Unpainted, Uncooled, Unednowed: Pope Will See One 'Typical' School

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Pope John Paul II will be dropping in on only one school during his tour of the United States.

It will not be a freshly painted showcase for Roman Catholic education.

The Immaculate Conception School in Los Angeles, which will receive the Pope Wednesday, Sept. 16, has no modern science lab, no air conditioning, no endowment fund, and no nuns.

"We are a typical inner-city Catholic school," says the principal, Mary Ann Murphy. There are no plans, she says, to apply new paint or make any of the estimated $200,000 in repairs the building needs to impress the Pontiff.

Built 50 years ago to teach the children of working-class white immigrants, the school now serves a largely Hispanic student body of 320. The last of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart left in 1983.

Tuition there is the lowest in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles at $600 a year, but it barely covers the salaries of the school's eight teachers. The budget must be supplemented every year with a $62,000 subsidy from the parish and proceeds from a candy sale and two fundraising "fiestas."

Shifts in the social and economic profile of the surrounding community have changed the face of Immaculate Conception School in recent decades. And those same demographic forces, together with broader trends within the church, are causing Catholic leaders in this and other U.S. cities to reassess their educational mission and its future.

"The biggest problems Catholic schools face today are finance and governance," says the Rev. J. Stephen O'Brien, executive director of the Chief Administrators of Catholic Education, part of the National Catholic Educational Association.

Rising costs, declining financial support from the parishes and religious orders, and a changing constituency are putting the schools to their most severe test in decades, he says. "The two main questions are: 'How do we pay for the schools?' and 'Whose schools are they?"'

In fact, some Catholic educators have begun to question the wisdom of pumping an estimated $3 billion a year into a system that teaches relatively few Catholics. Only about one-third of Catholic children in this country attend Catholic schools.

And their numbers are declining, as schools in major urban centers close and total enrollment drops. In 1965, Catholic schools were educating 5.5 million U.S. children. Last year, enrollment was down to 2.7 million. The number of schools has dropped from 13,000 in 1965 to 9,100 last year.

A 1984 report by the ncea concluded that "the current sources of financial support for Catholic schools are not adequate to maintain them in the future." The system, it said, needed an infusion of $2 billion more a year indefinitely for salaries, educational improvement, and building repairs.

But some within the church note that financial strain is not new to the social ministries, including the schools. "There's always been a financial crisis," says the Rev. Thomas J. Gallagher, secretary of education for the U.S. Catholic Conference. "I'd rather call this a 'grace-filled moment."'

Demographics can explain most of the decline, he insists. The drop in the number of school-age children nationwide has caused public-school enrollment to fall at nearly the same rate experienced by Catholic schools over the past 20 years. And Catholics, like other upwardly mobile groups, he says, have moved from the cities to the suburbs, leaving theinner-city schools to blacks, most of whom are not Catholic, and Hispanics.

Minorities accounted for 22 percent of Catholic-school enrollment last year, according to the ncea The enrollment of non-Catholic students is now nearly 12 percent, up from about 3 percent in 1970. Minorities make up more than 50 percent of the enrollment in four of the 10 largest urban dioceses: New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Newark, N.J.

Changing social and religious attitudes have taken a toll on the schools as well, says Father O'Brien. The church's view of itself was transformed by the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960's, which opened the church to more activism from the laity, and, hence, less control by the clergy.

He notes that a number of Catholics became disillusioned with church education, calling the schools repressive relics of a bygone era. One of the first such attacks was contained in a 1964 book, Are Parochial Schools the Answer?, by Mary Perkins Ryan.

These attitudinal shifts, in turn, had an impact on the religious orders, which traditionally supplied an inexpensive workforce for Catholic schools.

The number of nuns dropped from more than 181,000 in 1966 to 118,000 in 1984--a 35 percent decline. And the number of brothersfell from 12,000 to fewer than 8,000, according to ncea figures.

In 1965, two out of every three faculty members in Catholic schools were nuns, priests, or brothers. Today, only one in five is a clergyman or a member of a religious order, and the majority of the remaining nuns are nearing retirement age.

The ncea estimates that by the year 2000, only 1 to 2 percent of Catholic-school teachers will be members of religious orders.

The decreasing supply of nuns and brothers, combined with rising teacher salaries in the public schools, has put pressure on Catholic schools to increase teacher pay, which, on average, is about 60 to 75 percent of what public-school teachers earn. Faculty turnover in Catholic schools is high: fewer than half of all high-school teachers in the systemel10lhave more than five years of experience.

But the cost of paying higher salaries is one that many church leaders find prohibitive. In the 1984 report Effective Catholic Schools: An Exploration, the ncea found that increasing pay to 90 percent of parity with public schools would have required an additional $745 million annually.

