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Parochial school in Bethel Park is set to close

| Sunday, May 5, 2013, 11:58 p.m.

An attempt to sustain Catholic education by merging two schools in the Bethel Park area will end with the closing of St. Katharine Drexel at the end of the school year.

The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh announced the closing on Sunday, and pastors discussed the closing at Masses at St. Germaine Parish in Bethel Park and Nativity Parish in South Park.

“After weighing all the input from parish/school advisers and diocesan staff,” a statement from diocesan officials said, “the pastors reluctantly made the decision to petition to close St. Katharine Drexel School in June 2013.

“Every effort will be made to help families make the transition to another Catholic school.”

The pastors, the Revs. John J. Baver of St. Germaine and John E. Hissrich of Nativity, and the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the diocese, couldn't be reached for comment.

St. Katharine Drexel, which offers preschool through eighth grades in the former St. Germaine School building, was formed in 2008 with the merger of the two parishes because of significant enrollment declines at both schools, officials said.

A year before the merger, enrollment at Nativity had dropped to 48 students and St. Germaine, 86 students. Both schools had kindergarten through eighth-grade classes.

Enrollment at St. Katharine Drexel reached 101 students in K-8 in 2008-09, the first year of the merger, and 135 the following year.

However, just 73 students attended the school, a 28 percent drop, in 2012-13. Diocesan officials said the decline was expected to worsen to 61 students in 2013-14 because of projected lower school enrollment for Bethel Park and South Park, the two main communities that send children to the schools.

The diocese had hoped the merger would make it more affordable for families to send their children to the school.

But the projected cost of educating children, even after cutting staff, would be $9,500 a student next school year, officials said. That's almost twice the diocesan average.

Higher costs would have entailed a tuition increase of $1,300, or 40 percent.

“This would have been an unacceptable level for many families, and thus result in even further enrollment declines,” according to the statement.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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