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St. John the Baptist in Scottdale to cut K-5

| Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014, 11:30 p.m.

St. John the Baptist Regional Catholic School in Scottdale will discontinue its kindergarten through fifth-grade program, it was announced Thursday.

The parish will continue to operate the preschool program.

Greensburg Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt accepted the recommendation of the school's Board of Trust Administrators Thursday, and Msgr. Larry J. Kulick, vicar general of the diocese, announced the decision to the school community at meetings Thursday.

The changes are effective immediately. The diocese's Office for Catholic Schools will facilitate the transfer of St. John the Baptist students to other Catholic schools in the diocese, including Conn-Area Catholic School, which is six miles south of Scottdale in Connellsville. The principals from Conn-Area, Aquinas Academy in Greensburg and St. Sebastian Regional School in North Belle Vernon were at the meeting to offer assistance to parents.

In addition, the diocese will assist the school's full-time and part-time employees through this transition.

“While this change signals a significant, but regrettable, moment in the history of Catholic education in this region of the diocese, we are all confident that it is the best course of action,” Kulick said at the meeting of school families.

“It will help to ensure that the families of our region will have access to Catholic education into the future and provide financial stability to our parishes for future ministries and services.”

The school has struggled with declining enrollment and the resulting budgetary and debt challenges for several years. Enrollment has declined steadily since the 2007-08 school year when there were 124 students in grades K-8 and an additional 34 pre-K students.

In the spring of 2013, and at the direction of the bishop, the school evaluated how to address its challenges and remain open.

At a May 2013, meeting with diocesan officials, school administrators, parents and guardians, benefactors, and parishioners from the school's supporting parishes, school leaders were tasked with developing a proposal to address enrollment and financial issues and ensure the school's success. At that time, enrollment had dropped to 56 students in K-8, with an additional 16 pre-K students.

The proposal that was submitted eliminated grades 5-8, cut staff positions and reduced expenditures in order to balance the budget and pay down debt. After a comprehensive review and evaluation process, Brandt accepted the school's plan on July 15, 2013, and the school remained open for the 2013-14 academic year.

In March, Brandt accepted a recommendation from school leadership to add a fifth grade to the school's academic program, and he went to Scottdale with diocesan officials to make that announcement at a meeting. At that time it was agreed that the fifth-grade enrollment had to be sufficient to allow for a strong academic program, with enough students to form a genuine academic community and that the school's overall enrollment must not drop below the necessary budgetary needs and expectations. School and diocesan officials had projected a balanced budget for the school for the 2014-15 academic year based on a fifth-grade enrollment of at least 8 students and an overall K-5 enrollment of at least 44 students.

The board members — the Rev. Richard J. Kosisko, pastor of St. Pius X Parish and administrator of Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish, both in Mt. Pleasant, and the Rev. Andrew M. Kawecki, pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish, and administrator of St. Joseph Parish, Everson — reported to diocesan officials Monday that just 30 students were registered in grades K-5 for the 2014-15 school year.

After consulting with the staff and faculty of the school and reviewing all of the data available pertaining to the new school year, and with the agreement of the faculty and staff, the board determined that the school could not remain open and offer a viable academic program in its current structure.

Kosisko, chairman of the board, and Kawecki made the formal request to the bishop to close the school while keeping the pre-school program open while using the school building.

They recommended that the action take effect immediately to facilitate the transfer of students to one of the other regional Catholic schools in the area.

The board recommended that the pre-school program be the responsibility of St. John the Baptist Parish, which will be solely responsible for its operational and administrative oversight, as well as financial stability. Evaluating the statistics and financial structure related to this program, the board members expressed confidence that a pre-school program can succeed in the 2014-15 school year and remain a valuable Catholic formation opportunity for the people of this region.

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