Monday, November 27, 2006

Roman Catholic School Downsizing

I was making idle conversation with one of my local Roman Catholic friends today, and broached the subject of the proposed Elementary School consolidation. I was quite surprised with the level of resistance and frustration he expressed about the plan.

It's hard for me to say, as an outsider (a Lutheran Pastor) looking in, but I am certainly interested in the whole situation. Next to the Roman Catholics, our Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has the largest system of parochial schools in the nation (3 gradeschools here in Racine alone). I, personally, am involved with the leadership of one, as well as that of Lutheran High School.

I understand that funding is always tight. I understand that you can't outspend your means. My friend's suggestion was to close all 8 schools if they couldn't make ends meet. I don't know how serious he was, but I was a bit taken aback. He likened the schools to a business, which, if not meeting its "bottom line" should simply close. And though I didn't argue the point, I recognize that parochial schools are not "simply a business". Their churchly affiliation brings a whole different layer of considerations.

I don't know exactly how the Roman Catholic schools work, but in our circles, schools have three basic sources of funding - tuition, congregational support, and "third source" funding (i.e. development). The trend across the nation has seen lessening congregational support, as church membership numbers (and budgets) tend to shrink. This leads to greater demands on the other sources of funding, and has even led some schools to embrace a model in which tuition costs cover 100% of the "cost of education" per pupil.

Initially, the proposed solution ("forming a system") sounded good to me. But after hearing my friend's perspective, I am less sure. What sounds like a good idea often has unintended consequences. Some of the more thriving schools, he claimed, could be unduly stressed by an influx of students from the schools to be closed. He also mentioned that in all the planning, the only considerations spoken of were financial, and not what was in the best interest of students. I can't argue with what he has or hasn't heard, but I do see that the financial wellness of a school certainly has an effect on the quality of the child's education, doesn't it? Finally there was a concern for the haste of the transition, that all this would be done by next year.

I would be interested in hearing more from the Kringlesphere on this. I don't know that it affects us all but directly, but in any case I don't see something like this - shrinking schools - as a good sign for the health of our community here in Racine.