Montana Catholic Schools Weekly

February 8, 2015

The Catholic School Crisis, Part I

The Catholic school system is in crisis. The total enrollment has decreased precipitously and the number of closed schools has far surpassed the number of new schools opened. During this school year, by my count 15 schools have been announced closed while only two new schools are scheduled to be opened in a few years.


Certainly there are Catholic schools which are thriving. But it’s important to understand the larger forces and trends are work in order to meet the challenges facing every Catholic school.


From my perspective, the crisis is caused by financial, cultural, socio-economic, and systemic trends.


1. Financial

a. Schools used to a lot easier to run when there was cheap labor. The teaching orders of sisters would often work at reduced or free amounts.

b. Lay teachers command a higher salary (and rightfully so).

c. Aging physical plants, higher health care and benefit costs, and the demand for more programs creates a financial burden.

d. Catholic parishes with schools have generally seen declining attendance and therefore have less money to subsidize the Catholic schools. Likewise, dioceses are facing financial crises of their own and there is less money for a safety net.

e. As tuition has grown for higher education, many families worry about saving enough for college tuition and have less money available for elementary or secondary private education.


2. Cultural

a. Since Watergate & Vietnam, there has been a steady erosion of faith in authority. Many parents are less likely to embrace a hierarchical, non-transparent leadership structure.

b. The sexual abuse crisis has left many people turned off by the church.

c. Catholic families are smaller.

d. Catholics are less likely to support subsidy for “other people’s children.”

e. Catholic schools (and parishes) have not kept up with the demographic growth to serve its burgeoning Hispanic population.

f. Many charters and public schools have adopted a Catholic school model of charater development, increased discipline, and rigor.


3. Socio-economic

a. The decline of middle class income and purchasing power has left many working families unable to afford the rising cost of Catholic education.

b. Housing shifts have left many families living far away from traditional/current Catholic schools while there have been few new schools in the suburbs.

c. The growth (and seeming demand) demographic for Catholic schools is in the lower ends of the socio-economic spectrum.


4. Systemic

a. Public schools are generally school systems while Catholic schools have remained a system of schools with a variety of quality, vision, and purpose.

b. Generally, Catholic elementary schools were set up under the auspices of individual pastors who often serve as de facto superintendents of their schools. This governing structure often leaves interested parents and talented supporters feeling left out of governance, direction, and planning.

c. With fewer priests, there is generally more work for the pastors and often less interest in taking on the task of promoting and administering a parish school.

d. Catholic elementary schools are generally dependent on the generosity of their local pastor and parish.

e. Traditional Catholic elementary schools were set up to serve their own parishes, not the larger community.

f. Catholic school principals have been trained (like their public school counterparts) to serve their community. The emphasis is on management, not innovation.


Next week, I’ll explore ideas to address these trends and tensions.


Dr. Tim Uhl, Supertintendent

The Week Ahead

Monday: office day & Helena meetings

Tuesday: Great Falls Study Commission

Wednesday: office day & Helena meetings

Thursday: office day & Helena meetings

Friday: St. Andrew's (Helena)


This week: 325 miles

Last week: 910 miles

2014 -15: 21,454 miles

Montana Catholic Schools

Serving 24 Catholic schools and 3800+ students across the Treasure State

Safe Environment Update

Reminder that all VIRTUS requirements for teaching students in both dioceses must be completed this spring.


For the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, please note:


  • The Safe & Sacred program is now open. The registration process and first lesson should take approximately 1 hour.
  • All current employees need to complete the process by May 1st
  • Please note that all new employees must complete the process (and receive background check clearance) before they begin work. If you or your Safe Environment coordinator have questions about a specific person, feel free to call Laurie Horton a the Diocese.
  • It's important to rely on your Safe Environment coordinator (at each site) to get the info out

Great Falls Study Commission

The Great Falls Study Commission will meet for the fourth time this week. The commission has gathered representative principals, pastors, advisory council members, parish staff members, and teachers to generate ideas to make the schools more sustainable. No final recommendations have been made; no decisions have been made. All interested parties should view the website links (agendas, notes, minutes) on the Montana Catholic Schools website.

Montana Catholic News

American Catholic News

San Francisco controversy

Discussion about the Archdiocese of San Francisco teacher contract controversy: http://goo.gl/41wGJ2

And the clarification from the Archbishop: http://goo.gl/L7MVtG

Another story: http://goo.gl/X5zabZ

Leadership Articles

Council of American Private Education newsletter

The link to the February edition: http://www.capenet.org/pdf/Outlook402.pdf

Teaching & Instruction

Catholic Identity in the Math Classroom

The NCEA is offering a one-hour webinar (on Feb 24th) on the incorporation of Catholic identity into the math classroom. It will include ideas and resources: http://www.ncea.org/events/catholic-identity-math-classroom

Miscellaneous

Understand Alzheimer's Disease in 3 Minutes