Three options to develop a regional Catholic school system were presented Saturday at St. Gertrude Parish — the first of six town hall meetings being held over the next two weeks.
A total of 11 options were considered by pastors based on a 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 10 parishes in the Washington area.
The parishes include 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 presenters, who said they were speaking on behalf of the pastors, were Maureen DePriest, superintendent for elementary education, and Mike Duffy, director of finance and strategic planning, both with the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
Duffy reviewed the “stark realities” facing Catholic schools, not just here, but across the country, that were presented at town hall meetings held last spring.
Those realities include a decline in Catholic school-age children over the past 10 years while the cost to educate 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.
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.
Taking advantage of the Archdiocesian resource system, possible options were developed, he said, based on the steering committee’s recommendation per the pastors’ requests.
Current programming was reviewed at each of the six schools and models were developed for enhanced programming and staffing.
Cost projections were then developed based on 11 system options, Duffy said, with the largest cost savings coming when schools close.
In the end, the pastors recommended two options:
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 keeps Borgia as a 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 later in the meeting.
One other option, 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.
Under all options, the schools (except the parish-run schools in Option K) would operate under a regional school system.
This includes a standardized curriculum/instructional program and one calendar for all schools in the system.
All administration, teachers and support staff also would become employees of the regional system. All employees would have to apply for positions within the new system.
Additionally, all school-related finances would be consolidated and one tuition rate established.
The cost of education would be identified, standardized on a per student basis and distributed fairly and equitably to all parishes and students; this would include reimbursement to parishes for use of space/classrooms.
Christian service or stewardship requirements would be established for families to qualify for a parish subsidy.
Preschool, after-care and athletics/extracurricular programs would continue under all three options in some fashion, but details were not provided at the meeting.
The name for the regional system was not discussed either.
Enhancement of the educational programming would include nonteaching administrators. Some schools currently have administrators who also teach.
There also would be a director of faith formation; instructional coaches; technology coordinators; school counselors and nurses.
Quality degree and certified administrators and teachers would be hired in all positions. Currently, there are some staff members who do not hold certification.
Under enhanced programming, there would be increased contact time with students; enhanced technology/infrastructure and integration; and improved climate and culture.
The presenters said only Option B.1, which keeps programming relatively the same, would result in a cost savings, estimated at $250,000.
The other two options would both result in higher costs due to enhanced programming.
At the end of the presentation, people could submit questions in written form that were collected by the presenters.
Following the other town hall meetings, all of the questions submitted, will be reviewed and the pastors will meet to discuss the options.
Duffy said a decision could be made in February. Asked about a time line for implementation, he said it’s possible a new school system could be operating next school year or the following year.
The PowerPoint presentation given will be the same for all town hall meetings. No questions from the floor will be accepted, instead people are asked to submit them in writing following each meeting. Index cards and pens will be provided.
The PowerPoint will be available on each parish website once all town hall meetings have been completed.
The other meetings are as follows:
• St. Francis Borgia Parish, Tuesday, Jan. 8;
• St. Vincent, Wednesday, Jan. 9;
• St. John the Baptist, Thursday, Jan. 10;
• Our Lady of Lourdes, Monday, Jan. 14; and
• St. Ignatius, Wednesday, Jan. 16.
All of the meetings will begin at 7 p.m.