Archdiocese of Washington Announces Outcome of Consultation on the Future of Center City Schools

Five schools to remain Catholic; seven to pursue conversion to charter

November 05, 2007

After extensive consultations with six archdiocesan advisory boards and more than 1,300 parents, parishioners and staff at 12 D.C. Catholic schools with serious and growing deficits, the Archdiocese of Washington has announced that five of the schools will continue as Catholic next year while seven will apply as a group for conversion to public charter schools. A conversion will allow faculty and students to be “grandfathered” in and to continue at the same school they already attend, although the school would no longer be Catholic.

The five that will continue as Catholic are Sacred Heart School, NW; St. Anthony School, NE; St. Francis Xavier School, SE; St. Thomas More School, SE; and St. Augustine School, NW.

The schools that will be part of a new values-based charter school group are Assumption School, SE; Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian School, SE; Holy Name School, NE; Immaculate Conception School, NW; Nativity Catholic Academy, NW; St. Francis de Sales School, NE; and St. Gabriel School, NW.

“It has been very painful to realize that the archdiocese can no longer maintain all of these schools as Catholic. This new framework will allow the archdiocese to sustain Catholic education in the center city and, where that is no longer possible, to ensure the students have access to a high quality educational alternative,” Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl said. “I am very grateful to all those who participated in this consultation process and for their support of quality education for the children in our city.”

The 12 schools serve 2,200 children, 71 percent of whom are non-Catholic. Overall, 28 Catholic schools in the District enroll more than 7,700 students. With the new framework, there will be 21 Catholic schools in the city next fall, including 12 archdiocesan/parish schools, and approximately 6,500 students.

In 1997, the Archdiocese of Washington established the Center City Consortium, bringing shared administration and new resources to eight struggling Catholic schools in the District of Columbia. Six additional schools that parishes could not sustain and were on the brink of closure were added between 2002 and 2005. As costs rose last year, two of the schools were consolidated.

Since 1997, more than $60 million have been invested in the schools by the archdiocese, Consortium board and other donors. The result has been strong academic achievement and significant facility improvements. However, enrollment declined by 19 percent, due in part to a loss in the city’s population and the growth of tuition-free public charter schools. Last year, the archdiocese funded $3 million of the Consortium’s nearly $7 million deficit. This was more than the archdiocese had budgeted to support 75 elementary schools archdiocesan-wide and required funds to be pulled from other operations. Deficits are estimated at more than $7 million this year and would have exceeded $50 million over the next five years.

In the face of these serious problems, a team of 40 people, including parents, principals, pastors and experts in education, theology, finance and business, undertook a study of the Center City Consortium schools, starting in spring 2007.

A proposed framework to continue with a four-school Catholic consortium and to convert eight schools to a quality charter group was developed from the findings of this group and announced on September 6, 2007. Each parish also could explore its ability to financially support a school with its own resources.

Consultations were held with six archdiocesan boards, including the Board of Education, Finance Council, Pastoral Council and Priest Council. All of the boards indicated consensus with the proposal to continue with a smaller Catholic consortium and convert several schools to a public charter group. Throughout September, additional consultations were held with staff, parents and parishioners at all 12 schools and extensive materials that resulted from the consultations were submitted for review and consideration.

Four of the eight schools proposed for charter conversion explored continuing operations as schools supported by their parishes. The proposal from St. Augustine Parish demonstrated the parish’s ability to move forward with a parish-supported Catholic school. The other parishes submitted preliminary proposals and were given an extension to undertake a more rigorous review of the parishes’ ability to support schools that require annual operating subsidies ranging from nearly $450,000 to more than $600,000. These parishes eventually requested conversion to charter schools.

The archdiocese next will choose a charter operator that will be independent of the archdiocese and will complete the conversion application process with the DC Public Charter School Board. The archdiocese has had preliminary discussions this fall with five potential charter operators and hopes to select an operator by the end of November who demonstrates a commitment to continuing the academic philosophy, excellence and values that have made the Consortium so successful. The archdiocesan Catholic Schools Office will work with St. Augustine Parish in transitioning the school back to the parish and with the pastors, principals and faculty of the four schools in the new Catholic consortium to develop how it will be structured. The four schools will benefit from shared resources, administration, curricula development and more.

All of the 12 schools will continue as Catholic schools this year. Additional information and background is available at www.catholicschoolswork.org.

Contact:
Susan Gibbs
Director of Communications
301-853-4515
[email protected]