Withdrawn Support

The Rev. Andrew M. Greeley, a novelist, sociologist, and frequent critic of the church, argues that bishops and priests have failed toprovide leadership in addressing such problems. In his 1976 study Catholic Schools in a Declining Church, he suggests that, as financial needs increased and the numbers of nuns and brothers dropped, bishops simply stopped supporting the schools.

As new Catholic parishes were formed in the suburbs, he says, pastors were reluctant to build schools because of the cost involved--along with a misperception that Catholics would rather send their children to suburban public schools.

In fact, Father Greeley argues, the schools can support themselves with tuition. Catholic families have sent their children to public schools largely because church schools were not available, he says.

Father Greeley points to the fact that enrollment in other private4schools was more than doubling during a period in which Catholic-school enrollment dropped by half.

Nevertheless, church leaders in many of the new suburban parishes say money that would formerly have gone to build schools serving a relative handful of Catholics is being better spent on religious education for the entire parish.

"Most parents who have kids in Catholic schools are being subsidized by the rest of the parish," says the Rev. Joseph T. Graffis, pastor of the Church of the Epiphany in Louisville, Ky.

Formed in 1971, the parish decided then that a weekly family religious-education program would cost less than a school and be more effective.

"Our philosophy is that parents are the prime teachers of children in their faith, which means adults should be the prime learners," Father Graffis says. His church's religious-education program costs about $75,000 a year, including the salaries of three full-time ministers.

"Parishes near us used to spend 40 percent of their income on schools, now it's up to 60 percent," says Father Graffis. "Where does it stop?"

Declining Contributions

Adding to the financial strain is the fact that over the last 20 years the level of contributions to the church nationwide has dropped by half. This is true despite the fact that Catholics, as a group, have at the same time become more affluent.

In 1963, American Catholics gave 2.2 percent of their income to the church; in 1984, they gave only 1.1 percent, according to Father Greeley's latest book, Catholic Contributions: Sociology and Policy.

If Catholics had continued to give at 1963 levels, the church would have received $65 billion in current dollars over the past 20 years, according to the study.

Father Greeley concludes that the church must form "a new theology of giving" that allows church members more say in deciding how the money is to be spent. Pastors should develop more professional ways to ask for contributions than "the money sermon," he says.

There is some evidence that this may be happening. Before Vatican II, says the Rev. John A. Flynn, director of education for the Archdioinued on Following Page Continued from Preceding Page

cese of Omaha, "the church and the schools were dominated by the religious."

"Now," he says, "we're trying to take a more collegial approach to church administration."

But others say that leadership from the American Catholic bishops on education is crucial--and that it has been noticeably missing in recent years.

"What have [the bishops] done for me lately?" asks Father O'Brien of the ncea The bishops' most recent formal action on Catholic education was a pastoral letter issued in 1976, he notes. While many bishops individually support Catholic schools, he says, as a group they have not viewed the schools as a priority.

In particular, he and other educators say, the bishops' lobbying efforts for federal support in the form of tax relief for Catholic-school families has been lagging.

"The bishops are struggling very much to come up with answers," counters Father Gallagher of the uscc, the lobbying arm of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. "I think sometimes we look for a quick fix from the bishops."

The council's lobbying efforts could be improved, he admits, "but in many respects it would be a waste of funds." He does not see, he says, "any move" by the Congress toward a federal tuition-tax-credit program or other "choice" proposals.

Some Catholic educators express the fear, however, that, even if such support efforts had a more promising outlook, they would be coming too late.

"Unfortunately, we Americans tend to wait until the crisis is almost over before we react," says George Hofbauer, president of the St. Joseph School in Seattle. "I think there's a boom ahead for Catholic education, but I'm afraid many schools won't be there to see it."

Planning for the Future

The financial threats inherent in demographic trends and other factors are forcing dioceses nationwide to take a hard look at the way their schools do business.

The Archdiocese of Washington, for example, last spring released the details of an intensive two-year study of its 87 elementary schools. A major conclusion: that every parish, even those without schools, should share in the financing of the schools.

The Washington report made 140 policy recommendations, including raising teacher salaries, improving educational programs, providing more scholarships, and assisting in new school construction.

It also recommended that the archdiocese build four new schools over the next seven years in the growing Washington suburbs in Maryland, at at cost of about $7 million. That would be the first new construction in the archdiocese in 20 years.

A similar study done by the diocese of Syracuse, N.Y., recommended the closing of seven elementary schools and the consolidation of all 7th and 8th grades into four regional junior high schools, because of a shrinking school-age population. The reorganization began last year with the closing of five schools. Two more schools were closed this year.

