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Catholic Schools Are Thinking Smarter | Schools

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Catholic Schools Are Thinking Smarter

By Carol Kostyniak
Secretary for Catholic Education
Diocese of Buffalo

What is the future of Catholic elementary schools in the Diocese of Buffalo? Are Catholic elementary schools sustainable? What will Catholic schools look like in the year 2015? How do we keep our strong schools strong? How do we assist those schools that are struggling?

To answer these questions, the Department of Catholic Schools embarked on creating a five-year sustainability plan. Beginning with a diocesan overview, the department, in consultation with the Diocesan Catholic School Advisory Council, retained Meitler Consultants in February 2009, to study the “big picture” at the diocesan level. The Meitler report, “Visioning for the Future,” was distributed in November 2009. The Department of Catholic Schools is actively working in conjunction with the Principals’ Executive Council, school leaders, Diocesan Advisory Board and local school boards and councils to address the Meitler recommendations, including Catholicity, curriculum, instruction, assessment, board governance and leadership. Significant progress has been made.

Building on the Meitler report and recognizing the need for collaborative research,Verdi & Company was engaged in February 2010 to collect and analyze data across the diocese and at the local level. In addition to gathering local school and parish data, input was collected on public school districts, the impact of public school enrollment and the population trends and economic forces in Western New York.

Along with a committee of the Diocesan Catholic Schools Advisory Council, Dr. Kathryn Foster, director of the University at Buffalo Regional Institute, contributed significantly to this project. The Verdi study is a comprehensive analysis of the demographics of the Diocese of Buffalo and of Western New York as related to the future of Catholic schools. Detailed school-by-school demographics are being prepared and will be shared as they become available.

The results of the Verdi study were presented to Bishop Edward U. Kmiec and the advisory council last June. Key findings indicate decreased numbers of elementary school-aged children in the general population over the next five years is already evidenced in the closing of public elementary schools. Across the diocese, current Catholic elementary school enrollment is at 68 percent of capacity of the current buildings.

There is significant overlap in the market areas of many of our elementary schools. Population and households are predicted to decline in number over the next five years. The Buffalo and Western New York economy is expected to lag the national recovery. Net annual outmigration is expected to range between 3 and 4 percent per year through 2015.

Profound social and demographic cultural change is evidenced in recent parish mergers, reduction in the number of regularly-committed parishioners and reduction in young families of faith receiving sacraments. A dramatic decrease in the number of priests is expected over the next 10 years.

Considering these factors, over the next five years, if we do nothing, the Verdi study predicts operating expenses will rise by $7 million. The cost per pupil will increase from $4,647 to $6,793. Elementary enrollment will decrease by over 2,000 students and total enrollment will be under 50 percent of the capacity of the total diocesan facilities.

Recognizing the urgency of these issues and the imperative to be proactive, the bishop and the advisory council accepted the recommendation to examine the following six key result areas in collaboration with leaders from the diocese, parishes, schools and the Western New York community:

Cost Containment: to study and recommend measures to better align costs and resources. Direct expenses and standardized management procedures must be researched and quantified.

Revenue: to assess current tuitions, collectability rates and need for tuition assistance including options for additional funding. Our schools must not become elitist and available only to those who can afford them.

Facilities: to evaluate current facilities in light of 21st century academic needs and predicted demographic conditions. Study will include such requirements as science labs, technology integration, physical education and the capital budget needed to upgrade and maintain these services.

Academics: to heighten Catholic identity, strengthen curriculum, provide high quality professional development and implement new, innovative programs to make our schools more competitive to the public.

Organizational Strategies: to build on the Meitler recommendation for boards/advisory councils at each school and to propose economies of scale across the network of Catholic schools.

Marketing/Enrollment: to review the geographic market demographics and overlap areas and to recommend marketing techniques and strategies to increase enrollment.

When we began this study in 2009, we emphasized that it was not about the diocese closing schools but about sustaining Catholic schools in the Diocese of Buffalo for future generations. It is about sharing the data, analysis and expertise with local parishes and communities so that together we can strategically implement a plan for the future.

Cognizant that this is a process and not an event, we will continue to update you as new information is available. We must move cautiously and quickly in a spirit of collaboration. At the local and diocesan levels, we need your help and your prayers in developing long-range strategies and solutions.

We are optimistic that our Catholic schools will continue to serve future generations of children but we must think smarter, broaden our base of expertise and work more efficiently to continue educating mind, body and soul of our children attending our schools.

As Secretary for Education for the Diocese of Buffalo, Carol Kostyniak is responsible for implementing Bishop Kmiec's vision for Catholic education in the eight counties of Western New York.  She oversees the following departaments:  

Catholic Schools
Department of Catholic Schools
Lifelong Faith Formation
Youth & Young Adults
Catholic Alumni Partnership 


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