Pondering Future, Catholic Educators Back Higher Pay, Opening of Schools
By Mark Walsh
WASHINGTON--Roman Catholiceducational leaders meeting here to discuss the future of Catholic schools have endorsed such concepts as increasing faculty pay and benefits and opening new schools, despite long-term trends in which thousands of parochial schools have closed.
Delegates to the National Congress on Catholic Schools for the 21st Century this month approved 25 "directional statements" covering five broad issues.
The purpose of the meeting was to make sure that Catholic schools "are on the cutting edge for the 21st century and to make sure they are stabilized as far as financing," said Sister Catherine T. McNamee, the president of the National Catholic Educational Association, which sponsored the event.
The delegates included many Catholic educators, from diocesan superintendents of education to classroom teachers, along with corporate sponsors of parochial schools and a few Catholic bishops. The statements from the Nov. 6-10 session, which was primarily open only to the delegates, were released publicly on Nov. 15.
As expected, the congress reiterated Catholic educators' strong support for legislation that would include Catholic schools in government-funded parental-choice plans.
"We will aggressively pursue legislation enabling all parents to choose the education appropriate for their children with their share of the education tax dollar," one statement asserts.
A set of proposed activities that would go along with each directional statement recommended that choice proponents concentrate their efforts on "jurisdictions where choice legislation has a reasonable possibility for passage."
N.C.E.A. officials took pains to emphasize that the proposed activities were offered as examples of how to carry out the broad directional statements, but that the congress did not vote on them, as it did the statements.
Call for 'Radical Commitment'
The directional statements went well beyond the choice issue, however. One calls for opening new schools and designing "alternative school models to reflect the changing needs of family, church, and society."
"One of the reasons we have had this rather dramatic decline in enrollment is that much of the Catholic population has moved out to the suburbs, and the church decided not to open schools out there," Sister McNamee said.
Catholic elementary- and secondary-school enrollment in the United States has declined from a peak of 5.6 million in 1965 to 2.6 million in 1990, according to the N.(@.E.A.
Another statement calls on Catholics to "make a radical commitment to Catholic schools," including making "generous" investments in them.
Sister McNamee said the term "radical commitment" meant "the idea now of the need to shift the responsibility of financing the schools from the parish to the entire Catholic community."
Yet, another statement calls for "just compensation" for Catholic school personnel. The examples under that statement suggest bringing salaries at Catholic schools up to "marketplace" levels by 1997. Most Catholic-school personnel currently are paid salaries well below those typically found in public schools.
One of the congress's statements challenges the nation's Catholic bishops to fully implement the proposals of their 1990 statement in support of Catholic schools.
The tone for the meeting may have been set by a provocative opening speech by the Rev. Andrew Greeley, the noted Catholic priest, sociologist, and author who has often infuriated the church hierarchy with his views.
"I argue that the decline of Catholic schools is the result of a loss of nerve in the Catholic clerical culture--among priests and bishops especially-- when faced with massive loss of income," he told the delegates, according to a transcript of his remarks.
Father Greeley called for increasing the authority of the lay members of the church over Catholic schools.
"Since a notable increase in financial contributions will come only when the laity are full partners in the financial decisionmaking of the church, the money will become available for Catholic schools only when the schools belong to them," he said.