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Catholic Schools Board Releases Plan to Increase Enrollment

By DNAinfo Staff on March 21, 2013 5:09pm

 Cardinal Francis George touts Catholic schools as places where students can pursue truth.
Cardinal Francis George touts Catholic schools as places where students can pursue truth.
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Getty Images/Tim Boyle

CHICAGO — The Archdiocese of Chicago Board of Catholic Schools released its strategic plan Thursday to increase enrollment at its schools, an approach that includes a "substantial fundraising campaign."

Looking to bridge a $10 million annual shortfall, the Archdiocese said "a high-
profile fundraising campaign will be conducted among major donors, parishes, and the
broader civic community."

In a precede in the plan, Cardinal Francis George touted Catholic schools as places where students are free to pursue intellectual truths.

In Catholic schools "students may ask about God, about their own destiny, about why they are alive," George said. "In public and other government-sponsored schools, students are not free to raise these and other questions that are basic to human happiness."

 St. Andrew School is located at 1710 W. Addison St.
St. Andrew School is located at 1710 W. Addison St.
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DNAinfo/Michael Shin

Some 85,000 children are enrolled in 250 Catholic schools in the Archdiocese, which includes the city, and suburban Cook and Lake counties.

Out of 215 Catholic elementary schools in and around Chicago, the plan identified 75 as suffering from under enrollment. Those 75 schools, most of which are in Chicago, receive 64 percent of Archdiocese elementary school funding.

"Solving the enrollment problems of these schools would go a long way toward stabilizing the finances of the Archdiocesan school system and would help keep the option of Catholic education available throughout the city," the plan said.

The plan calls for continued pressure on lawmakers for school vouchers in which students could use tax dollars for tuition.

"Publicly supported vouchers or scholarships would make a dramatic difference to Catholic schools
whose finances are strained," the plan says. "The income would allow schools to improve programs and compensation for staff while continuing to provide a superior education at a lower cost than the public schools."

Archdiocesan schools could also increase pupil count through enhanced academics and a stronger faith curriculum, it said.

A five-year financial outlook puts a total future need at $20 million annually. The Archdiocese estimates it can squeeze $10 million from enrollment, "fiscal discipline" and organizational efficiencies. Still, it faces a $10 million shortfall, a need that could be filled with more aggressive fundraising.

In February, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced that it was laying off 14 percent of its work force and closing or consolidating five schools. According to the archdiocese, those cost reductions will save approximately $11 million to $13 million annually by 2015.

The plan also outlines reorganization within the Office of Catholic Schools, which will assist 90 identified schools in achieving better financial stability.

The Office of Catholic Schools will appoint personnel to new senior management positions and create teams to help those 90 schools, for which it will hire additional personnel "as necessary," the plan said.

The board will introduce more specific tasks and a timeline for implementing the plan in the next few months, the statement said.

Other major goals include finding and rewarding "excellent" principals and teachers, the statement said.

"It took effort to research and write; it will take more effort to implement," George said in a statement. "But the determination for the task is strong. I am confident that this plan will be successfully brought to completion in our schools."