The archdiocese will postpone changes to elementary schools under the All Things New pastoral planning initiative until the 2024-25 school year, Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski announced in a statement on Nov. 8.
Because of the necessary timelines for faculty and staff contracts, student enrollment, scholarship opportunities and parish budgets, the archdiocese had previously planned to announce school closure decisions in January 2023, effective for the 2023-24 school year. That would have put school decisions before the announcement of the future of parishes in the archdiocese planned for Pentecost on May 28, 2023.
But after further conversations with pastors, principals, teachers, staff and parents, as well as feedback from surveys and listening sessions, the archdiocesan All Things New school planning committee recommended waiting until after the parish announcements to make final decisions about schools. Since the majority of grade schools in the archdiocese operate under a parish governance model, meaning they are ministries of parishes, schools may be affected by parish changes that will be implemented over the course of 2023-26.
“Discernment is a process, and to discern means we need to gather data and gather feedback from the people of the archdiocese to see what the best solution moving forward is,” said Father Chris Martin, vicar for strategic planning. “If it weren’t dynamic, then decisions would have already been made that ultimately wouldn’t have the same vibrancy and sustainability long term.”
The archdiocese has been examining several criteria for recommended school closures. Criteria include current enrollment and enrollment trends, household locations of students, the capacity of the school building, percentage of a parish’s offertory used to subsidize the school, condition of the facility, percentage of school tuition and fees paid by school families, funding from the archdiocese, such as scholarships and grants, and proximity to other Catholic schools.
In late October, current Catholic elementary school families had the chance to participate in a survey that included specific questions about each school’s governance, tuition, class sizes, travel time and teacher compensation, among other topics. After the parish announcement is made in May, the archdiocese will continue to gather feedback from parish and school communities before making school closure decisions ahead of the 2024-25 school year.
“The cardinal virtue of prudence says that not only do you see the good you’re trying to achieve, but you try to achieve it in the right way,” Father Martin said. “It’s prudence that has dictated the need to delay these school decisions.”
This year, approximately 19,000 students are attending 85 Catholic elementary school locations in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, which includes 10 counties and the City of St. Louis. As a whole, Catholic elementary schools are at less than 65% of their capacity. Father Martin said that the data shows that even with a 40% reduction in the current number of schools, a Catholic education will still be able to be provided to all enrolled students.
The archdiocese will also continue to address immediate needs as they arise, which could include school closures unrelated to All Things New, due to issues such as unsustainable enrollment or teacher shortages.
The archdiocese is looking to respond to the need for more equitable teacher pay through a new teacher compensation model for the upcoming 2023-24 school year, Archbishop Rozanski said in the statement.
“Our goal has always been to create an educational model that is strong in Catholic identity, accessible, affordable and more equitable toward our teachers,” Archbishop Rozanski said.
School workbooks are now available on the All Things New website with detailed information including each school’s enrollment, capacity, revenue sources, expenses and subsidies, as well as figures for the school’s planning area and the entire archdiocese. To view the school workbooks, visit allthingsnew.archstl.org/Planning-Process/Catholic-Education.