The Archdiocesan School Oversight Committee is recommending the creation of a new partnership model of governance among four Catholic schools in the Northeast St. Louis County.
Under the model, four schools — St. Angela Merici, St. Ferdinand, St. Norbert and St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, all in Florissant — would be jointly operated by the sponsoring parishes and the archdiocese. The new model would ensure educational and religious educational programs are of similar quality in all of the schools, including enhanced staffing and programs.
The recommendation was to have been presented at meetings Jan. 4 and 5 at St. Ferdinand and St. Angela Merici. Separate meetings will take place at St. Norbert and St. Rose Philippine Duchesne later this month. The recommendation, along with input from parents and parishioners from the meetings, will be presented to the archdiocesan Board of Catholic Education and Archbishop Robert J. Carlson for a final decision.
The new entity would offer preschool through eighth grade at each of the four sites for the 2017-18 school year. A similar effort was implemented in 2012 at Holy Cross Academy in south St. Louis County, in which one school community operates on four campuses. Similarly, the new governance model being proposed will be used at a new school being formed at St. Joan of Arc in south St. Louis for the 2017-18 school year.
Funding for the new entity would come from tuition, subsidy from each parish, development and fundraising and an annual grant from the Archdiocesan Catholic Appeal.
Overseeing the partnership would be a corporate board that includes the archbishop, pastors and the Superintendent of Catholic Education; and a board of directors including representatives from each of the four parishes. A new position also would be created within the Catholic Education Office with responsibility for all elementary schools in north St. Louis County.
Maureen DePriest, associate superintendent for elementary school administration, told parents and parishioners at a Jan. 4 meeting at St. Ferdinand, "what we're talking about ... is a partnership with you, so that North County continues to be strong in providing education for children as we go forward."
Changes in North County
The overall enrollment at all eight schools in the Northeast County Deanery has dropped by about 25 percent in the past 10 years. St. Ferdinand has dropped from 303 to 224; St. Angela Merici from 201 to 187; St. Rose Philippine Duchesne from 345 to 216; and St. Norbert from 391 to 240.
The decline is similar to a national trend in Catholic elementary school enrollment, as reported by the National Catholic Educational Association. Since 2006, elementary school enrollment has declined by 27.6 percent in 12 urban dioceses and 20.1 percent in the rest of the United States.
Additionally, growing numbers of non-Catholics are replacing the Catholic population that has left the area. The non-Catholic birthrate is three times that of the Catholic population, said Mike Duffy, a member of the archdiocesan School Oversight Committee. "There are children in the deanery whose parents are looking for and deserve excellent faith-based schools," he said.
In the past 10 years, the number of Catholic students has dropped from 96 percent to 86 percent at St. Ferdinand; 85 percent to 32 percent at St. Angela Merici; 79 percent to 70 percent at St. Norbert; and 92 percent to 71 percent at St. Rose Philippine Duchesne.
Schools in the area also have been affected by increasing school costs, tuition and scholarship assistance, coupled with flat offertory collections and decreasing or empty parish reserves. In the past several years, the archdiocese has provided more than $800,000 from the Annual Catholic Appeal to meet increasing operating costs; and has helped families with more than $1.1 million in scholarship assistance through the Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation, Alive in Christ and Beyond Sunday campaigns.
In 2005, the Northeast County Deanery underwent a reorganization, and parishes and schools in the area began to look at ways to further strengthen themselves. As a result, the Federation of Catholic Schools in the Northeast Deanery was formed several years later to help increase viability, affordability and accessibility of quality Catholic education in the deanery.
Parents and parishioners asked questions and provided feedback at the Jan. 4 meeting at St. Ferdinand. Julie Zlotopolski, member of St. Ferdinand's school board and parish council, said the proposed plan sent a message that "no matter what parish you're in, this is saying ... our kids' education is important to somebody."
Before her children were born, Zlotopolski considered moving away from North County, but stayed "because of my parish family. And whether that parish family is in this location or I join with another parish in North County, my children need to have a Catholic education. I have a son who shows a glimmer of hope in maybe joining the priesthood, and I want him in a Catholic school."
Taking advantage of shared resources is important, too, she added. Her son attends a youth group at nearby Sacred Heart Parish. Similarly, with shared resources under a new partnership model, Zlotopolski said, "I hope that each partner in this plan is going to get a little bit of benefit of something they maybe didn't have before."
Zlotopolski shared a concern about evangelization efforts, especially with a declining number of Catholics who no longer attend a parish or send their children to Catholic schools. "How do we get our message out how great it is to have this to the people who aren't coming?" she asked.
Renaissance of Catholic Education and the Archdiocesan School Oversight Committee: www.archstl.org/renaissance
Federation of Catholic Schools in the Northeast Deanery: www.federationofcatholicschools.org