Friday, January 23, 2009

Catholic schools buck trend with growth has posted a story about one of the few places in this country where a Catholic school system is actually growing.  In this case it's the Diocese of Wichita.

NEWTON — On Monday, the New York Times chronicled a crisis for Catholic schools — enrollment is dwindling.

Dwindling, it seems, everywhere but three places in the United States. The Wichita Diocese, which includes St. Mary Catholic School, is one of those three places.

“Sometimes we don’t see the blessing that we have here,” said Phillip Stutey, principal of St. Mary.

Next week, he hopes people will see. It’s National Catholic Schools Week, with a host of activities at St. Mary and schools throughout the diocese.

“Catholic schools are not a stereotypical private school,” said Bob Voboril, superintendent of schools for the Wichita Diocese. “We don’t serve only the elite, upper income population. We serve a very diverse group of young people — socio-economically, and ethnically. Schools like St. Mary are every bit as diverse as Newton Public Schools, which I hold in high regard.”

To break the stereotype, the Wichita parish did something radical.

Instead of charging tuition, the diocese turned to parishes to support the schools, making it possible for parishioners to send their children to school without paying large fees.

“We have very strong parishes, and they are committed to stewardship,” Voboril said. “We ask the entire parish, or in Newton, the two parishes, to support and provide for the school so all the catholic families children can attend. They don’t have to pay $3,000, $4,000 or $5,000 to attend. ... That sets us apart from most non-public school systems in the United States.”

The Wichita Diocese had a campaign since 1985, asking its 120,000 parishioners to tithe as much as 8 percent of household income to its ministries, which include 39 schools.

That has allowed the schools to eliminate tuition.

“Its getting back to the roots of ‘all are welcome.’” Stutey said. “If you are part of the diocese and contribute to the parish by time, talent and treasure, then you can send you kids to school. It’s not only the parents with money that can go to our schools.”

Stutey said in most places Catholic schools, and private schools in general, have become a place only the wealthy can send their children.

There is evidence of this right here in the Diocese of Rochester. While one of the announced purposes behind last June's closing of 13 Monroe County Catholic schools and the accompanying reduction in tuition was to make the remaining 11 schools more affordable, as is reported here the unannounced simultaneous reduction in financial aid has had the net effect of actually making them more expensive for many of our families. 

Getting back to the article ...

Changing that has allowed the Wichita diocese schools to buck the nationwide trend. More than 2,000 parochial schools have closed since 1990. According to the National Catholic Educational Association, between the 2000 and the 2008 school years there were 1,267 schools that closed (15.5 percent). The number of students declined by 382,125 (14.4 percent). The most seriously impacted have been elementary schools.

While that has happened, the Wichita Diocese enrollment is approaching a 40-year high of 11,000.

“Something that may be a surprise to people is the Catholic schools in this diocese are the eighth largest school system in the state of Kansas — public and not public,” Voboril said. “We serve more than 2,400 children who come from an ethnic minority. ... We have more than 1,800 students with Individual Education Plan programs. Most people would not expect that from a non-public school system.”

Individual Education Plans serve students with special needs.

If a diocese one-third the size of DOR can do this, why can't we?  Why aren't the powers-that-be on Buffalo Rd. benchmarking dioceses like Wichita, identifying their best practices and adopting them here?  Why is Bishop Clark always asking us for more money while at the same time failing to follow the example of obviously successful dioceses?

The questions are obvious. It sure would be nice to have some answers.

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