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Tuition hike forces some Catholic schools to change

| Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2002

GREENSBURG - Diane and Joe Dietrick are at a crossroads. They would like to continue to send their 11-year-old son to parochial school but say the cost will be too steep.

"I'm upset, I really am." Joe Dietrick said. "We were looking forward to sending our son to Catholic school."

Dietrick said his costs to send his son to Christ the Divine Teacher School in Latrobe will jump from $1,400 this year to $3,400 next year under the Catholic Diocese of Greensburg's tuition-financial aid plan.

The diocese's new tuition plan seeks to balance the actual costs of education with financial aid for those in need. Parents who had previously paid half the cost of educating their children - thanks to parish subsidies - will now be asked to shoulder the entire burden. The diocese also is offering financial aid to those in need.

The deadline for submitting financial aid forms was to be Thursday, but some schools delayed sending out letters explaining the plan, said Angela J. Burrows, executive director of infomedia services. The diocese also hasn't presented the program to parents at all the schools that will implement it next year.

"By next week, we will have talked to nine of the 10 (schools)," she said.

Some principals are giving parents until March 4 to return the forms.

Diocesan officials have told parents that should they not return the forms, the diocese will assume they will be paying full tuition.

"There are only two models out there - subsidies and full tuition," said Michael McGee, the diocese's chief financial officer. "This model is the only other choice."

But parents such as the Dietricks said there's another reason they won't be filling out the form - they're pulling their children from schools in the diocese.

The Dietricks said the costs are just too hard to swallow, even with financial aid. Joe Dietrick said that projecting the higher tuition costs over the years his son would spend in diocesan schools totals more than $40,000. That money would be better spent on his college education, he said.

The Latrobe couple has decided their son will attend Latrobe Elementary School in the fall. Joe Dietrick refuses to fill out the financial forms the diocese will use to measure need. "They are far too invasive," he said.

Ann and Tom Kratzenberg of North Huntingdon Township are taking a different leap of faith.

They'll likely be sending their daughter to St. Angela Merici in the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. Their costs at Queen of Angels School in the township next year will be $3,200.

At St. Angela in White Oak, they'll pay $1,790.

Tom Kratzenburg said they'll consider alternatives to stay at Queen of Angels, "if there are any."

Lisa Findley, also of North Huntingdon, will keep her two children in Queen of Angels but she'll be reducing her contributions to the church to reflect the higher costs she'll have to pay there.

"I don't have a money tree out back," she told about 200 parents at a meeting this week near Greensburg.

"I plan to send a letter to my pastor telling him that I'm no longer able to meet my pledge. ... I will contribute $1 a week to the church," she said. "I have limited resources, and my No. 1 priority is my children and to educate them in a Catholic school."

Vince Finoli, a Greensburg attorney, plans to do the same. "I will reallocate all my giving from Sunday and the capital campaign to help school children," he said.

While David Kedzierski of Hempfield Township is among those who aren't supporting the diocese's plan, he said the potential for losing students is worrisome.

Kedzierski told parents at the meeting this week that if the diocese has miscalculated on the new tuition plan, "schools will close."

"I think we're a new generation of Catholics, not like our parents, who would just open their wallets," he said. "I think we owe it to ourselves to question this."

An informal poll of those attending the meeting showed that half were considering sending their children to other schools. An equal number responded when asked if they would return the financial aid forms.

The new price tag is just too high for parents like Regina and Dwayne Shuhart of Greensburg.

Their two children will attend Mountain View Elementary School next year.

An information packet from Christ the Divine Teacher School that details the tuition changes shows the family's costs will increase from $2,660 this year to $6,800 next year.

"Do you pay that amount of money for morals and religion when you can teach that at home?" Regina Shuhart said.

The Shuharts wrestled long and hard with the decision. When they moved here from Maryland four years ago, they looked at a number of Christian schools and were very impressed with Christ the Divine.

"We liked the whole atmosphere (at the school), and the children are doing very well," Shuhart said. Her daughter cried when her parents told her she wouldn't be able to finish her education there.

Smith is a reporter for the Tribune-Review.

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