Six town hall meetings to discuss three options to develop a regional Catholic school system in the Washington area wrapped up last week.
Archdiocese of St. Louis officials, who led the presentations, estimate over 2,000 people attended all six meetings.
The presenters, Maureen DePriest, superintendent of elementary schools, and Mike Duffy, director of finance and strategic planning, told The Missourian they are in the “final stages of compiling, categorizing and answering” hundreds of written questions collected at the meetings.
“These should be available to the pastors to post on their websites by the end of the week,” said DePriest.
The PowerPoint presentation, given at each meeting, also has been provided to each parish to post as well, she said.
DePriest and Duffy said the pastors of the 10 participating parishes and steering committee will reconvene at the end of the month to review the input and determine the next steps.
During the town hall meetings, Duffy said a decision could come as early as February.
Once a decision is made, DePriest said the pastors and the steering committee will ensure that all community members receive communications in a coordinated and timely manner.
“It was very evident from the town hall meetings that all of the schools are supported by their communities and have been so for generations,” she said. “Many individuals expressed their appreciation for the pastors looking at alternatives to Catholic education rather than schools closing one by one.”
In all, 11 options were considered by pastors based on the steering committee’s recommendations for a regional system to provide “quality faith-based Catholic education in a financially responsible, affordable, and sustainable manner for the parishes and families in the Washington and Southern Warren County area.”
The committee is comprised of members from the following 10 parishes — St. Ignatius, Concord Hill; St. John the Baptist-Gildehaus, Villa Ridge; Our Lady of Lourdes, Washington; St. Gertrude, Krakow; St. Ann, Clover Bottom; St. Gerald, Gerald; Holy Family, Port Hudson; St. Francis Borgia, Washington; St. Vincent de Paul, Dutzow; and Immaculate Conception, Augusta.
St. Ann, St. Gerald, Holy Family and Immaculate Conception do not have parish schools; the other six do.
Two of the three options were recommended by the pastors:
Option B which designates St. Francis Borgia Grade School as the middle school for grades six to eight and the other five schools continue to operate serving kindergarten through fifth grade with enhanced educational programming; and Option K which makes Borgia the middle school, and Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Gertrude as K-5 schools with enhanced educational programming.
Under Option K, the other three schools would remain parish-run schools, but would not be part of the new system. Those students would be able to enroll in the three schools that would make up the new system. Staff also could apply for positions within the new system.
How long those parish-run schools would be able to sustain operations is not known, Duffy acknowledged during the town hall meetings.
One other option under consideration, which the steering committee recommended, is Option B.1, which keeps Borgia as the middle school and the other five schools open as K-5 schools, but the educational program would remain relatively the same.
Decline in Students
The archdiocese and school officials said there has been a decline in the number of Catholic school-age children over the last 10 years while the cost to educate students continues to rise. Only one of the six Catholic schools — Our Lady of Lourdes — has been steadily growing and it is near capacity.
Parish subsidies to the schools are unsustainable, Duffy said, and the parishes still have to be able to meet other responsibilities and ministries.
“If we do nothing, in the next three to five years some schools will close,” he said.
Under all options, the schools (except the parish-run schools in Option K) would operate under a regional school system which would include one standardized curriculum/instructional program and one school calendar;
All administration, teachers and support staff also would become employees of the regional system, and all employees would have to apply for positions within the new system.
Additionally, all school-related finances would be consolidated and one tuition rate