Victory. The Archdiocese is asking the schools to decide by mid-February.
The archdiocese has expressed concern about enrollment at these schools and future prospects for sustainable growth.
Those schools which do not consolidate will not be eligible for financial assistance, including scholarship aid, from the archdiocese and reportedly would be closed if the school were to run a future deficit. The archdiocese would close the school because it does not want to take on an additional financial burden as long as other nearby parochial schools can serve those communities, McGrath said.
It is expected that at least two of the six 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.
One St. Thecla parishioner said that closing the school would be “stripping us of our identity.” Another parent said that it could have a widespread impact on the parish because the primary way many families experience their faith is through their participation at the school.
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.
“What we don’t want is re-active closings at the end of the day,” McGrath 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. Under the regional plan, the consolidated schools are expected to have two classrooms per grade, McGrath said.
It was reported at the meeting that the Saint Thecla School 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.
It also was reported that the school relies on about $80,000 from the parish’s general fund to meet all of its operating costs, down from about $300,000 a few years ago. The school’s annual budget reportedly is about $2 million.
St. Thecla pastor the Reverend Gene Dyer said that it would take a collective effort from parish members to continue operating the school successfully on its own. “It’s going to be a big challenge to us, but I think we can do it,” he said.