'Consortiums' make most of Western Pa. Catholic school resources
Maura Abel was a tad scared two years ago when her family gave away her gray-blue plaid uniform of the former Word of God School in Swissvale.
Today, the seventh-grader is looking forward to donning her navy blue and red plaid skirt for her third year at East Catholic School in Forest Hills, a product of the merger of Word of God and two other schools in 2012.
“I'm very excited about school because I made more friends in the sixth grade than I did in fifth,” said Maura, 12, of Swisshelm Park. “I'm a lot less shy than I was.”
East Catholic is one of four so-called “consortium” schools established by the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh as it closed and merged schools under the pressure of declining enrollment. The newest, the former Brookline Regional Catholic School, last month became St. John Bosco — joining East Catholic, Mon Yough Catholic and Northside Catholic schools.
Consortium schools receive financial help from multiple parishes in their area, which in turn help the schools with governance, student recruitment and marketing. Early returns show that enrollment in the consortium schools, located in areas of declining population, continues to dwindle, but the schools have been able to keep tuition down and offer more sports and clubs.
“It's not a magic bullet, but it's a step in the right direction just to have more cooperation, more support,” said Roy Cartier, the diocese's assistant superintendent for finance.
Between 2012-13 and 2013-14, enrollment dropped from 153 to 145 students at Northside Catholic, 366 to 312 at East Catholic and 294 to 244 at Mon Yough Catholic, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
Since 1995, parishes without their own school have given 10 percent of their income to the diocese. Schools received the money based on the number of students they enrolled from outside their parish. Now, half of the subsidy goes to the consortium school, broadening its support and reducing the amount that parishes have to contribute to their own school.
The model has benefitted parishes such as St. Maurice in Forest Hills, whose subsidy fell from $270,000 to $170,000 a year when its school folded into East Catholic. The Rev. John W. Skirtich, pastor of the church, said the parish has been applying its $100,000-a-year savings to paying off its long-term debt on roofs for the church campus and a new gym.
“We used to be able to pay off interest but not principal,” he said. Now, “we'll have it paid off in five years. “
Lynda McFarland, principal of Mon Yough Catholic School in White Oak, likened its opening two years ago to a blended family. It formed with the merger of St. Joseph and St. Angela Merici schools.
“When you have families come together, kids didn't know where they fit in,” she said. “This year, my expectation is the family has blended, and we'll all work in the same direction.”
She expects enrollment to return to 260 students this year, helped in part by lower tuition. In St. Angela Merici's last year, tuition was $3,600 for the first child. This year, tuition at Mon Yough is $3,105 for the first child.
East Catholic's improved finances allowed it to add a robotics club, fine arts club and soccer, all of which the former Word of God lacked.
Maura's sister Skylar also went to East Catholic and graduated in its first eighth-grade class. Their mother, Lisa Abel, said East Catholic's eighth grade was twice as big as Word of God's, increasing social opportunities for the children. Skylar now attends the much larger Allderdice High School.
“I look at it as an investment in the kids,” Abel said. “The Catholic elementaries really prepare them for Allderdice.”
Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates notebook: Worley bounces back after rough start
- Penguins notebook: Staal insists he never asked for trade to Penguins
- Police arrest 4 in Pitcairn drug investigation
- First Draft: Beer lovers at CoStar take the time to brew it right
- Steelers re-sign WR Heyward-Bey to 1-year deal
- Pitt adds quarterback recruit from Cincinnati
- Alone at controls, Germanwings co-pilot sought to ‘destroy’ the plane
- Spring check-up: Gingham is this season’s fashion favorite
- Putin’s sure Russia wins tug-of-war with West
- Review: ‘Wild Tales’ sinks its teeth into 6 tales of revenge
- Spring training breakdown: Braves 7, Pirates 5