September 25, 2015
For more than a year, a task force, convened by Bishop David Choby, has been examining the question of how to keep Catholic schools sustainable and affordable now and into the future.
“We all realize the cost of operating Catholic schools which are able to offer children of our families an excellent education and excellent opportunities for growth and development in sports and the arts is an expensive proposition,” Bishop Choby said. “Everybody is concerned about the cost of such an effort” and how to slow the escalation of those costs, he added.
“I’m a believer in Catholic education,” said Father Mike Johnston, the retired pastor of St. Henry Church and the chair of the task force. As a priest, pastor, Catholic school teacher and principal, Father Johnston has seen “the huge difference (Catholic education) makes in people’s lives,” he said.
“I think we’re in great danger if we let it become too expensive,” Father Johnston said.
“We did go through a lot of different things to get at the core of Catholic education and what it brings to the local Church of the Diocese of Nashville,” said Sister Ann Hyacinth Genow, O.P., principal of St. Henry School and a member of the task force.
“Catholic education is so important to the mission of the Church, to bring the gospel to the children of the Church,” Sister Ann Hyacinth said.
The challenge facing Catholic education is “how do we manifest the mission of bringing the truth and love of Christ to the children in our Catholic schools and do that in an affordable way with the help of the whole community,” Sister Ann Hyacinth said.
The task force identified some short-term and long-term goals for increasing enrollment and making Catholic schools affordable for more families, said Sister Ann Hyacinth.
One short term goal is to develop a marketing plan for Catholic schools in the diocese, particularly the elementary schools.
“Catholic schools offer good academics, strong Catholic identity. We educate the whole child and we do it very, very well,” said Therese Williams, superintendent of schools for the diocese. “But we have to be sure people are getting that message. …
“Parents are working hard every day. We have to help them see the quality of Catholic education so it becomes a priority,” she added.
“Each school has its own charism and is different from the others,” Sister Ann Hyacinth said. “How can we help each school … and help each one be highlighted and marketed to show the faith is important and the faith formation of our families is important?”
The task force would like to see a diocesan wide marketing plan that could be adapted to each school. “Every one of our communities is unique and we don’t want to lose that,” Williams said. “It will be a plan hopefully we can walk a community through step by step. Each school might do it a little differently for the needs of their community.”
Another short-term goal the task force identified is developing an enrollment plan. “We’ve got a good steady enrollment, but we’ve got room for more,” Williams said.
There are about 6,000 students enrolled in all the Catholic schools in the diocese, but the situation varies from school to school. Some are bursting at the seams, while others are struggling to fill desks. In that last decade, three schools – St. Vincent de Paul in Nashville, St. Paul in Tullahoma and Good Shepherd in Decherd – have closed because of declining enrollment.
Bill Whalen, a member of the task force and chief financial officer for the diocese, is surveying parishes and schools to get an idea of the number of available students in their communities and “what’s the potential for sustainable Catholic schools,” Williams said.
While the short-term goals are focused on increasing enrollment, the long range goals the task force identified look to how to help meet the costs of operating Catholic schools.
“We don’t want finances to be the reason someone doesn’t go to a Catholic school … but we still have to figure out how to pay people and pay our expenses,” Sister Ann Hyacinth said.
“It’s a delicate balance,” Williams said, “providing more access to people while also having enough revenue to pay teachers, maintain facilities, and offer all the programming that students and parents want.”
The task force is considering ways to increase financial assistance, to build endowments to support schools, to identify potential donors, and to rein in expenses, Sister Ann Hyacinth said. Those efforts will need support from the entire Catholic community, she said, not just families with children enrolled in Catholic schools.
“The only way to make this work is for all the Catholics in the diocese to see the value of a Catholic education,” said Sister Ann Hyacinth.
A Catholic school can make a hug difference in the life of the parish, Father Johnston said, “in dynamism and activity and helping parents network and create friendships that last forever.”
“There needs to be more of a concerted effort to study strategies to supplement tuition and keep it as low as possible,” said Father Johnston, who once served as the principal of Knoxville Catholic High School.
“One of the great opportunities for maintaining a lower tuition rate for our schools would be with individuals in the life of a parish (who) would contribute to a trust fund for the school,” Bishop Choby said.
When it comes to finances, Catholic schools, whose mission is to serve as many children as possible regardless of their income level, may always lag behind other more well-heeled private schools, Father Johnston said. But there’s more to a good Catholic school than money, he said.
“We do not have to compete with these institutions that just have far more resources than we would ever have,” Father Johnston said. “What we have is far more unique, which is a commitment to the Lord. That’s what we offer.
“So all the bells and whistles are nice, but we’ve got the main bell we need as far as I’m concerned,” Father Johnston said.
The task force is moving forward on both the short term and long term goals, Williams said.
“It’s going to take some hard work and the Lord’s help,” Sister Ann Hyacinth said. “If we are all committed to it, it’s certainly what the Lord wants.”
Members of education task force From staff reports
In May of 2014, Bishop David Choby asked eight people to serve on a task force examining issues surrounding the sustainability and affordability of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Nashville. In recent months, the task force presented to the bishop short-term and long-term goals the members had identified. The task force is still working as it pursues those goals.
Task force members include:
• Father Michael Johnston, retired pastor of St. Henry Church, former principal of Knoxville Catholic High School, and chair of the task force.
• Dr. Therese Williams, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Nashville.
• Bill Whalen, chief financial officer for the diocese.
• Sister Ann Hyacinth Genow, O.P., principal of St. Henry School.
• David Glascoe, chief executive officer of Mary Queen of Angels Inc. and a member of the Father Ryan Board of Trustees whose children attended Catholic schools.
• Laura Thigpen, director of finance and operations for Pope John Paul II High School with a child at Christ the King School.
• Betty Lou Burnett, chair of the Father Ryan Board of Trustees whose children have attended Catholic schools.
• John Reding, a member of the JPII Board of Trustees whose children have attended Catholic schools.