"Nothing had been done for years," notes Brother John E. McGovern, superintendent of schools. The school closings will allow the diocese to increase teacher salaries, which have risen 15 percent in the past two years.

Still, the superintendent notes, teachers in the diocese often can double their salary by moving to the public schools.

The Syracuse study, which involved principals, teachers, and parents, took three and a half years to complete, but, in Brother McGovern's opinion, it was worth the effort.

"Have you ever witnessed a school closing?" he asks. "It pays to take your time to do it, because when you're finished, you want most of the people still on board with you."

Last year, 85 percent of the students from the closed schools were enrolled in other schools in the diocese, he says.

'A New Ministry'

Besides examining the overall structure of the schools, dioceses are also trying to broaden their support by instituting professional financial-development programs that combine fundraising, promotion, and long-term planning.

Development efforts in Omaha have raised about $40 million for the schools over the past two to three years, says Father Flynn, and about $14 million in endowment funds.

The Omaha clergyman began one of the first development programs at a U.S. Catholic secondary school about 15 years ago and now directs a summer institute for school administrators on development, which he calls "a new ministry."

"Development makes sense because if we're going to pay the bills for bringing Christ to the people, we have to learn how to do it right," Father Flynn says.

"We're such amateurs," he adds. "For years we relied on bingo games and lotteries, bazaars, and book sales."

It took an infusion of business expertise from Catholic lay people after Vatican II to convince the clergy to become more professional in fundraising, Father Flynn says. "We, the priests and bishops, didn't have the answers."

Now, development seminars are some of the most popular events at ncea meetings, and several consulting firms that provide development and marketing advice are vying for business from Catholic schools.

A recent study by the ncea found that more than half of all Catholic high schools had a development office in place during the 1982-83 school year.

Higher Tuition?

Although many Catholic educators find development efforts helpful, some say that church leaders are relying on them to avoid using the most obvious strategy--higher tuition.

According to the ncea, the average Catholic elementary-school tuition is $675 a year; the average high-school tuition is $1,700. In contrast, the Center for Education Statistics estimated that in 1985, the average yearly tuition at independent private elementary schools was $2,709, and $4,042 at independent secondary schools.

"The people who are saying you can't raise tuition are used to the old-time Catholic school that relied on slave labor from nuns and priests," says Mr. Hofbauer of Seattle.

His school, located in the inner city, with a minority enrollment of 23 percent in grades K-8, charges $2,000 a year--almost unheard of8among Catholic elementary schools. About one-third of the students receive financial aid.

"It's the Robin Hood principle," he says. "Take from those who can afford it and give to those who can't." Mr. Hofbauer adds that, with the higher tuition revenue, "we're able to help more people, and pay just wages."

'Wish List'

Meanwhile, at Immaculate Conception, the school the Pope will visit next week, the principal shares a common concern with her colleagues nationwide.

"Money is a big worry for everyone," says Ms. Murphy.

About half of the students in her school qualify for the federally subsidized lunch program, and almost a third get federal remedial services through the Chapter 1 program, she says.

But with a steady enrollment--and even a small waiting list--Immaculate Conception is not, like some other inner-city Catholicschools, in danger of closing, Ms. Murphy says.

Still, it is not able to provide the educational "extras" its principal would like. There is only one Apple computer--a donation from the company--for eight classrooms, and that distresses her.

"If the students don't have the opportunity to learn about computers, they'll be at a loss later," she says.

Also on her "wish list" are a scholarship fund for economically disadvantaged students and more space to open a kindergarten class. Parents in the community say they would send their children to kindergarten at the school but there is no room or money for the expansion, Ms. Murphy says.

Higher salaries for teachers would help, too, she adds. A starting teacher at the archdiocese earns $15,000. In the Los Angeles public schools the minimum starting salary is $22,328.

"Slowly and surely we're getting there, but it's hard to increase salaries very fast because we don't havethe income," Ms. Murphy says.

The Rev. Greg C. King, the parish pastor, says the school is committed to keeping tuition low because many of the parents, mostly Mexican and Central American immigrants, work two jobs to send their children there.

"The parents send their children here for the environment in which Catholic values are promoted, an environment of support and care," he says. For many of them, he adds, the school is the only place they speak English.

Ms. Murphy says she is hoping that a $100-million capital campaign the archdiocese has launched for the schools will succeed.

One thing seems certain. Long after the Pope and the television cameras are gone, and all that remains of the forthcoming visit is a commemorative brass plaque on the school's front lawn, Immaculate Conception will continue the struggle to solve its financial woes.

"We are here to serve these people," says Ms. Murphy.

Vol. 07, Issue 01

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