Roman Catholic education leaders are trying not to let news of their continuing success blind them to major challenges they say still lie ahead.
While enjoying a solid record of climbing enrollments, Catholic educators face an increasing financial burden in running their schools and recruiting and training the next generation of administrators.
At its annual meeting in Los Angeles this spring, the National Catholic Educational Association reported the sixth consecutive year of nationwide enrollment growth. During the school year just ending, 2,648,859 students attended Catholic primary and secondary schools, a rise of about 3,400 students over last year.
An NCEA study of elementary schools also shows tuition rising 13 percent since last year, with the average now about $1,500. With the average cost of educating K-8 students at $2,414, parochial schools are struggling to fill the gap, the organization's officials say.
The organization also reports that 92 percent of Catholic school staff members are lay personnel; most are paid less than their public school counterparts. The average salary for a lay elementary school principal is $37,403, and $21,882 for a lay teacher, compared with salaries of $62,859 and $39,580, respectively, in public schools, the group reported.
"It's an uneasy balance," said Regina Haney, who directs the NCEA's National Association of Boards of Catholic Education. "You want to provide a just salary, but you also need to keep schools affordable."
At the same time that a drop in the number of nuns and other religious available to work in parochial schools has increased staffing costs, it also has many Catholic educators concerned about finding leaders who can ensure that the schools remain true to their religious mission.
In response, the NCEA has created an office of leadership development to help identify and train new administrators.
"We have to find those who can understand what does it mean to be a head of a Catholic school," said Claire Helm, a former assistant schools superintendent in the Archdiocese of Washington who will become the new office's director next month.
The office will serve as a clearinghouse and may offer training programs for diocesan officials who recruit educators.
"It's a crucial time," said Ms. Helm, who steps down this month as the president of the Academy of the Holy News, a pre-K-12 independent Roman Catholic school in Tampa, Fla. "In the 21st century, the likelihood is that all of this leadership will be lay."
--JEFF ARCHER [email protected]
Vol. 17, Issue 39, Page 6