Charter Board Decision Means Kids Win

June 16, 2008

Seven Catholic elementary schools that could no longer be financially sustained will become high quality public charter schools this fall, thanks to a decision by the DC Public Charter School Board. That means continuity for 1,000 students who will be able to attend school in the same buildings and with many of the same teachers they already know, although the schools will no longer offer religious instruction.

The charter schools will be operated by the independent Center City Public Charter Schools, Inc., which will lease the school buildings from the local parishes. More than 92 percent of the families and 98 percent of the faculty in the schools signed endorsements to support the conversion.

“It was very difficult to accept the reality that we could no longer sustain all of the schools in the city especially after so many years of investment – more than $8 million this year alone. The conversion to charter schools means the students will be able to continue their education as seamlessly as possible, which was important to us,” said Patricia Weitzel-O’Neill, Ph.D., superintendent of Catholic schools. “At the same time, we are focusing on strengthening all of the Catholic schools that continue to serve the District of Columbia, including those in the Consortium of Catholic Academies.”

Since 1997, when it founded the Center City Consortium to strengthen financially-struggling parish schools, the Archdiocese of Washington has provided more than $68 million in subsidies. Originally eight schools, the Consortium grew to 14 between 2002 and 2005 in an effort to prevent additional schools from closing. However, the organization became financially overwhelmed by the quick expansion. Deficits climbed as enrollments fell, leading to an in-depth study in 2007.

In September 2007, the archdiocese announced 12 parish-based consultations to consider the conversion of several schools to charter so no school would have to close. In November 2007, following meetings with more than 1,300 people and six archdiocesan advisory boards, the archdiocese announced that an independent charter operator would be chosen to seek conversion for seven schools. Five other schools would remain Catholic, with four of them becoming the Consortium of Catholic Academies.

When the consultation began, the archdiocese committed to subsidizing the schools through this year to provide time to plan for the children’s future education. The anticipated $8 million subsidy for this school year includes approximately $7 million from the archdiocese and more than $1 million from outside fundraising.

There will be 21 Catholic schools in the District next fall with 6,500 students. The seven schools that will become charter schools (and be renamed) 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.

Susan Gibbs
Director of Communications
[email protected]