January 20, 2013 – A mission to save Catholic schools

Archdiocese rolls out strategic plan to save Catholic schools

Chicago Tribune – By Manya A. Brachear – January 20, 2013

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York faces the prospect of shuttering 28 elementary schools, and Chicago’s public school system reportedly could close scores of schools.

But the largest Catholic school system in the nation — in Chicago — is hoping to tell a different story.

Leaders of the Chicago Archdiocese and a board of nearly two dozen business leaders have come up with a long-term strategy they believe will keep their schools strong, and they expect an announcement later this month that only a few of their 255 Catholic elementary and high schools might close this year.

For the third year in a row, citywide enrollment has grown in elementary schools, Catholic Schools Superintendent Sister Mary Paul McCaughey said. Some schools are experimenting with approaches such as year-round schedules, new technology and aggressive fundraising.

“No one wants to be a New York or a Philadelphia,” McCaughey said. “Chicago has bucked the trend on that kind of thing. We would like to continue to be strategic.”

Still, a majority of the archdiocese’s schools require a subsidy from the pastoral center to stay afloat. This year’s $22 million contribution is more than double the annual $10 million that is allotted in the archdiocese’s budget. While Catholic elementaries have grown in the city, the archdiocese’s total enrollment in elementary and high schools continues to slide. And Catholic leaders acknowledge that their school facilities need millions of dollars in repairs.

“Tough decisions may have to be made,” said communications director Colleen Dolan, but targeted schools will not be surprised. Dolan said administrators of unstable schools have known they were in jeopardy for at least a year.

Karen Ristau, president of the National Catholic Educational Association, said all Catholic school systems face a learning curve to deal with the demographic shifts in their areas. New York is simply navigating the same phase of the curve that Chicago did in 2005 when it closed 23 schools …

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