Two local Catholic schools to close due to low enrollment
St. Lawrence will host additional students at its Shelton campus
St. Joseph’s and St. Jude’s Catholic elementary schools will close their campus doors for good starting in the 2017-18 school year because of a steady decrease in enrollment as well as other recurring, related financial woes.
Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of the Roman Catholic Diocese in Bridgeport announced at a packed public meeting in St. Joseph’s high school auditorium in Trumbull last week that both schools will merge with the last remaining Catholic elementary school in Shelton, St. Lawrence.
The transition to an academy style school is a trending option that many Catholic schools are being forced into because of a steady decrease in enrollment, according to Caggiano.
Purpose of consolidating Catholic schools
Caggiano said combining the three schools will allow parents to enroll their child in pre-K and “reasonably expect that child to graduate eighth grade from the same school.”
He added that the larger student body will allow more of the existing educational programs to be maintained as well as more staff members to keep their positions.
The crowd of parents cheered at the idea of improving the quality of education that their children would receive, but were skeptical about the effects of combining three schools.
Transportation, class size, and layoffs
Parents’ main areas of concern were the effects the consolidation would have on class size, transportation and the process by which teachers/faculty/staff would be selected to work at the new school.
Caggiano was unable to answer questions regarding transportation for students coming from Trumbull or Monroe because Connecticut buses are not allowed to travel to make stops outside their designated town/city. He said he will have more information as he works closely with a board of directors, which will be composed of parents.
The diocese considers parents to be close partners during this transition phase as well as in the long run for the school and preservation of Catholic education.
In consideration of the possible increase in class sizes, the diocese said ideally the school’s class size would be no larger than 25. If a class were to get larger than 25 due to new enrollments, the school would explore the option of creating a second class so that initial number could be split in two.
As for the staff that will occupy the new school, Caggiano couldn’t specify the number of potential layoffs, but said everyone would have to reapply for their jobs.
He did say that in order to accommodate any staff member without a job due to the consolidation, the person will be given “preference” for when slots become available in other schools.
The application for principal will be made available within the next few weeks, according to Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Bridgeport Dr. Steven Cheeseman.
The diocese also said that although the consolidation is a result of the decrease in the number of students enrolling in Catholic schools, St. Lawrence consolidating with both St. Jude’s and St. Joseph’s is the next phase of a strategic plan meant to help Catholic education thrive, not just survive.
Why St. Lawrence?
The decision to occupy St. Lawrence rather than either of the two other schools is because it has more room to expand classrooms should there be a need and it is carrying the least debt out of the three.
Shelton residents account for 61% of the enrollment at St. Joseph’s, 85% at St. Lawrence, and only 31% at St. Jude’s. Shelton residents make up 65% of the students currently enrolled at the three schools combined.
St. Lawrence is also the newest of the three schools and has the highest number of students currently enrolled, 170.
St. Joseph’s currently only has 127 students, St. Jude’s only 80.
Tuition is the ‘bedrock’ of any school
After several financial “stress tests” were completed on each of the local Catholic schools, Caggiano said, it was revealed that a “vast majority” were using next year’s tuition to pay off bills for the current school year.
This proved to be a serious issue when discussing a school’s long-term stability, according to Caggiano.
During the Q&A portion of last week’s meeting, the diocese said the tuition for a single child at the new school will be $6,000 per year, with special deals for multiple student enrollment.
Caggiano said he’s seen the decline in Catholic elementary school enrollment within Fairfield Country from 7,700 in 2009 to 6,400 now. Most of the Catholic schools within the district are running with deficits.
The diocese said an enrollment of 240 students with a $6,000 tuition fee would create a surplus of over $24,000 that could be used by the school to pay off bills for the following school year. This plan is in contrast to running the three schools independently with a collective debt of over $500,000.
St. Lawrence has begun to experience similar struggles as St. Joseph’s and St. Jude’s, but the academy-style school the three schools are transitioning to is designed to address those issues before they worsen.
New school, new identity?
The diocese also said the academy will take the best qualities from each of the schools while creating a new identity.
With this new identity, the staff plans to introduce “blended learning,” which is really just the inclusion of technology-based learning in which students are split between normal classroom instruction and the reinforcement of that instruction through computer programs.
“What used to benefit one school will now benefit them all,” said Caggiano. “This will allow young people online in a supervised environment to develop their gifts and talents, to push them as much as possible, for them to learn as much as they possibly can as fast as they can.”
He said he believes the new style of learning, accompanied by the increase in staff, will raise the students’ standardized test scores.
What will the school be called?
Deciding on a name for the school proved to be a sensitive topic as multiple parents asked for clarification on the process during the Q&A portion of last week’s meetings.
The diocese said surveys will be passed out to students asking them to list their top three choices for naming the school.
The 10 most frequently submitted names will be passed along to the students’ parents to choose their top three. The top three results will then be submitted to the diocese, which will choose the most popular name as the school’s official name.
Caggiano said he expects the decision to be announced sometime in March.