Archdiocese begins to study future of Catholic schools

By Glenn Rutherford, Record Editor

The Archdiocese of Louisville is asking its parishes and people to consider new ways of governing and funding Catholic elementary schools.

The process to consider some educational funding and governance alternatives included the release last month of the Catholic Elementary School Report, a collection of data gathered over the past two years and presented to each parish in November.

It all began with a request from the Priests’ Council of the archdiocese, said Dr. Brian Reynolds, chancellor and chief administrative officer for the archdiocese.

“The Priests’ Council asked ‘what are we doing to enhance the future of our schools?’ ” Reynolds said during an interview at the Chancery last week. “So we began a proactive step. There is concern about declining enrollment and we’re trying to determine what we ought to do to make certain our schools are vital and stable into the future.”

Both Reynolds and Leisa Schulz, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese, stressed that the system of Catholic schools isn’t “in a crisis situation,” in Reynolds’ words.

“We’re not doing ‘crisis’ planning,” he explained. “In fact, in terms of per capita attendance, we’re number three in the nation in the number of students attending our schools.”

What the archdiocese is doing, he said, is “listening to the needs of the people of the archdiocese.”

“And they consistently tell us that keeping strong Catholic schools is important,” he said. “It’s not the most important thing we do — the schools exist to proclaim the Good News. To a lot of people, our schools represent the major way they interact with the archdiocese.”

So the report and the planning process is asking parish councils — whether or not the parish has a school — to consider the questions of school governance and funding. Should current methods be changed? If so, how? Or should perhaps the present system be left alone?

Reynolds noted that at the end of the 2011-2012 series of ad limina visits by U.S. Bishops with the Holy Father in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI told them that “providing education in the faith is the most urgent challenge facing the Catholic community” in the U.S.

“So, while we’re not in crisis, this is an urgent issue,” he said. “We’re asking critical questions.”

The parish councils — and through them the people of the archdiocese — are being asked to provide “feedback to questions on these issues of governance and funding.”

“We’ve also asked every school board to respond and also invited religious orders who have worked in our schools,” Reynolds noted. “We’ve asked for input from the archdiocese Development Council and Finance Council, too.”

They are being asked, he said, “in light of the present situation, should we consider alternatives or stay the same. The study suggests we might want to consider some alternatives, but it doesn’t mandate anything,” the chancellor said.

A report on the responses from parishes and others will be prepared and released sometime in February, Reynolds said.

“This is really a church question,” he added. “We’ll take the report in February and have conversations with groups of parishes. We’ll look at what they’ve said and see if we can turn feedback into specific strategies.”

It’s a possibility that has both Reynolds and Superintendent Schulz excited.

“We’ve affirmed, through the studies we did during the accreditation process, that parents feel overwhelmingly positive about Catholic schools,” she said in a telephone interview last week. “Our parish elementary schools are very successful, and our regional models are successful, too. But with any models there are advantages and disadvantages. So this will give the Catholic community the opportunity to learn more about our schools, to be creative and innovative in thinking about ways Catholic schools can be structured.”

It’s important to Schulz that the ideas and notions about any potential change will originate with the people of the archdiocese.

“We’re asking committed and dedicated people who feel very positively about the schools to be part of this process,” she said. “By getting people involved this way, it enhances a feeling of ownership and encourages people to continue to be involved with our schools.”

Any changes that percolate from the process over the next few months won’t be implemented during the 2013-2014 school year, Reynolds and Schulz noted.

“But as for the future, as for the potential of this process, I feel very positive about it,” Schulz said. “Our current principals, pastors and school board leaders and our pastoral councils are all very excited about it. I think this process will produce some thinking that will allow us to solicit the best ideas that are out there. I’m sure there will be some things to come out of this process that will be quite amazing.”

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