Vince Sullivan, a reporter for our sister paper — the Delco Daily Times — has been closely following the situation of pending closures of Catholic elementary and high schools in our region — specifically Delaware County.
The Daily Times has been doing a super job keeping up with this saga as it seems like new developments unfold all the time. The schools are closing, then they’re not. Rich donors are coming forward with millions of dollars to save schools leading the Philadelphia Archdiocese to postpone an announcement Friday concerning the high schools. It’s just a mess if you ask me.
“Six weeks after a Blue Ribbon Commission appointed by former Philadelphia Archbishop Cardinal Justin Rigali announced sweeping changes to Catholic education in the five-county region, a review process has reversed 18 of the recommendations presented.
“The Jan. 6 announcement recommended the closure of 45 elementary schools and four high schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which covers Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties. Twenty-four of those schools appealed the decisions, which designated certain schools to merge into regional schools and others to close outright. Of those that appealed, 18 had their requests granted, according to Bishop Michael Fitzgerald, who oversees the Office of Catholic Education. Decisions on high schools, including Monsignor Bonner-Archbishop Prendergast in Drexel Hill, have been delayed for at least a week after a group of donors emerged with a serious financial offer.”
I didn’t attend Catholic school as a kid so I suppose I can’t have the same feelings as those who did — like my wife. She attended Archbishop Prendergast — one of the high schools eyed for closing — so this is personal for her. I know it bothers her that there’s a chance that her school might close.
I attended a public high school and while I feel a lot of loyalty to that school, I’m sure I don’t feel the same way she does.
However, if you look at the situation objectively, the Archdiocese needs to operate its school system like a business. If the students — whose families pay tuition — just aren’t enrolling, then what is the alternative? My wife’s school has a freshman class of 82 students. Eighty two. My graduating class had more than 1,000 students.
And this argument isn’t about religion. It’s about economics. If those 82 freshmen students pay $5,000 each, it’s only a little more than $400,000. Do we really think a school can function for those students on $400,000? Nah.
So that leaves the Archdiocese with the tough choice of consolidating and/or closing. It’s not popular, it makes people angry and sad, but for the good of the majority, it has to happen. Let’s face it, private schools have really become a choice only for those with lots of cash. The average family can’t raise $15,000 a year to send three kids to a Catholic high school.
Again, it’s economics. It’s a shame that some of those who would prefer to send their kids to Prendie, Bonner, O’Hara or Bishop Shanahan just can’t do it. But if the choice is being able to pay the rest of your bills comfortably or sending your kids to private school, well, the choice seems obvious. Oh, and those people sending kids to private schools? Yes, they’re also paying school taxes to pay for the kids attending public schools.
I would suggest that the whole system is flawed and I know the idea of vouchers has been tossed around too. But nothing has been resolved. And it’s going to take more than a few millionaires tossing money at the schools to fix it.
I’m glad I’m not the one deciding which schools get to stay open or which have to close. It’s a choice that will not make anyone happy. But it’s one that must be made. It’s also time to take a look at our entire education system. This simply can’t go on.
— Andy Hachadorian