|Arts & Entertainment|
|Breaking Open the Word|
|Family Vacation & Travel Guide|
|World & Nation|
|DCR Advertising Rates|
|DCR Submission Guidelines|
April 29, 2009
School losing funding rallies to become self-sufficient
By Roxanne King
When the St. Catherine of Siena parish community got word earlier this month that they were losing funding from the Archdiocese of Denver for the upcoming academic school year, they immediately went into action to save their school.
“Closing, in my mind, is not an option,” said Gina Francis, whose oldest child graduated from St. Catherine’s last year and whose three other children currently attend the landmark school on the corner of 42nd Avenue and Federal Boulevard.
“Our plan is to stay open and to thrive,” said principal Diana Bennett.
St. Catherine’s officials said the lost revenue amounts to some $250,000.
On April 25, at the school’s annual fundraising gala, St. Catherine’s officially launched an aggressive campaign seeking 50 people or organizations to each pledge $5,000 to recover the loss. By the end of the evening, the “50 to Save St. Cat’s” campaign had raised $48,750 in contributions and pledges.
Organizers were pleased with the strong start, but recognize they haven’t much time to reach their goal. The parish pastor has set a deadline of June 30.
“If people would like to pledge or donate, we urge them to call the parish office (303-455-9090),” said Tom Dimelow, finance council member at St. Catherine’s.
Earlier this month, the school was one of two to learn that it would no longer receive archdiocesan funding. The other school is located in the suburbs and while it has not gone public with its plight, is taking action to ensure it remains open.
Three other schools were told they would receive just one more year of grants, said Catholic schools superintendent Richard Thompson. Seventeen schools will receive reduced funding, he added.
Declining enrollments—a loss of nearly 1,200 students over the last nine years—and $2 million less in charitable contributions have forced the archdiocese to make the cuts, Thompson said.
“It’s too bad when they’re such good schools and such good people,” he said. “But you come down to where in order to preserve the whole ministry there has to be some pruning.
“Nobody’s getting full funding,” he emphasized.
A total of 12 factors were considered in making the decisions, Thompson said. Those included the enrollment trend for the last five years, the percent of enrollment capacity at which the schools are operating, the long-term capital needs of the facilities, the amount of parish funds and parish reserves needed to operate and maintain the school, and the neighborhood demographics—“Are there enough kids there?” the superintendent said.
With a capacity enrollment of nearly 200 students, St. Catherine’s has an enrollment of 119 children in kindergarten through eighth grade and another 23 students in its preschool programs. The school has been proactive with improvements to its facilities, recently completing a remodel to its preschool and installing new windows, stairs and upgraded fire alarm system. But its facilities are more than 80 years old and further repairs are needed.
The Denver Archdiocese operates 37 elementary schools and two high schools. With an enrollment of more than 10,400 students, it is the largest private school system in the state. An additional three Catholic elementary schools and six Catholic high schools located in the archdiocese, with an enrollment of more than 3,640 students, are privately run.
The outstanding performance of Catholic elementary schools in the Denver Archdiocese, which have 34 percent minority and 7 percent non-Catholic enrollment, parallels the national Catholic school record of success whereby parochial school students outperform their public school counterparts on standardized tests.
Although it has what is seen as a high-risk population for student success—more than 65 percent of St. Catherine’s students qualify for free or reduced lunch and 62 percent of the student body is Hispanic—the students excel, said Bennett.
“We have much better test scores and high school graduation rates than the other schools around us,” the principal said. “In the last five years at least we have had four of our grads become valedictorians or salutatorians at their respective public and Catholic high schools.”
Regardless of the Catholic school they attend, including St. Catherine’s, some students will continue to get help with tuition, said Seeds of Hope Charitable Trust executive director Betsy Boudreau, whose organization is dedicated to making the benefits of a Catholic education available to economically disadvantaged children.
“Our financial support to students for tuition will continue,” she said, “and with the help of generous supporters, we hope it will grow. Seeds of Hope has been challenged in this economy, but we are working hard to recruit volunteers, share our story and ask for financial support from everyone for this important mission.”
But Thompson cautioned that tuition assistance and philanthropy aren’t enough to fix troubled schools. Because of that, for the past five years his office has helped the Catholic schools with marketing and branding information and training.
“Catholic schools are enrollment driven,” he stressed. “It’s what makes them tick. That’s the reason for their being. If there’s not enough kids attending them, we can’t keep them going.”
St. Catherine’s pastor, Father Sebastien Pelletier, a Community of the Beatitudes priest, agreed. At a town-hall meeting in the church on April 25, which drew more than 100 people despite numerous other school-related activities taking place that day, he outlined two additional criteria for keeping the school open should it meet the $250,000 fundraising goal: stabilize enrollment and retain the faculty.
He, like the rest of the school community, believes the goals are obtainable.
“When Holy Family closed,” he noted, referring to the 2003 closure of a neighboring Catholic school, “there was a lot of anger and sadness and many said, ‘This happened too fast; if we had only known, we would not have let it happen.’ Now we want people to know that we have a two-month period to raise this money for our school.”
And while the school is enjoying a greater number of early enrollments than it has in recent years, Father Pelletier said it’s vital that current and prospective families register now.
Thompson said that is good advice for all Catholic school families.
“Get your kids registered,” he said. “Enroll, enroll, enroll!”
The immediate outpouring of financial and spiritual support received from within and from the wider Catholic community has heartened the school, said Francis, who chaired the April 25 benefit gala that garnered an estimated $22,750 in addition to the special appeal funds of $48,750.
“People are amazing,” she said, referring to offers of help that have come from unexpected quarters. “God is opening a lot of doors.”
To move it toward self-sufficiency and to ensure its future, St. Catherine School is also initiating an ambitious plan to raise $1 million in one year for the school endowment. It aims to target those who believe in Catholic education, particularly St. Catherine School alumni.
“A lot of people have been formed here,” Father Pelletier said, noting that the school has been in existence for 88 years. “Now is the time to reach out to help St. Catherine’s to survive.”