A steering committee discussing the future path of Catholic elementary schools in the area is recommending development of a regional school system.
The committee said a regional system would 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.”
Details on how a regional system would operate and a time line have not yet been released. Parish meetings will be held this fall to gather more input.
The committee is comprised of members from the following 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.
The committee was charged in February 2018 to study past and present educational realities in the six parish elementary schools serving the families in the area and to develop a recommendation as to how the parishes might continue to provide for the evangelization and formational needs of families.
The co-chairs are Bob Dobsch from Our Lady of Lourdes Parish and Barbara Delleart from St. Gertrude Parish, who issued a press release announcing the recommendation of a regional system over the weekend.
The committee said it offered some specific suggestions as to what this regional system could look like and made a further recommendation that the pastors take immediate action to carefully study this recommendation involving appropriate individuals or groups.
Area pastors said they were pleased with the recommendation and expressed gratitude to the steering committee for the time, energy and effort put forth in creating this “exciting vision aimed at more effectively meeting the academic and religious formation needs of students.”
Following the committee’s suggestion for prompt action, the pastors met in late July after studying the recommendation and suggestions carefully.
Over the past month, the pastors, with the support of the Archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education and Formation, have been gathering more detailed information and options in regard to a regional Catholic school system.
This fall, the pastors will meet with the committee and parishioners, parents and educators to share their progress on the recommendation.
The pastors will then move toward finalizing a recommendation after reviewing input from these groups.
The Rev. Gene Robertson, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish and the dean of the Washington Deanery, emphasized that the pastors have made no decision as yet and, in the meantime, the 2018-19 school year will proceed without any change.
“While this recommendation is primarily focused on our elementary schools, it is the pastors’ hope that it will have positive implications for the evangelization and faith formation needs of all within our parish communities,” he said.
The Rev. Robertson said parishioners, parents and educators will continue to receive communications regarding the development of a plan and will be involved in making any plan a reality.
The past and current realities of Catholic education, including enrollment numbers, operating costs and trends, were presented at six town hall meetings held this past spring.
Steering committee members gave the same Power Point presentation at each meeting, which included detailed charts showing a decline in the number of Catholics in the area, including a drop in Catholic births and baptisms, and a drop in Catholic school-age children from 1,200 full-time students in Catholic schools in 2006 to 863 today.
A breakdown of the average tuition costs versus the cost to educate each student, both of which have increased, as well as the net tuition revenue versus school personnel costs, also was presented.
The average net tuition revenue per student in the six Catholic schools is $2,860 versus an average operating cost per student of $6,610.
Committee members said the “stark realities” cannot be ignored, noting that total enrollment in the six Catholic schools has been trending downward for 10 straight years, while the cost to educate students and the cost of tuition continue to rise.
Only one of the six Catholic schools — Our Lady of Lourdes — has been steadily growing and it is near capacity.
The rising trend in parish subsidies, meaning the money raised from weekly offertories, auctions and other fundraisers being used to offset the gap, is unsustainable, the committee said.
A map of each parish school also was shown outlining where its students are coming from, with high percentages at many of the schools coming from outside the historical parish boundary.
The committee said regional school models have been implemented successfully in other communities in the St. Louis Archdiocese.